Taking the Mystery out of Cosmeceuticals
* Lois originally wrote this article for the Long Island Beauty Guide, updated here for this website.
Lois W. Stern *
Cosmeceuticals: Topical preparations developed to improve the overall health and appearance of our skin
and to rid it of certain imperfections.
BEAUTY! It seems we are continually bombarded with new ideas, products and techniques to create it,
maintain it, rejuvenate it. The myriad of choices – nowhere more apparent than in the world of cosmeceuticals -
can literally confound us. So let’s begin by looking at a daunting list, representative of the different types
of cosmeceuticals on the market today.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
- Cosmeceuticals are most effective when combined with a healthy lifestyle. No smoking, a good diet,
sufficient rest, plenty of exercise and drinking lots of water can do as much for the skin as most
- While cosmeceuticals definitely can improve the appearance of your skin, neither deep wrinkles
nor facial sagging will disappear with their use.
- None of the cosmeceuticals sold in the USA have been subjected to peer review. As a result,
claims about the effectiveness of any given product are dependent upon the manufacturer’s ethics,
its specific ingredients, and the strength of those given ingredients.
- The single most important cosmeceutical, the one you must apply to your skin every day without
exception, is a good quality sunscreen.
- There is some relatively strong, supporting science to substantiate the effectiveness of cosmeceutical
ingredients. Many skin care authorities recognize anti-oxidant vitamins A, C and E as essential in helping to
reduce signs of aging. Other antioxidant ingredients to look for include Green Tea, Idebonone, Co-enzyme
Q-10, and Hyaluronic Acid and Spin traps. Again, none of these products have been subjected to peer review,
so we are dependent upon each manufacturer’s ethics when conducting their internal studies.
- Popular over-the-counter cosmeceuticals often contain identical beneficial ingredients, but at weaker,
less effective potencies. The consumer has no way of determining the strength of the ingredients within
any product. That is why professional advice from a knowledgeable skin care specialist will yield the
most beneficial results.
- Some touted products may turn out to be more ‘hope-in-a-jar’ than actual science.
"The world of cosmeceuticals is dynamic, constantly growing as we learn through observation,
experimentation and study. Science has taught us that one product cannot do it all. When working
with cosmeceuticals, you need to layer. Research drives the development of new products each time
it uncovers a new active ingredient with the potential to improve the skin.”
Avoid prolonged time in the sun and use a good quality sunscreen on a daily basis.
These two basics of skin care cannot be stressed strongly enough. You need to develop
and maintain these habits on a daily basis to avoid skin cancers, sun damage, and premature
aging of your skin. Purchase a sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB radiation.
Chemical free sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their first listed ingredient.
If you are subject to allergic skin reactions, a chemical free sunscreen is the best choice for you.
Sunscreens with chemicals typically contain avobenzene.
UVA wavelengths penetrate deeply into the dermis, causing skin to wrinkle. UVB radiation is
associated with many skin cancers.
The SPF number on sun blockers only applies to UVB protection and has no connection with UVA protection.
A SPF number of 30 is recommended for daily use. Higher numbers do not proportionately increase
Protects skin from sun damage, skin cancers and premature signs of aging.
Chemical free sunscreens may appear somewhat opaque on the skin, depending on the size of the
suspended particles. Sunscreens are generally non-irritating, but may exacerbate acne.
Exfoliants remove dead cells and the outer layers of thickened skin, encouraging skin turnover.
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS
- Lactic acid
- Glycolic acid
Lactic acid is the active ingredient in Cleopatra’s famed
sour milk baths. Glycolic acid, found naturally in sugar
cane and fruit, are synthetically produced, typically
containing 5-10 % AHA.
Softens fine wrinkles, lightens pigmentation spots, generally tightens and improves skin texture.
Makes skin look healthier and more radiant. Stronger solutions applied by professionals reduce
fine lines and brown spots and claim to increase collagen production and skin elasticity.
Possible short term stinging upon application. Possible allergic reactions.
BETA HYDROXY ACIDS
A salycydic acid, sometimes used in combination with
alpha hydroxy acid.
Opens pores, clears up pimples and eliminates scaling and roughness on skin.
People sensitive to aspirin may have an allergic reaction
to Beta Hydroxy Acids. Consult a skin care specialist
Treats mild to moderate acne and photo-damaged skin, removes dead surface cells,
and flattens the topmost layer of the skin, giving the complexion a more even tone and rosy glow.
Tretinoin (RetinA, Renova) – synthetically produced products
Retino, a naturally occurring lipid soluble form of vitamin A, is a weaker,
over-the-counter retinal, with more subtle effects on the skin.
Claims to build collagen, regenerate the skin’s elasticity and reverse production of pigmentation spots
Possible skin dryness and heightened sensitivity to the sun
Moisturizers smooth the surface of the skin, lubricate its outer layers, and
lock in moisture.
Often other products such as sunscreens and antioxidants already
contain sufficient moisturizer for many skin types. Only apply moisturizer
if your skin feels tight or dry.
Helps prevent the skin from drying out.
Applying more moisturizer than needed can result in clogged pores,
resulting in further damage rather than benefit to the skin.
Antioxidants, the ingredients meant to defend against free radical damage, have become
the buzzword of skin care in this 21st century. Current belief is that antioxidants improve
the health and appearance of our skin. Here is where professional advice about what works
best for your skin can be of real value. A board certified dermatologist or well-trained
esthetician can often provide valuable guidance in helping you determine what works best for
Here is a list of the major players in this list of antioxidant ingredients and how they are thought
to impact the skin. Products need to contain potent enough concentrations of any antioxidant to
evaluate their effectiveness.
- Vitamin A – To help minimize the lipid peroxidation of cell membranes
- Alpha tocopherol (the active form of Vitamin E) – To inhibit enzymes which promote the breakdown of
collagen and to protect cell membranes from oxidation
- Vitamin C (essential for collagen production) – To quench free oxygen radicals produced by
ultraviolet radiation and to assist Vitamin E in protecting cell membranes
- Co-enzyme Q-10 (a component of all cell membranes) – To help regenerate other
antioxidants present in cells
- Green tea (contain antioxidant polyphenolos) – To protect against redness and swelling
induced by UV radiation
- Grape seed extract – a strong antioxidant in combination with other antioxidants
- from free radical damage during cellular respiration
- Resveratrol and Polydatin (found in highest concentrations in grape skins) – To help inhibit
lipid peroxidation similarly to Vitamins C and E
- Idebonone – The key ingredient in Allergan’s newest product, Provage - Helps repair skin damage
and promote healthy skin growth
- Algae – To close up capillaries (a treatment for rosacea), lighten pigmentation, stimulate collagen
- Spin Traps – Know as the ‘intelligent antioxidant’. Spin traps do not destroy free radicals,
but sense when molecules are off track, trap and detoxify them. As a result, they turn free
radicals into useful oxygen to be used for tissue respiration.
In addition to antioxidants, peptides have now arrived on the scene.
Peptides are proteins - tiny molecules that have a variety of effects on cell function.
Many of the newer cosmeceutical formulations contain both synthetic and naturally occurring peptides.
“There are some peptides that may stimulate skin metabolism and repair, while others may inhibit
hyperpigmentation, slow the breakdown of collagen or lessen muscle movements.
Argireline is one example of a peptide that has been developed to slow the neurotransmitters
that control the muscles that work during the production of repeated facial expressions.
Although Argireline can soften furrows substantially, it is not a replacement for Botox or
Restalyne. But used in conjunction with these treatments, Argireline can extend the life of
their effectiveness.” 2 (Arena)
AN EFFECTIVE MORNING SKIN CARE ROUTINE
- Cleanse thoroughly
- Apply anti-aging products
- Apply moisturizer, only if needed
- Apply a good quality sunscreen
AN EFFECTIVE BEDTIME ROUTINE
- Cleanse thoroughly
- Layer with other kinds of products beneficial to you skin type and conditions (Examples: You might need a mild exfoliant to remove dead surface cells or a preparation with hydroquinone to lighten pigmentation spots.)
- Apply anti-aging products
COMMENTS ON COSMECEUTICALS
“Know that different active ingredients require different delivery systems to accomplish
their intended goals. For example, a sunscreen needs to sit on top of the skin to protect
it from the sun; while ingredients that stimulates collagen production need to be absorbed
into the skin. Varied delivery systems are being used to help the skin better absorb key ingredients,
such as time release products and products whose active ingredients are in micro particles.
Ultra Sound is a mechanical device sometimes being used to drive topically applied ingredients
more deeply into the skin.” 1 (Arena)
1: Madeleine Arena has had a varied and well-respected career as a consultant and director
of laboratories producing cutting edge cosmeceuticals. An important facet of her consultation services
is educating her clients (physicians and estheticians) about the active ingredients and proper potencies
of effective skin care products.
Want to learn the basic Do's and Dont's of good skin care habits?
Click on Skin Care
To learn more secrets to radiant skin, Read this and other informative articles on my FabulousBeautyBlog.
© 2011, 2013 by Lois W. Stern
You may forward or duplicate this article without permission, providing you include full author attribution.
Lois W. Stern is the published author of two books:
Sex, Lies and Cosmetic Surgery and Tick Tock, Stop the Clock ~ Getting Pretty on
Your Lunch Hour as well as numerous magazine articles. Her Professional Edition DVD is a popular aid to office staff while interacting with their patients.
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