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What are cosmeceuticals?
Skin Institute
May 31, 2016

“Something between a drug and a cosmetic”

The origins of cosmeceuticals
The term cosmeceutical was coined by pioneering dermatologist Dr Albert Kligman whose research through the 1960’s into the use of Vitamin A led to the creation of Retin-A to help treat acne and as an anti-ageing ingredient.

Kligman described a cosmeceutical as “something in between a drug and a cosmetic. A cosmeceutical does something more than colouring the skin and something less than a therapeutic drug”.

What is a cosmeceutical and what are “active ingredients”?
You’ll have heard of pharmaceuticals – products that prevent, mitigate, treat or cure disease and /or affect the structure or function of the body.

Cosmeceuticals are products which provide pharmaceutical-like benefits from an otherwise cosmetic product.

Although some are designed to have moisturising and anti-acne properties, the vast majority of cosmeceuticals are anti-ageing. They use active ingredients that have been tested and proven to be particularly effective in evening out skin tone and pigmentation and reducing wrinkles.

While you can see supermarket brands or over-the-counter products listing ingredients such as retinol or Vitamins C or E, they will not be found in the concentrations required to provide anti-ageing benefits.

Cosmeceuticals are able to offer higher concentrations of active ingredients because of their rigorous scientific research and development process. They’re only available from a specialist clinic.

Cosmeceuticals are safe and compared to skincare products from supermarkets, department stores and even some from beauty spas, they are more effective and critically – they deliver results at a cellular level. Additionally the delivery of the active ingredients is paramount, think square peg round hole – the ingredients will only be effective if they’re able to penetrate to the right depth at the right (and safe) concentrations – which Cosmeceuticals provide.

How to identify an active ingredient
Look at the ingredients on the labels of your skincare products. Active ingredients broadly fall into the following categories, under which we’ve listed the most common and effective active ingredients here.

If your skincare contains any of these, then you can be sure you’re delivering a high quality product into your skin:

Polyphenols: Plant-derived antioxidants (including flavonoids) which have anti-inflammatory, sun-protective and anti-cancer properties.

Botanicals: Ingredients such as aloe vera, curcumin (found in turmeric) and silymarin (found in the milk thistle plant) display a variety of effects ranging from wound-healing to anti-inflammatory.

Antioxidants: This term refers to a group of substances including vitamins (A, B, C, E), alpha lipoic acid (ALA), Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10), idebenone, polyphenols and kinetin which fight damaging “free radicals” in the body to reduce skin damage and collagen breakdown.

Retinol: Vitamin A or retinol, is an antioxidant member of theretinoid family, which includes tretinoin. As well as its benefits against photo damage and acne, tretinoin increases collagen production to reduce wrinkles.

Vitamin B complex: Vitamin B energises cells to brighten and boost the health of the skin by stimulating natural collagen and hyaluronic acid. It also repairs the skin’s barrier function – rather than masking any dehydration or dryness in the way a moisturizer or barrier cream works. Vitamin B3 (or niacinimide) is used to benefit skin tone and texture, decrease fine lines and wrinkles, and diminish hyper pigmentation.

Vitamin C: You need vitamin C to produce protein including collagen. Stronger, healthier collagen will also help improve the strength of capillaries minimising their visibility and diffused redness. Also an essential antioxidant in controlling UV damage to our cells. It inhibits inflammation within our cells therefore assisting in the prevention of hyperpigmentation and ageing.

Growth factors: These naturally occurring proteins are essential to stimulating cell growth and regulating cell processes.

Peptides: Chains of amino acids which either stimulate or control certain functions in the skin and can therefor help to improve skin firmness and texture, fine lines, and hyper-pigmentation.

Cosmeceuticals by their very nature are correctives. That is, they help to correct an issue or concern you may have eg. redness, pigmentation, dehydration. These often work best in tandem with targeted treatments, but if treatments aren’t for you, cosmeceuticals are a great start to getting beautiful, healthy skin.

At Skin Institute we offer free Appearance Medicine consultations, where a registered nurse will assess your skin, listen to your concerns, and recommend the right skincare regime for you.


Book your consultation online or call 0800 SKIN DR (0800 754 637)


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