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Cosmeceuticals: The...

Cosmeceuticals: The Great Makeup Cover-Up

Not only has skincare become big business, it’s also becoming increasingly medicalized. It’s no longer enough just to cleanse and moisturize … today’s skincare is about improving, changing, and fighting the aging process.

Whatever happened to plain old cold cream? It seems like it wasn’t very long ago that we women washed our faces with soap, moisturized with Pond’s, and maybe used some Sea Breeze astringent if our skin was oily. Skin care was simple, both the regimen and the products used. 

Then there was Botox. 

For women with the money and motivation, there are dozens of cosmetic procedures available to lift, tighten, and rejuvenate aging skin. When surgery isn’t an option, the cosmetics industry has stepped in and populated the market with over-the-counter creams that promise the benefits of prescription products without a trip to the dermatologist. Welcome to the age of cosmeceuticals. 

Marketing, Not Medicine
Cosmeceuticals (a hybrid of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals) are topical products that claim to rejuvenate skin the way that prescriptions or surgeries do. These potions, mostly moisturizers and anti-aging serums, claim to mimic the effects of facial peels, filler injections, and many other cosmetic procedures. Whereas regular cosmetics sit inertly on the skin, products marketed as cosmeceuticals purport to have healing or restoring properties, changing skin’s structure or appearance from the inside. Whether these products deliver what they advertise, however, is another story. 

Here’s the industry’s big secret—“Cosmeceutical” is just a marketing term, not a legal definition. Real prescription products must be tested and regulated by the FDA before they can be sold to consumers, but cosmeceuticals have no such oversight, because the FDA doesn’t even recognize them as a legitimate product category. 

Because cosmeceuticals are unregulated and untested, a cosmetics company can make whatever outrageous claim they want about their product, and as long as they’re clever enough not to explicitly promise any results, they’re free from the meddling hands of the FDA, which would make them put their product through expensive clinical trials. Even though there is research suggesting that some cosmeceutical ingredients do have benefit, most cosmetic manufacturers would actually prefer not to put their product through FDA testing. For the manufacturer, testing is a lose/lose situation—if the FDA found a product ineffective, the company couldn’t sell it, and if FDA testing proved the product’s claims, it would be regulated like a drug. Cosmetics companies actually prefer to keep their products unregulated, because that means they’re free to make whatever claims they want—without having to prove any of them. 

A Bottle of Bogus
Today’s beauty products contain ingredients that sound futuristic and clinical, which is no accident. By claiming that a product features ingredients like “Botafirm,” “Biodormin,” “Pro-Tensium E,” “Carnosine DP,” or “Botanamide technology,” users unconsciously infer that the products are lab-tested and scientific. Advertisements also toss around impressive-sounding compounds like copper peptides, hexapeptides, and pro-xylane. Although some of these are already found in healthy skin, most are simply added in order to make the product sound more effective. Botafirm and Botanamide aren’t breakthrough ingredients; they’re proprietary chemical blends named to sound professional and efficient, as well as to conjure up images of natural, plant-derived extracts. Making products seem scientific serves two purposes—it gains users’ trust and allows companies to charge exorbitant prices.  

Some products go even further to impersonate prescription skincare. StriVectin cream is packaged just like a prescription tube, although it’s no different from any other department store wrinkle cream. DDF skincare sells Mesojection serum, which claims to be “inspired by injection mesotherapy.” It doesn’t explain what it does, but when things sound vaguely medical, they seem more credible. These aren’t the only impostors … many products use medical-sounding words or imagery, like actors in white lab coats, to encourage their customers to unconsciously associate their products with doctors. Sometimes, watered-down versions of real dermatological drugs like Retin-A or Renova appear in cosmeceuticals as “pro-retin complex” or “retinol” in an effort to make the product seem more scientific and effective. 

Everyone Wrinkles in Time
Ultimately, the individual user decides these products’ efficacy. Some people swear by fancy and expensive facial serums, and some feel that they’re a load of bunk. Some product manufacturers have even been sued because their products couldn’t deliver the results promised in their advertisements. In December of 2004, a former customer sued the makers of Crème de la Mer, a product that alleged it could give users younger, firmer skin—at $110 per ounce. The lawsuit alleged that the manufacturer engaged in deception, since the product couldn’t achieve what it promised, and that despite its claims, its ingredients were identical to the components of drugstore moisturizers. 

The hard truth is that no matter what they claim, facial creams cannot mimic the results of a surgical procedure, and they can’t change the way skin functions. They only penetrate the top layers of skin, which doesn’t bring about real change. The only ways to improve your skin without surgery are these time-tested remedies: don’t smoke, stay hydrated, and wear sunscreen.

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now More.com) for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.

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