Cosmeceuticals sound like the best of both cosmetic and pharmaceutical worlds, right? By merging the words “cosmetic” and “pharmaceutical”, it’s implied that a product has some special clinical benefit.
But it’s misleading.
The FDA does not recognize cosmeceuticals as a category and does not have any additional requirements for products to be marketed this way. Cosmeceuticals are simply cosmetic products with a clever marketing name attached to them, allowing cosmetic companies to raise the prices on these products.
Is It a Drug, Cosmetic, or Soap?
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is the federal agency responsible for regulating all products that we put into and onto our bodies (excluding meat and poultry). This is a huge umbrella, but we’re focusing on cosmetics.
Even the term “cosmetics” itself is broad and includes much more than makeup and hair care. It includes all personal care products and face/body products that are not ingested. This includes moisturizers, serums, face cleansers, body washes, face serums, tanning oils, nail polish, hair color, permanent hair treatments, and even toothpaste!
The FDA divides personal care products into three different categories: drugs, cosmetics, and soap. It’s the intended use of each product that determines its category; not necessarily its contents.
A product is defined as a drug if it is intended for the use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body. The drug category has 2 subcategories: over-the-counter and prescription. All other non-drug products are classified as cosmetics.
Can a Cosmetic Become a Drug?
What’s the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant?
Antiperspirant is an over-the-counter drug which claims to stop perspiration – a physiological change or change of the boy’s function. Deodorants are considered cosmetic since it only claims to deodorize and cover up odor.
It’s neither the ingredients nor the formulation that make the difference, but rather the claims made about the product.
Other examples of common products that are thought of as cosmetics but fall under the OTC umbrella:
- Anti-dandruff shampoo (treats a skin disorder)
- Toothpaste with fluoride (prevents cavities)
- Moisturizers with sun protection (protects skin from UV rays)
How Do I Pick Effective Cosmeceuticals?
Just because the cosmeceutical label is used for marketing, there are products out there that will give you real results.
On your next cosmetic splurge, read the labels of all the products you pick up. How are their claims worded?
Many products will use clever word choice to push the limits with product claims. Look out for wording like:
- Makes skin feel firmer.
- Visibly reduces wrinkles.
- Promotes a youthful appearance.
Notice the italicized words in each phrase. These claims are subjective, not scientific. Just because skin feels firmer, or wrinkles are less visible, or appears more youthful, doesn’t mean that it’s factually true.
Other products will claim to be “Dermatologist Tested” or “Clinically Proven.”
Some products really do go through dermatological testing, which includes being patch tested on about 50 subjects for signs of irritation. But when you think about it, seeing “Dermatologist Tested” on a product, especially after reading a few wild claims, might give you a certain perception of the product. You may even assume that dermatologists recommend it.
“Clinically Proven” is used to make companies seem like they’re using cutting edge technology. But the truth is, brands will claim a special ingredient that may be in the product in a minuscule amount, and conduct small group samples.
Like labeling a product “cosmeceutical,” it’s all done to make the product seem more impressive and effective than it really is.
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