Emerging from the murky grey area betwixt beauty and science… Is it a drug? Is it a cream? Is it SOAP? It’s… it’s… the RISE of the COSMECEUTICALS!

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What the Heck is a Cosmeceutical?

A cosmeceutical is a word invented by some mad genius within the beauty industry that fuses the word “cosmetic” with “pharmaceutical” to give life to a product that is a dream for marketers, a nightmare for legislators, and a potential disaster for consumers. 

In spite of how many times you hear or see the word “cosmeceutical” according to the FDA it’s a fantasy monster that doesn’t exist.  “A product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term ‘cosmeceutical’ has no meaning under the law,” says the FDA website.

The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act 

As we discussed in our article about the Food and Drug Administration the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 set up specific definitions of each of these items. A drug was defined as “articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease" and "articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals.” Drugs were considered unsafe and had to go through a New Drug Application (NDA), which involved extensive and expensive testing before being allowed to be sold to the public. 

A cosmetic, on the other hand was defined as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” This includes shampoos, lipsticks, moisturizers, fingernail polishes, etc. Once they make any medical claims, they are supposed to comply with both cosmetic and drug laws – in other words, spending a lot of money on testing their safety and efficacy.

But since supplements were “spun off” into their own separate category in 1994 and as long as these cosmeceuticals have language on their website stating they have not been evaluated by the FDA and aren’t intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, they are able to use this legal grey area to market these products however they want.  “There is concern that the use of the term cosmeceutical is deceiving to consumers who think these products are held to the same standards as drugs and are regulated by the FDA as such,” noted Patricia K. Farris M.D. in an article for the Dermatology Times; Dr. Farris concluded a updating of the law, which has essentially been unchanged since enacted in 1938, is warranted to give manufacturers and consumers more guidance.  

Do Cosmeceuticals REALLY Offer Any Benefits?

Using this fancy term, making the proper disclosures, and pairing up with a doctor and/or celebrity allows many products to make lofty claims and charge an even loftier price. But does their “science” really benefit consumers with more effective anti-aging products? Judging from the reviews from actual consumers, the answer appears to be: No.

For example, Beverly Hills MD is a line of cosmeceuticals developed and sold by 2 real Beverly Hills doctors, yet their products only get an average of 3.5 stars. “Disappointed” and “still waiting for a result” are common headlines. Many complain of a funny smell or leaving their skin irritated. To be sure, there are a few 5-star reviews, but several of these have been called out by other reviewers as fake.

Another popular cosmeceutical product is Crepe Erase from Guthy Renker and pitched by actress Jane Seymour and Dr. Jame Haskett who tout its near-instant anti-aging benefits. Crepe Erase also gets low marks from our visitors (2-stars) who not only complain of a lack of effectiveness but also of the hidden pricing and sneaky auto-ship program buried in the fine print. A third example, Derm Exclusive pitched by Dr. Andrew Ordon and touted by Minnie Driver, receives similar complaints. 

Conclusion: Combining these reviews along with our investigation of cheap vs. expensive skin creams, it appears cosmeceuticals aren’t any better than an over-the-counter cosmetic product sold at your local pharmacy. 

Cosmeceutical Legislation Limbo

Because of continuing concerns about the effectiveness and safety of these unregulated cosmetics and cosmeceuticals by consumer groups, senators and the general public, there have been periodic pushes for more guidance and reform.

In 2013, the Personal Care Council, a group of 600 cosmetic companies, attempted to broker a deal with the FDA. A tentative agreement would have allowed the FDA to review cosmetic ingredients before products were released in the market, companies would be required to notify the FDA of any health problems they caused, and the FDA would be able to order mandatory recalls. However, the PCC had a change of heart, and the agreement was abandoned. 

Cosmetic Wars: A New Hope

But just when things seemed lost, there may be help on the horizon. In April of 2015, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which would expand the FDA’s powers to oversee and regulate the cosmetics industry for the first time. 

Special Note: Although the word “cosmetic” is used 289 times in the bill, the word “cosmeceutical” is mentioned… exactly zero times. This means that if this law were to be enacted, the Monster may finally be killed.

[SFX: Roar, Body Falling]

Cosmeceutical Conclusions

While cosmetic reforms fight their way through a bickering Congress and a reluctant Industry, there are a few things we think you should remember:

  • Legally, there is no such thing as a cosmeceutical.
  • In spite of their claims, there is little evidence they are more effective.
  • In fact, over-the-counter moisturizers appear to have many of the same benefits.
  • If any product claims to be the Fountain of Youth, be very skeptical as it doesn’t exist.

In addition, before buying any cosmetic products, let us recommend visiting the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep Cosmetic Database. This non-profit consumer-oriented organization has been analyzing the ingredients of many popular cosmeceutical and skin care products for safety. If you donate $5, you can get a copy of their Quick Tips for Safer Cosmetics guide.

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You may also want to read: EXPOSED! 7 Secrets of the Anti-Aging Industry