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Defining Cosmeceuticals

By: Sara Mason
Posted: April 27, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.
  • As the term cosmeceutical is unregulated, it has found its way into describing any number of beauty products. However, it is generally thought to denote a more active, pharmaceutical beauty product.
  • The value in the term is using it in conjunction with ingredients and products that offer real results. Otherwise, the message can be easily muddied.
  • Testing information is highly important in cosmeceuticals. Consumers expect more scientific backing from such products.

Cosmeceuticals are widely referred to as cosmetic products with active ingredients purporting to have medical or druglike benefits. According to Michael Anthonavage, technical fellow, active ingredients, Presperse, the difference between traditional products and the active ingredients used in topically applied cosmeceuticals really comes down to the level of biological activity within the skin—as opposed to applying a product to the skin’s surface for simply an appearance benefit. However, there currently are no requirements to prove such cosmeceutical products live up to their claims.

Companies often use the term “cosmeceutical” to more prominently feature ingredients that wouldn’t normally be seen in a cosmetic product—and maybe to imply better results. “Legally, cosmetics manufacturers don’t need to prove that their products do what they promise because they are not drug claims, but rather topical alterations,” says Heidi Lebel, global sales and marketing manager, AkzoNobel Surface Chemistry, Global Personal Care. But it can be misleading if the levels that have been clinically tested are not used. “If the consumer interprets a cosmeceutical to be similar to a pharmaceutical product, he or she may conclude that cosmeceuticals are required to undergo the same testing for efficacy and quality control as required for a medication,” says Lebel.

As consumers’ technology threshold raises and they are increasingly interested in maintaining a youthful appearance, their demand for these types of high-tech products continues to expand. Yet, the more educated the consumer becomes, the more important it is for the reputation of the industry to help consumers understand the term cosmeceutical and how it’s used.

Technology Evolution

Prior to the past 20 years, beauty products were marketed heavily based upon the promise of emotional and sensory changes in the skin. “The sales pitch revolved around how the product would make the consumer feel,” says Judith Sikora, founder of MJ Consulting, which provides marketing expertise to small business entrepreneurs looking to launch (or relaunch) their brand. “Cosmetic companies used words like ‘plumping,’ ‘smoothing’ and ‘softening’ in their marketing and education campaigns, with an emphasis on the impact the product would make to the consumer’s psyche and overall confidence level.” The industry steered clear of anything that changed the form or function of the skin because it scared consumers at the time.