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Cosmeceuticals: A Comprehensive Guide on This Skincare Term

Cosmeceuticals: A Comprehensive Guide on This Skincare Term

by Antoinette Barnardo 23 Dec 2019

You may have come across the term “cosmeceuticals” when looking at an Instagram ad or browsing through beauty products at Sephora. But despite its closeness to “cosmetics,” there is a world of difference between the two categories.

So what exactly do cosmeceuticals refer to? And are they also linked to pharmaceuticals?

To answer these questions, we will cover what cosmeceuticals are exactly, the pros and cons of using them, and which cosmeceutical ingredients to look out for.

What Are Cosmeceuticals?

The term cosmeceutical is a play on the words "cosmetics" and "pharmaceuticals." According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cosmeceuticals refer to "cosmetic products that have medicinal or drug-like benefits."

For decades, the beauty industry has rolled out countless innovative cosmeceuticals products such as moisturisers infused with antioxidants, sunscreens that contain botanical extracts, or retinol-based anti-aging lotions.

When you stop and think about it for a minute, cosmeceutical products have become the mainstay of most skincare routines.

The Difference Between Cosmetics, Drugs, and Cosmeceuticals

Cosmetics beautify imperfections the way foundation covers up acne blemishes and dullness. Drugs work by treating a health condition or disease.

Cosmeceuticals, on the other hand, contain biologically active ingredients that physically change the skin to bring about good skin health in the long term. They are often sold or used in clinics and are recommended by skin experts. However, unlike drugs, cosmeceutical products are not meant to cure skin diseases. You can think of cosmeceuticals as a step up above your average cosmetics but without the full curative effects of a drug.

Introduction to YORA Cosmeceuticals

YORA’s range of cosmeceuticals may look and feel like cosmetics, but they are not padded out with harmful ingredients, and thus do not compromise on results. Formulated with highly efficacious actives and premium ingredients, YORA’s products incorporate the three pillars of cosmeceuticals to achieve overall skin wellness:

  • Fundamental – to protect and repair the skin
  • Transform – to moisturise, exfoliate, and promote skin cell turnover
  • Optimise – to stimulate the skin

These products have also been further categorised and developed to provide hydration and moisturisation, protect against environmental pollutants, and minimise the visible signs of ageing – leaving you with healthy, radiant skin.

That said, YORA products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The Pros and Cons of Using Cosmeceuticals

Like any other beauty products, cosmeceuticals have their benefits and risks too.

Benefit #1: Boost your skin health without relying on prescriptions

Since most cosmeceuticals are sold over-the-counter, you can easily purchase them to treat your skin concerns, be it eliminating stubborn breakouts or reducing your under-eye bags. The best part is you don't have to visit your dermatologist for a prescription to get what your skin needs.

Benefit #2: Most cosmeceuticals are affordable but deliver potent results

While cosmeceuticals being a hybrid of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics may sound expensive, the truth is, that's not the case. Most cosmeceutical products are easily affordable, which provides you bang for your buck.

Benefit #3: Cosmeceuticals are an alternative to invasive treatments

Due to their ability to create physiological changes in your skin for the better, cosmeceuticals are a great alternative to invasive treatments to correct skin concerns such as hyperpigmentation and fine lines.

Risk #1: Cosmeceutical products are not subjected to FDA review

The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act has clarified that "a product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both," but does not recognise cosmeceuticals as a standalone beauty category. As such, cosmeceutical products are not subjected to FDA review.

This means that even though cosmeceuticals are tested for safety, the cosmetic industry doesn't need to conduct testing of the active ingredients to see if they live up to a purported cosmeceutical claim.

Risk #2: You nay not get what you pay for

This is concerning the earlier point — since the cosmeceutical product you're purchasing may not have undergone testing to prove its efficacy, there's a chance that you're wasting your money on a product that may not work. To prevent this from happening, it is worth checking your cosmeceutical products for actives that have been tested or can speak to the functional benefits they promise.

Commonly Used Active Ingredients With Proven Efficacy

Given the lack of regulation in this area, it's easy to mislead consumers into buying seemingly effective cosmeceutical products only to be disappointed when the product didn't bring about the desired improvements. So how do you choose a cosmeceutical product that will deliver what it promises?

To help you choose cosmeceutical products that work, we'll look at commonly used active ingredients that have been scientifically proven. These actives target skin conditions like hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and photodamage to enhance your skin health.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Recommended for: Anti-aging, photodamage

Alpha-lipoic acid is a fat-soluble and water-soluble antioxidant that recycles other antioxidants, like vitamin C, and fights off harmful free radicals. In a 2014 study in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, alpha-lipoic acid was found to be effective in treating photodamage and fine lines. On top of that, there was no adverse skin reaction when using alpha-lipoic acid topically.


Recommended for: Anti-inflammatory, dryness

Chamomile’s anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, analgesic, and moisturizing properties make it a potent botanical ingredient in cosmeceutical products. It is used to promote wound healing and improve skin texture and elasticity.

One thing to note though is that using topical chamomile-based products may cause contact dermatitis and conjunctivitis. As such, you should do a patch test first to see how your skin reacts to it.


Recommended for: Anti-aging, hyperpigmentation, lightening

In a 2007 study conducted by the University of Miami Cosmetic Center, ginseng was found to inhibit melanogenesis and reverse age-related skin changes. As such, botanicals like ginseng have been modified to become the active component in YORA Rebalance Day Face Serum to promote skin radiance while minimizing oxidative damage.

Green Tea

Recommended for: Anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, photoprotection

Rich in polyphenols, green tea (contained in our Clarify Face Cleanser) is anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and an antioxidant. The most abundant form of polyphenols in green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). It has immense photoprotective abilities and is anti-ageing.

For effective skin penetration, it's best to choose a cosmeceutical product that uses an oil-in-water emulsion as the carrying vehicle for topical EGCG.

Hyaluronic Acid 

Recommended for: Anti-aging, dryness

A 2018 study in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules pointed out that hyaluronic acid is a potent cosmeceutical ingredient. Thanks to its ability to stimulate collagen and elastin, it is widely used in anti-aging products to reduce wrinkles and crow's feet. It also improves skin hydration, firmness, and elasticity.

An example would be YORA’s own hyaluronic acid blend that is used in numerous products to provide intense moisturisation to the skin. It also helps to minimise the visible signs of ageing such as fine lines and wrinkles.

Hydroxy Acids 

Recommended for: Acne, anti-aging, brightening, hyperpigmentation

Hydroxy acids consist of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs), and bionic acids. These acids promote collagen biosynthesis to thicken the dermis and lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Given that these acids also speed up the rate of skin renewal, they are ideal for improving hyperpigmentation and brightening dull skin.


Recommended for: Anti-aging

Peptides are short amino acid chains that are commonly used in anti-aging cosmeceutical products. Some peptides of interest are Ac-EEMQRR (Argireline), pal-KTTKS (Matrixyl), and Cu-GHK. Argireline has been clinically proven to diminish the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines by reducing wrinkle depth, roughness, volume, and length.


Recommended for: Anti-aging

Retinoids, also known as vitamin A, are available in many forms. Over-the-counter cosmeceutical products often contain vitamin A derivatives such as retinaldehyde, retinol, and retinyl esters. A 2010 study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal highlighted that there is ample evidence for retinaldehyde as an effective anti-aging agent.

One thing to note about using retinoids is that initial skin irritation such as redness, dryness, stinging, and peeling are common. The possibility of these side effects increases with higher concentrations of vitamin A. They usually subside after two to three weeks when your skin has become tolerant to the active.

Vitamin C 

Recommended for: Anti-aging, photoprotection

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology pointed out that vitamin C plays an important role in collagen biosynthesis.

To ensure the efficacy of the cosmeceutical formulation, choose a product that is formulated at less than pH 3.5 with a concentration of no more than 20%. This will help improve the skin penetration and absorption rate of vitamin C.

Vitamin E

Recommended for: Anti-aging, photoprotection 

Based on a 1993 study conducted by the University of Western Ontario, vitamin E lowers UVB-induced photodamage and prevents UV-induced tumor formation. Its photoprotective abilities are also enhanced by four times when combined with L-ascorbic acid as shown in a 2003 study done by the Duke University Medical Center.

The Present and Future of Skincare

Cosmeceuticals have revolutionised the way we use skincare products and will continue to do so. The main issue here isn't about whether you should use cosmeceuticals but rather how to choose the ones that work.

To choose the right cosmeceutical products, being an educated consumer is the key. Read cosmeceutical claims carefully and back it up with scientific data from clinical studies to confirm that the product does deliver what it promises. Doing so will not only mean money well-spent but ensure your skin is receiving the benefits it needs.

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