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What is a cosmeceutical?

The word "cosmeceutical" was coined about 20 years ago by the famous American dermatologist Albert Kligman. The term is formed from the words "cosmetic" and "pharmaceutical", which quite clearly reflects the function of cosmeceuticals – they are substances that are in-between drugs and cosmetics in terms of their nature and effect. A precise definition of the category “cosmeceuitcals” still does not exist today because it is by no means an easy task to draw the line between what is a drug and what is a cosmeceuitcal, and on the other side, between a cosmeceuitcal and a “simple” cosmetic. However, attempts to define at least some rules regarding this nomenclature have been made. 

CosmeceuticalsThe subject remains a grey area, since there is no legal definition of “cosmeceuitcal” and term has no regulatory basis like pharmaceutical drugs. However, we can attempt to define the word for our practical purposes, so we can give the consumer a list of qualities they can expect whenever they purchase products marketed as cosmeceuticals. "Ideal" cosmeceutical must meet the following requirements:

  • Proven to be effective through clinical trials
  • Provide visible and noticeable to the consumer results
  • Treat causes of the aesthetic problems, rather than simply masking surface effects
  • Have minimal or no side effects;
  • Provide preventative action

In other words, cosmeceuticals have all the advantages of regular cosmetics and none of the shortfalls of pharmaceutical drugs. Perhaps this might sound too good to be true, but science has indeed gone far ahead and at present we are witnessing a radical change in scientific understanding of the physiology of the skin, which can only increase demands made towards the quality of cosmetics.


(In)active ingredients

In science, every question answered gives rise to two new ones. Cosmetology is no exception. Scientific advances may have brought us cosmeceuticals, but along with their emergence, new questions on the subject arose. Medicinal properties were discovered in hundreds of ingredients that were previously thought inert or at most, unverified. Today, we have almost arrtived at a conclusion that there is no such thing as inactive ingredients. Many substances that were thought to have purely cosmetic properties turned out to have much more extensive effects that remained previously unnoticed.


For example, petroleum jelly (popular brand Vaseline), a simple substance with more than a century of history. It protects skin from harmful external effects, helps mend miniature cracks and cuts, relieves irritation, regulates moisture, leaving the skin soft and supple. However, additional recent studies have shown that petroleum jelly can also protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation and prevents some of age-related structural changes!

Or, take an even more common substance – water. What could be more neutral and inert? It’s typically seen as something completely harmless, however, if you were to do something as simple as leaving a wet cotton ball on the surface of the skin for two days, it will release interleukins (signaling proteins released in case of inflammation). This is evidence of proto-inflammatory processes in the lower layers of the epidermis. If you were to leave this cotton ball for another few days, an active inflammatory process will begin on the surface. This negative effect of water on skin is actually well-known to cleaners, people who routinely wash dishes, etc. However, it has not been scientifically investigated until recently and remains a curiosity if put in context of cosmetology.

However, despite these two examples of water and Vaseline being involved in biochemical processes with the skin, nobody will attempt to classify them as cosmeceuticals. The question of where to draw the line still remains open.

Eternal quest for eternal youth

The heightened interest in cosmeceuticals today is a sign of a global “fear of aging” – something that has recently become a social trend. As soon as people realized that halting or slowing the natural biological process of aging became possible, people became interested in cosmeceuticals and various other cosmetology branches, and actively trying to stay young as long as possible using modern science.

As the average life expectancy goes up worldwide, the planet's population becomes older. According to demographics, in developed countries a significant portion of population is aged over 50. They are active, lively, independent, and feel younger than their biological age. In addition, they spend much effort to remain in shape, look after their health, and thanks to this, health industries, from fitness to cosmetology develop rapidly.

The above quest for health, combined with modern busy lifestyles these people typically lead means their time is at a premium, while their purchasing power is quite high, since many of the women in this category are businesspeople or successful experienced professionals. This target group is of particular interest to cosmetologists. Routine attendance of fitness clubs takes up too much of their valuable time, making cosmetology, a much less time consuming alternative, the better choice for them. Cosmeceuticals are the most flexible “treatment” for upkeep of youth, out of all cosmetology options. They can be used at home and do not even require a visit to the clinic!


St. John's Wort - CosmeceuticalsKey ingredients of cosmeceuticals

  • Organic alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) – soft chemical peels, exfoliating, cleansing, and smoothing the skin.
  • Vitamin E – complex anti-oxidant with additional anti-inflammatory properties. Slows down aging processes and prevents formation of wrinkles.
  • Ceramides – biochemical compounds that naturally restore the skin
  • UV protection factors


“Cellular” cosmeceuticals

One of the latest branches of cosmeceuticals, cellular cosmeceuticals are based on cellular therapy. These products contain whole cells or cell extracts from cells in the state of rapid differentiation. This includes cells or extracts of embryos, extracts of eggs or roe (caviar), as well as extracts obtained from a variety of microorganisms and sea flora. Today, France is an undisputed leader in this field (and in many other fields related to cosmetics), where in world-famous laboratories, new technologies are developed and applied in manufacturing professional cosmetics.


Common applications of cosmeceuticals

  • Recovery after liposuction or rapid weight loss.
  • Cellulite Treatment and correction of local fat deposits.
  • Therapeutic treatment of scars.
  • Treatment of stretch marks after pregnancy.
  • Treatment of dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, seborrhea, rosacea, and many other skin and scalp disorders.
  • Prevention of hair loss.
  • Correction of wrinkles on the face and neck.
  • Toning facial muscles
  • Rejuvenation of hands and facial skin
  • Breast care