Updated: May 27, 2021

The term “cosmeceutical” was introduced by dermatologist Dr Albert Kligman in 1984 and is a hybrid of the two words ‘cosmetic’ and ‘pharmaceutical’.

The active ingredient in a Cosmeceutical has the potential to bring about visible changes to the skin, and these changes will be backed by clinical evidence. When applied topically, a Cosmeceutical can penetrate deeper layers of the Epidermis if the upper layers have been properly prepped. It is here that collagen, elastin and cellular activity takes place within the skin which is why we want Cosmeceuticals working hard at this level. You might think that lavender extract in your skincare is just there to make it smell nice, but the manufacturer might have included it for some of its active chemical compounds that have anti-inflammatory or antibacterial properties.

Most moisturisers restore barrier function and water content to the skin, improving the appearance of aged or dry skin. Cosmeceuticals should ideally deliver the active ingredient into the skin and reach the target site. Sufficient quantity of the active ingredient is needed in order to have an effect.

What is the Difference Between Cosmetics and Cosmeceuticals?

Cosmetics is a term that describes all things skincare and makeup. While cosmetics can have beneficial ingredients (think nourishing beeswax in lipstick or a hydrating cleanser), they generally don’t contain active ingredients.

Cosmeceutical means there is a scientific and medical origin and is often backed by science and research, so you can be more confident the products are going to do what they say they will do.

What are the Benefits of Cosmeceutical Skincare?

The active ingredients in cosmeceuticals are chosen to target specific skincare concerns, such as:

  • Fine lines

  • Dryness and dehydration

  • Dullness

  • Acne

  • Scarring

  • Pigmentation

  • Sun damage

Even if you do not have specific issues with your skin, you can still use cosmeceuticals to give you brighter and more vibrant skin

Cosmeceutical Active Ingredients you need to look for? It is easy to tell if a product could be classified as a cosmeceutical skincare product by reading what it contains.

  • Sunscreens – These are probably the most important ingredient in cosmeceuticals because they protect against sun damage, photo-ageing and skin cancers.

  • Glycolic Acid: This chemical exfoliant gently removes the dead layers of skin. It can be used on most skin types and is especially good for blackhead and acne-prone skin.

  • Hyaluronic Acid: This wonder ingredient binds to water molecules, helping to maintain moisture and hydrate the skin.

  • Alpha-lipoic acid: Has anti-inflammatory and exfoliating effects

  • Retinol: Perhaps the most-hyped cosmeceutical ingredient, retinol has been clinically proven to improve skin cell turnover and minimise the breakdown of collagen (and therefore prevent wrinkles).

Fun fact: Retinol is a super-concentrated version of Vitamin A.

  • Vitamin B: improves skin tone.

  • Vitamin C: (L-ascorbic acid): Stimulates collagen repair and can improve fine lines, reduce inflammation and pigmentation.

  • Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol): Another antioxidant that reduces UV damage and skin cancer. It also works synergistically with vitamin C in reducing collagen breakdown.

  • Niacinamide: Also known as B3, niacinamide has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce redness and moisture loss.

  • Antioxidants: This is a catch-all term for vitamins and minerals that protect your skin from free radicals. Antioxidants are like little warriors going into battle for your complexion.

  • Salicylic Acid: Is an acne-fighting ingredient used to cleanse pore-clogging oil and debris and clear up breakouts faster.

  • Lactic Acid: This is a sensitive-skin friendly ingredient that gives gentle exfoliation and hydration.

  • Peptides: Think of these as tiny building blocks for the skin, helping to repair and enhance the skin’s appearance and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Ubiquinone (CoQ10): A naturally occurring antioxidant that reduces collagen breakdown due to sun exposure.

  • Hydroxy acids: These can be classified according to their molecular structure into alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), poly hydroxy acids (PHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Hydroxy acids improve skin texture and reduce the skin signs of ageing by hydrating and promoting the shedding of dead skin cells from the outer layer of the skin (epidermis).

  • Botanicals: These include plant extracts from leaves, roots, fruits, berries, stems, bark and flowers. Botanicals may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and/or skin soothing properties.

  • Growth factors: These proteins help control chemical signals between and within cells. They are important in wound healing and repair of damaged tissue and may help to repair skin damage from sun exposure.

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