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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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Beauty products—the classification cosmeceuticals fall under—don’t have to provide evidence of their efficacy, and they aren’t required to undergo approval before they are sold to the public. However, if claims are not carefully labeled to avoid indicating drug properties, the product may be subject to FDA review, which could trigger a demand for reclassification of the product to a drug (or a rejection of the product altogether), costing the manufacturer millions in fines and research and development fees.

It’s also a natural inclination to think of “pharmaceutical” as a synonymous term. As a result, the term created controversy, with many believing it was deceptive and meaningless. “It can be misleading because it carries with it a notion of having efficacy and having testing behind it,” said Anthonavage. “You’d like to think it’s substantiated, but many are using it without having the science to back it up.” He points out that two products on the shelf—one with high regulation next to a cheaper product with no license or substantiation—can both be considered cosmeceutical. The claims may be the same, and even the packaging can be similar.

However, Sikora points out, “Dermatologists and doctors of esthetic medicine endorsed the term [cosmeceutical], believing that it denoted a higher level of product and ingredient efficacy, as well as a higher level of brand credibility. They chose to use the term to successfully position and sell certain skin care brands in their practices to their patient database.”

R&D and Marketing Synergy

Cosmeceutical is a consumer-driven claim, a buzz word, but in order for it to be useful for a beauty brand, it has to make sense to the brand. Without consumers being savvy, they won’t be able to recognize when a product is clinically tested correctly. Therefore, cosmeceuticals should be associated with brands that can dedicate time to educate and explain this to the public. And it’s the brand’s job to use appropriate terminology that consumers can understand to convey the right message. 

From a supplier perspective, cosmeceutical is not a word that’s used too often. When ingredient suppliers talk with beauty brands’ R&D, they focus on active ingredients and efficacy, but they don’t often distinguish ingredients as traditional versus cosmeceutical. Data is the only thing that sets cosmeceutical ingredients apart from traditional ingredients.