What You Need to Know About Cosmeceuticals

HumAdminSkin Renewal Center

Everyone seems to be talking about cosmeceuticals. Brands are marketing them, influencers are using them, our friends are buying them. But what are they?

Cosmeceuticals are cosmetics that have medicinal properties, like lotions with retinol or face powder with SPF protection. They’re a hybrid category, meaning they’re not quite cosmetics but they’re not quite pharmaceuticals. Ingredients such as botanical extracts, marine extracts, vitamins and more can make a product a cosmeceutical.

The FDA on Cosmeceuticals

The Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, doesn’t recognize cosmeceuticals as a separate class of beauty products; they only recognize drugs, cosmetics and soaps. For the FDA, a product is either regulated as a cosmetic or as a drug– the category a cosmeceutical falls in depends on the claims being made.

If the product claims to affect the functions of the body, the FDA would classify it as a drug and require clinical trials to be done in order to prove its effectiveness and safety. If the product’s claims are on a more superficial level, it can be classified as a cosmetic and follows less stringent requirements.

The only cosmeceuticals classified as drugs are Retin-A, Renova, Tazorac and Avage. While these cosmeceuticals are classified as drugs, like most over-the-counter products, they won’t be as potent as prescription medications.

Common Cosmeceutical Ingredients

There’s a few common ingredients in products marketed as cosmeceuticals .

Sunscreen is a very common ingredient, arguably one of the most important ingredients, because they protect against sun damage, photo aging and other skin cancers.

Antioxidants are another favorite ingredient in cosmeceuticals. Pollution, smoking, UV radiation and other free radicals can cause damage to the skin. Antioxidants can help prevent this damage and while protecting against sun damage and skin cancers. Common antioxidants include:

  • Alpha-lipoic acid- has anti-inflammatory and exfoliating effects
  • N-Acetyl Glucosamine- may fade pigmentation and prevent sun damage
  • Ubiquinone- reduces collagen breakdown from sun exposure
  • Vitamin E- reduces UV damage and skin cancer, works with vitamin C to reduce the breakdown of collagen
  • Vitamin C- stimulates collagen to improve the look of fine lines, reduces inflammation and pigmentation
  • Nicontinamide- improves the skin barrier function, reduces fine lines and pigmentation, may play a role in skin cancer prevention

Some cosmeceuticals contain hydroxy acids. These can be broken up into three categories based on their molecular structure. alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), often called fruit acids, are derived from natural sources. These include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid, lactonbionic acid and malic acid.

The second category is poly hydroxy acids (PHAs), which includes gluconolactone and lactobionic acid.

The final category is beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). The most common BHA is salicylic acid, an acid particularly useful in people with oily or acne-prone skin because of its ability to penetrate the pores. All three categories can help to improve skin texture and reduce signs of aging through the removal of dead skin cells on the outer layer of the skin. Some foundations contain salicylic acid and are marketed to people with oily or acne-prone skin.

Other Common Ingredients

Including botanicals can also make a product a cosmeceutical. This can include leaves, berries, stems, flowers, roots. bark or other parts of the plan. They may claim to have anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties, though their effects remain largely unproven.

Other common ingredients can include growth factors, peptides, proteins, sunscreens, skin lightening agents and retinoids.

While aging is inevitable, we may be able to maintain healthy, youthful skin for a long time with the help of cosmeceuticals. With new technologies and research coming out, cosmeceuticals are getting more powerful and better than ever and are a great, non-invasive, way to care for our skin.


When it comes to your skin, you only want the best.

That’s why you should choose Southern Dermatology. We offer the best products, with the best ingredients. Our experienced practitioners strive to provide the best and safest experience for all patients. Call Southern Dermatology today at 919-782-2152 to schedule a consult.