Each week, Health and Beauty Expert Sue Chung will discuss skin health topics suggested by members of the HealthCentral community. To ask Sue a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Reader's Question: What are cosmeceuticals? It seems like they're all over the place lately, but do they work better than regular cosmetics?
Sue's Response: The word "cosmeceutical" entered the general vocabulary in the 1990s. Derived from a combination of the words "cosmetics" and "pharmaceuticals," the word describes a product marketed for cosmetic use but containing active ingredients that companies claim are more potent than your average cosmetic product.
These companies will probably make you pay for that extra boost. Even in drugstores, cosmeceuticals often start at around $20 for a moisturizer. In department and specialty stores, the prices increase to expensive and even ludicrously high prices that can reach into the thousands. But do these higher prices necessarily give you better results?
As disappointing as it may be, the truth is that cosmeceuticals can only do so much and may not deliver on their grand promises. Neither the word nor these products are regulated by the FDA. Cosmeceutical companies often advertise complex biochemical ingredients that can affect the biological function of your skin. These active ingredients may improve your skin, but there's no guarantee.
The following are the most widely advertised of these active ingredients and a short description on how they help improve the appearance of your skin.
When applied to your skin, antioxidants can reduce the damaging effects of free radicals (which cause inflammation and speed up the aging process) and help protect skin from further stress and collagen deterioration. While many cosmeceutical products claim their antioxidant formula is "better" or "more advanced" than other formulas, research clearly shows that most antioxidant options benefit the skin with comparable results.
Examples of antioxidants include green tea, soy, pomegranate, grape seed extract, and vitamins A, B, C and E. The best method, however, is using a combination of antioxidants. Look for products that include more than one antioxidant. Soy can be found in a variety of brands, most notably Aveeno.
Peptides belong to a group referred to as "cell communicating" ingredients. By affecting cell receptor sites, peptides can help cells function better. These ingredients can also protect cells by reducing inflammation and inhibiting the deterioration of collagen. Retinoids have been shown to work in this manner and some studies show that peptides may also fight the appearance of fine lines. However, not all doctors agree that peptides can work as well as most manufacturers claim. Olay includes peptides in its Regenerist line.
As we age and expose our skin to the sun, cells build up on the surface and cell turnover can slow down. When this happens, pores can become clogged and the skin can take on a dull appearance. Exfoliation does more than simply remove that dullness. Research shows that it can also improve collagen production by stimulating cell turnover. You may be able to feel a topical scrub more vigorously, but you're better off using a hydroxy acid to slough off dead skin cells chemically. Glycolic acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid have all been shown to penetrate the skin and expose newer skin cells. Neutrogena carries many products that include salicylic acid while Clean & Clear offers a combination of glycolic and salicylic acid in its Cooling Daily Pore Toner.
All of these ingredients offer positive results for your skin. However, the low concentrations in topical, over-the-counter cosmetics may not be strong enough to make the dramatic improvement you're looking for. In addition, not enough clinical trials have been conducted to back up cosmeceutical claims completely. Cosmeceutical products, like all cosmetic products, are tested for safe human use, but it's not mandatory to test for proof of a manufacturer's claims.
Ultimately, no topical cream or toner can deliver the results of prescription medication or cosmetic procedures such as botox, injectable fillers and lasers. If you're looking for a dramatic difference, consult a board-certified dermatologist instead of placing all your hope in a jar.
Published On: November 09, 2007