What is Cosmeceutical?

Consumers are now looking for skincare products that will deliver real, lasting results. It is the potent ingredients of a product and the amount of them that will upgrade the cosmetic status, so you may have come across the term ‘cosmeceutical’. Cosmeceuticals are cosmetic products with bioactive ingredients purported to have medical benefits. The name is a combination of “cosmetics” and “pharmaceuticals”. A cosmeceutical is essentially a skincare product that contains biologically active compounds that thought to have pharmaceutical effects on the skin. The high performance extracts and ingredients can have benefits of improving skin appearance by its ability to affect the structure and function of the skin.

Cosmeceutical is not regulated by the FDA in various countries or recognize the term as separate from cosmetics, and they are not bound to the claims on their packaging. A product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the law. Thus, cosmeceuticals are sold as cosmetics but have pharmaceutical properties. In other words, calendula extract might potentially be fabulous for your skin and treat a skin condition, however a skincare brand using this active compound can only make vague claims about its rejuvenating or refreshing qualities, not anti-inflammatory or antibacterial properties.


Skin changes with age. Lesser natural oils, sun damage, and decreased cell renewal can all lead to dry, rougher skin as we get older. The skin is comprised of three primary layers:

When water passes from the dermis through the epidermis and evaporates from the skin’s surface, this is known as transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Skin needs both hydration and moisturization to maintain a desirable level of TEWL. Hydration refers to the water content of the skin, whereas moisturization is the skin’s ability to retain those water molecules. Therefore, your skin needs both elements, and to achieve this, moisturizing agents and barrier repair agents seek to enhance epidermal function, reduce TEWL. 

Not just skin becomes drier, it wrinkled, spotted skin include normal aging, exposure to the sun (photo-aging) and pollution, and loss of subcutaneous support (fatty tissue between your skin and muscle). Prevention is key. Other than avoiding sun exposure and leading a healthy lifestyle, using skincare comes with high performance ingredients that will increase the anti-aging efficacy.

High performance ingredients or cosmeceuticals can be categorized in many ways, and there are hundreds of ingredients that could be used in the world of high performance cosmetics. We are looking at 8 groups of high performance ingredients or cosmeceutical anti-aging compounds.

1. Moisturizing Agents
2. Barrier Repair Agents
3. Antioxidants 
4. Anti-Aging Agents
5. Hydroxy Acids
6. Skin Lightening Agents
7. Photo-Protecting Ingredients
8. Vitamins

Moisturizing Agents

The stratum corneum (Latin for ‘horny layer’) is the outermost layer of the epidermis consists of 15% of water. The importance of stratum corneum is its water content, “normal” non-flaky skin appearance is with healthy tissue containing greater than 10% water. When this figure drops below 10%, our skin starts to feel dry and flaky. Any further drying can lead to painful signs of dry skin, such as cracked skin and an overall reduction in flexibility of the skin. A moisturizing agent works by preventing or treating this dryness.

Moisturizing agents fall into one of three categories:

Occlusive – Generally, form a barrier on the outside of the skin, locking in moisture and increasing the overall moisture content. Examples: –

Emollient – A preparation that softens skin improves the appearance of the skin by smoothing flaky skin cells, with the ability to spread on the skin. The rate of barrier repair can be increased by using emollient lipids similar to the skin or by combining emollients with different ‘spread rates’. Examples: –


Humectants – A substance that reduces the loss of moisture, capable of attracting water, and helps to conserve the water in the skin. However, high levels of humectants can impart a sticky feeling to the skin. Examples: –

Barrier Repair Agents

A barrier repair agent is an ingredient that enhances the epidermal barrier function. A barrier repair agent seeks to enhance epidermal barrier function, reduce transepidermal water loss, and reduce inflammation by replenishing lipids in the skin as well as ceramides.

Botanical seed oils contain lipids called essential fatty acids (EFAs). Topical application of EFA-rich lipids helps to increase cell membrane fluidity, enhances barrier function and repair, decreases trans-epidermal water loss, improves moisturization, cell signaling, cell immunity, and anti-inflammatory activity. There are two main families of EFAs: –

1. Omega-3: comprised of Alpha- Linolenic Acid (ALA) and its longer chain derivatives Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Oils high in Alpha-Linolenic Acid include:

2. Omega-6: comprised of Linoleic Acid (LA) and its longer chain derivatives such as Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) and Arachidonic Acid (AA).

Oils high in Gamma-Linolenic Acid include:

Oils high in Linolenic Acid include:

Ceramides are composed partially of linolenic acid, which is why adding linolenic acid-containing oils to your skin may also help the production of certain ceramides. Ceramides are lipids that help form the skin’s barrier and help skin retain moisture. Ceramides also help the skin to protect against environmental aggressors like irritants and pollution.


Antioxidants are substances that help protect the skin’s surface from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and environmental aggressors like UV and pollution. They act like little defenders to stop free radicals from causing cell damage.

Antioxidants can be oil-soluble and water-soluble.



Antioxidants do not treat skin aging, but instead, they prevent early skin aging. Inclusion of antioxidants in your skincare can help your skin fight free radical damage and recover from oxidative stress, so prevent the loss of skin firmness and elasticity and help to prevent wrinkles.

They are many types of organic ingredients that contain naturally occurring antioxidants. Certain well-known antioxidants found in plants are called polyphenols. Polyphenols are of interest of skin include:

Anti-Aging Agents

Anti-aging ingredients can take many different forms. Their mode of action varies and may include deep moisturizing effects, prevention of water loss, antioxidant properties, replenishing of depleted components, general stimulation of the skin, and maintenance of the natural homeostasis of the skin cell. 

Two main groups of agents can be used as anti-aging cream components, the antioxidants, and cell regulators. Antioxidants are mentioned in the previous section, and the ingredients focus here are that can boost connective tissue production, also known as cell regulators. Cell regulators such as vitamin A derivatives, polypeptides and botanical, act directly on the collagen metabolism and stimulate the production of collagen and elastin fibers.

Vitamin A (retinol) and its derivate retinoids are lipophilic and easily penetrate the epidermis. This ease of penetration makes them the most often used as an anti-aging compound. Retinol can reduce the signs of UV-induced early skin aging, such as wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, and pigmentation. Topical retinoids can also cause skin irritation and various skin reactions. However, even as little as 0.1% has been shown to prevent the breakdown of collagen and promote collagen synthesis.

Peptides are short chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Peptides are produced naturally within a biological process, and our bodies produce many different types of peptides. Through the topical application, certain peptides have the ability to stimulate collagen synthesis and activate dermal metabolism. But naturally-produced peptides can be inefficient. Peptides are inherently hydrophilic and relatively large molecular size, which makes it challenging to get them across the lipophilic stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis.

This is where science comes in. By taking apart an original, natural peptide, a new molecule can be created with the desired traits – working more safely and efficiently than the naturally-produced peptide. So those peptides created in a “lab” were created from a natural process but produced a more efficient, effective ingredient. There are a significant number of synthetic peptides: –

Hydroxy Acids

Hydroxy acids are naturally occurring organic acids that promote exfoliation, and in doing so, they accelerate the turnover of skin cells. Hydroxy acids lead to the increased detachment of the outer layer of skin cells called keratinocytes, which means they cause exfoliation. This creates a smoother skin surface and an improved skin tone. 

The best-known hydroxyl acids: 

Derived from citrus acid fruits (citric acid), dairy products (lacid acid), rice (phytic acid) sugar cane, and sugar beets (glycolic acid), grapes (tartaric acid) and more. They work by breaking down the glue, holding your skin cells together, urging along the skin’s natural shedding process. The effects of AHAs are primarily felt on the skin’s surface, so are better used in thickened, sun-damaged skin or dry skin type where breakouts are not a problem. AHAs are water-soluble. 

Salicylic acid, which is derived from willow bark and various other fruits and vegetables. BHA is best for acne-prone skin and those with deeper skin concerns since BHA penetrates further into the skin. BHAs also exfoliate the top layer, clear up blackheads, whiteheads that built up inside the pore. BHAs tend to dry the skin. BHAs are oil-soluble. 

Additionally, AHA and BHA both:

– Diminish the look of lines and wrinkles
– Make skin look and feel firmer
– Hydrate skin
– Improve the look of dull, uneven skin tone
– Smoothen rough, bumpy texture

Research is ongoing into the effects of hydroxy acids on pigmentation, and it is thought they may also indirectly inhibit the formulation of melanin – the pigment that gives skin its color. 

Skin Lightening Agents

A skin lightening agent is an ingredient that affects the overall pigment of the skin. Skin pigmentation disorders occur because the body produces either too much or too little melanin, a pigment produced by melanocytes. Skin lightening agents will inhibit melanin tyrosinase or melanotropin, so reduce or block some amount of melanin production. Ingredients that can inhibit tyrosinase do not eliminate melanin in the skin. Many treatments use a combination of topical lotions or gels containing melanin-inhibiting ingredients along with a sunscreen and a prescription retinoid. Depending on how the skin responds to these treatments, exfoliants either in the form of topical cosmetic or chemical peels, and lasers may be used.

Examples of well-known organic skin lightening agents include:

– Arbutin
– Kojic acid
– Mulberry extract
– Liquorice extract
– Azelaic Acid

Some of the skin lightening ingredients may be used in cosmetics in very low concentrations or are prescription-only products.

Photo Protecting Ingredients

Photo protecting ingredients are compounds that protect against the damaging effects of UV radiation exposure. They help to prevent the signs of dermal aging associated with UV radiation. Photo-protecting ingredients are added to skincare for their anti-aging function and not for their sun-care functionality.

Numerous natural ingredients are often also antioxidants, have been shown to offer a small amount of photo-protective properties, which means that they can provide double benefits. This list includes: –

– Green tea
– Aloe vera
– Caffeic acid
– Calendula
– Coconut oil
– Ginger
– Resveratrol
– Sesame oil
– Shea butter
– Tamanu oil
– Tocopherol (Vitamin E)


Vitamins are important ingredients for your skin and benefits to the skin, including suppression of pigmentation, stimulation of collagen synthesis, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. The most commonly found vitamins in skincare include:

– Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid – water-soluble)
– Vitamin E (Tocopherol – oil-soluble)
– Vitamin A (Retinol – oil-soluble)
-Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide – water-soluble)

Of this list of Vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin E are best known for their antioxidant properties as both vitamins have free radical-scavenging properties. Vitamin C can further increase collagen production, which makes it a very precious anti-aging ingredient.

Vitamin C can neutralize free radicals in the skin and can increase collagen production to help keep your skin healthy. There are different types of Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid/ L-Ascorbic Acid is natural, water-soluble form of the Vitamin C molecule that has been isolated from the other compounds naturally found in whole Vitamin C. However, Ascorbic acid is very unstable and inactive when comes in contact of light and/or air. It also oxides extremely fast, degrade the acid, which can be irritating to the skin. To penetrate the skin, it requires a pH of less than 3.5, which can cause serious stinging to the skin. For natural beauty products, as natural preservatives can only work best at pH 5 to 5.5, such form of Vitamin C will not be found in water-based products.

Vitamin C Derivatives

A compound like polypeptide, phosphate, or palmitate is added to prevent the degradation of Vitamin C as they are not sensitive to light and air, so they are more stable. They are not pH dependent and thus less irritating to your skin. They come in the form of water-soluble or fat-soluble. 


This derivative of Vitamin C is more stable, easily absorbed by the skin, where it is converted into L-ascorbic acid. It is as potent has Ascorbic Acid in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improved appearance in skin elasticity, and improving the look of photo-damaged skin. It causes less skin irritation, so this is the best form if you have sensitive or dry skin.

This derivate of vitamin C is gentle on the skin and converts to ascorbic acid after it’s absorbed. It does not pass through the top layer of skin, so it does not convert into Ascorbic Acid. It is less effective for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles but able to find in many skincare as it is easy to formulate with.


This derivate of Vitamin C is often used in oil-based skincare formulas. It is also a more stable form of Vitamin C, but less potent compared to other forms as it’s non-acidic. It fights free radical damage to protect against signs of aging and repairing skin.

This is the newest form of Vitamin C, thus more stable. It is also considered to be more potent than other Vitamin C compounds and has a higher rate of penetration (because it is fat-soluble, like human skin) than other derivatives. It is used for general skin treatment.

Vitamin E’s main function in skincare is to protect against sun damage by absorbing the harmful UV light from the sun when applied to the skin. This can help prevent dark spots and wrinkles. 

Vitamin E that are classified into two groups – tocopherols and tocotrienols. The most prevalent form in the skin is alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol. Most tocopherols are thought to function in cosmetics as antioxidants or skin conditioning agents. In contrast, tocotrienols are not reported to function in cosmetics as an antioxidant, but instead as a light stabilizer, oral care agent, or skin conditioning agent.


Cosmeceuticals are not regulated as drugs by the FDA because the FDA review process for drugs can be very costly and may not yield a legally marketable product if the FDA denies approval of the product. Hence, a consumer must not be misled that a “cosmeceutical” is held to the same FDA standards as a drug. Any such claims made regarding the product must be substantiated by scientific evidence as being truthful.

Categories: Active Botanical

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