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Defining Cosmeceuticals

By: Sara Mason
Posted: April 27, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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However, as the industry became much more competitive and consumers’ expectations of benefits increased, beauty marketers were searching for clear points of difference to support their claims of ingredient superiority. Concurrently, a number of beauty manufacturers were acquired by pharmaceutical companies. “Science invaded the beauty industry in a very big way, and the industry changed direction and course as a result,” explains Sikora.

Cosmetic chemists began to innovate, using delivery system technologies, high-tech ingredients and synthetic compounds that were gaining popularity in the pharmaceutical world. “The cosmetic industry began using words such as ‘encapsulated,’ ‘microsponge,’ ‘ceramide,’ ‘anti-aging’ and ‘time release’ and ‘retinol’ in their marketing vernacular,” continues Sikora. And the product claims—benefits—the manufacturers were making took on a new level of science and sophistication. In fact, skin care products began sounding very therapeutic and extremely pharmaceutical. So much so that suppliers were finding beauty brands weren’t even interested in active ingredients that didn’t penetrate or have biological activity. Unless, of course, those ingredients were from the medical or pharmaceutical industry—even if they weren’t biologically active, according to Presperse. 

And thus a name was developed for this new category of skin care products making pharmaceutical claims: cosmeceuticals. “The word itself combines ‘cosmetic’ and ‘pharmaceutical,’ although there’s no medication to be found in the products,” explains AkzoNobel’s Lebel. “Like cosmetics, cosmeceuticals are topically applied and they improve appearance, but they do so by delivering nutrients necessary for healthy skin.”

A Fuzzy Line

Marketing for these high-science beauty products quickly took a new direction. Beauty brands began serving up claims focused on the aggressive innovation and cutting-edge technology of their cosmeceutical ingredients. “Cosmeceutical” had begun being used as a catch-all descriptive term for products targeting baby boomers, and now it’s being used on a wide range of products in markets ranging from prestige to mass. “Cosmeceutical is a name invented to market how their products work,” explains Presperse’s Anthonavage. “It is a fine line, and it keeps getting fuzzier.” 

However, there is a clear distinction between drugs and cosmetics. As defined by the FDA, cosmetics are “articles applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance,” and they comply with only the most liberal of guidelines. And of cosmeceutical, Lebel says, “Since the term is not recognized legally by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no set guidelines to set them apart from any other cosmetic ingredient.”