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The Importance of Efficacy in Cosmeceutical Beauty

Abby Penning
  • Cosmeceutical products appeal to a wide range of consumers, from baby boomers to teens, as a way to obtain and maintain young-looking skin.
  • Ingredient innovations in today’s cosmeceuticals include antioxidants, peptides and growth hormones that work to mimic the body’s own composition in repairing cell damage and vitality loss.
  • Making sure consumers are able to perceive the benefit of a cosmeceutical product is important in cosmeceutical marketing.

As consumers continue to seek out the most effective beauty products, particularly in light of an economy that has many still carefully counting their dollars, cosmeceutical products are maintaining a strong, significant presence in the beauty marketplace. Often billed as products with a medical and/or pharmaceutical aspect, cosmeceuticals seek to correct problems beyond the skin’s surface and remain a growing segment in terms of attracting the world’s aging population of consumers.

Peter Foltis, director of scientific affairs, skin care, L’Oréal USA, explains, “The target market for these products includes nearly all consumers, although they may be more specifically targeted for those who do get in-office [dermatological] procedures. The beauty of these products is that they can be used as adjuncts to some prescriptions or alone. One of the approaches we take is to look at in-office dermatological procedures and conditions. Then, we determine how we could prolong the benefits of the procedures.”

“We see this market, beside the trend for natural products, as the fastest-growing market segment in skin care,” says Mathias Gempeler, global marketing manager, skin care, DSM. “The main driver behind this is the consumer and the wish for vital aging.

Consumers today expect value for their money. This is a clear trend, especially in the mature markets, driven by the growing segment of baby boomers as well as by a younger generation of people that would like to enjoy beautiful, young-looking skin while aging. This is amplified by the fact that consumers today feel, at a given age, younger than generations before—50 is the new 40. In a perfect situation, you could freeze the moment and keep their skin looking young, beautiful and healthy as long as possible.”

DSM’s senior new business development manager, personal care, Eric Lippay also notes, “Everyone knows the baby boomers present a significant target market that is displaying signs of aging, and they want to do something about it. This combined with the creation of more efficacious ingredients enabled by genomics and other advances has been a strong driver [of the cosmeceutical segment].

The scope of the demographics is definitely changing as an understanding of the components of what makes a person appear older is changing as well. An example is keeping young skin young versus fixing signs of aging after they appear.”

Consequently, it’s becoming more and more clear that baby boomers aren’t the only consumers seeking cosmeceutical solutions. “I have never been more inundated by younger clientele—17- to 20-year-olds—looking for clear, ageless skin,” says Scott-Vincent Borba, founder of Borba Skin Care. “They want to take care of it now.” And with the proliferation of information now available on skin care products and their ingredients, paired with the Internet savvy of the younger generation seeking to stave off signs of aging earlier and earlier, cosmeceutical consumers today are coming in all sizes and age ranges.

“I attribute much of the boom of the cosmeceutical market to the rise of a far more knowledgeable and savvier consumer,” says Laura Verallo de Bertotto, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics. “In our own experience, we’ve seen an increase in the complexity of questions that we get asked by our customers. They know so much more about ingredients and how claims are validated than even just a few years ago. More consumers are seeing dermatologists. They’re looking for performance. It’s no longer enough to promise results: Consumers are demanding proof and have a lower tolerance for products that don’t deliver what they say they do. I believe this is due, in part, to the [ability of consumers to find answers to questions online] that may have been more difficult to find in the past, as well as the power of word-of-mouth—which, online, can reach millions of people around the world in seconds.”

Innovations and Developments

Ongoing growth in cosmeceuticals also sees major contributions from continuing innovation. “[New product development] is always driven by an unmet consumer need,” Gempeler says, and these needs can range from a product the focuses on a particular part of the face or body, to one that features more sensitive ingredients.

“Understanding the underlying mechanisms of aging events and the how ingredients work at the molecular level to resolve problem areas is exciting,” says Lippay. “Having a better understanding of the various biological pathways that affect the skin and how different ingredients could influence those pathways is a powerful tool. This can enable the creation of more efficacious products that deliver results quicker.”

“We come up with solutions that can cosmetically improve the look of skin, retard its aging process and restore aged cells. To accomplish this, we are continually searching for new materials to work with,” says Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell, MD, dermatologist and founder of VMV Hypoallergenics. Among the cosmeceutical ingredient innovations that are helping manifest these skin improvements are peptides, antioxidants and growth hormones. “Growth hormones that mimic our own to stimulate, repair and improve the extracellular compartments [are of interest in new product creation], and we are hoping that peptides can penetrate the natural skin barrier so they can truly communicate with cells in regulating their actions for growth and cell renewal,” Dr. Verallo-Rowell says.

“It is important to bring in formulation know-how at an early stage of active development as the efficacy of an active depends on influencing the skin region where efficacy is required,” Gempeler explains. “This is a diffusion process that is mainly controlled by polarity of the molecule, size of the molecule and concentration on skin. Also important in the design of new products is that a clear target mechanism and/or molecule is identified that can be used as target. DSM uses cosmeceutical products throughout its portfolio in skin care. Anti-aging is obviously the application area where visible effects are most required by consumers, and of particular interest in this regard are small synthetic peptides.”

Lippay expands on this, noting, “We have a concept called skin architecture that drives home the point that skin is not just a homogeneous layer, and you can’t solve all your issues with one magic bullet—but, on the other hand, you also shouldn’t need a mix of 10 different actives to be effective. In our portfolio of peptides for example, we have designed them each to be efficacious and solve a particular aging concern, but also created them with the end in mind that they could be used together synergistically to give a stronger effect, each acting with a different mechanism.” However, cosmeceutical ingredients and products also require safety testing as a key product development component. “In active treatments like cosmeceuticals, safety has still been underestimated, but it is fundamental,” says Verallo de Bertotto. “Any ingredient that is active tends to also have actions that can cause problems,” adds Verallo-Rowell. “Consider botanicals—great ingredients, but so many of these are irritants or allergens.”

Borba also explains that as a result of extensive product testing, “The quality and efficacy of these formulations, plus the insights on how to use them, are really improving radically.”

After safety is ensured, Foltis notes, “The focus is on consumer-perceivable improvement for a given problem. Many times, we are able to see the improvements by very sensitive instrumental methods. However, if the consumer cannot see the improvement, then it is back to the drawing board for the formulators.”

Cosmeceuticals in Plain Language

Teaching consumers about cosmeceutical products and the difference between them and more standard skin care options also remains imperative in differentiating this segment, as well as promoting it to those who have yet to try cosmeceutical products.

“We clearly see that this word [cosmeceutical] has become standard in the communication in the U.S. market, whereas other markets do not use it that often,*” says Gempeler. “Therefore communication on the claim substantiation of a product may vary, but important for the [brand owner] is that value can be added to the product by using cosmeceutical ingredients such as peptides.”

*Canadian law, for example, has banned the use of “cosmeceutical” on product labeling/marketing.

Brand owners need to convey this value through clear language and explanations of how cosmeceuticals can be presented through scientific studies or other trials.

“In my opinion, there is still some confusion about the different types of trials that products are subjected to,” says Verallo de Bertotto. “The most valid, scientifically, are evidence-based clinical trials that are usually randomized and double-blinded.

Some brands talk about clinical studies, but there is a wide range of trials that can be done—from purely in vitro to in vivo; from trials on thousands of people but with unblinded products that simply ask for the users’ experience, to evidence-based trials.”

Helping consumers understand the trials products have undergone helps them determine how valuable a product truly is. “I think this knowledge will probably grow among consumers before many brands make it a point to discuss clinical trials in detail, and probably this growth among consumers will occur as organically as their knowledge has via online research and word-of-mouth,” Verallo de Bertotto comments.

Developing smart marketing campaigns that also are able to convey appropriate expectations from the use of cosmeceutical products is another way to make a significant connection with cosmeceutical consumers. “I think the consumer expectation of cosmeceuticals has to be realistic. They are not meant to replace or surpass in-office [dermatological] procedures,” says Foltis. “They are adjuncts to help prolong the benefits of in-office procedures. If they are indeed used alone, then the consumer must have some reasonable expectation of the end benefit.”

Moving On

As innovations spread throughout the segment and consumers continue to become more familiar and comfortable with cosmeceuticals, the segment itself will continue to change. “I see the market becoming more simplified, combining categories and forms and innovations in their form and delivery,” says Borba.

“I think that as the sophistication of the consumer increases, you’ll see a filtration among cosmeceuticals,” says Verallo de Bertotto. “Some brands will really come to represent this category. From those that do, I think you’ll see some of the most exciting developments with legitimate evidence to back them up—from new ingredients to old, proven ingredients but with new uses.”


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