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Everything you need to know about cosmeceuticals

January 1 | 3 minute read

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Words by Arabella Roden & Hannah Daniel

Originally published on | July 7

It’s a term you’ve no doubt heard before – cosmeceuticals.

It was coined by dermatologist Dr Albert Kligman in 1984 and has become increasingly popular since. According to the Australian College of Dermatologists, cosmeceuticals are “applied topically as creams or lotions but contain active ingredients.”

Hannah Daniel, MECCA’s category education lead for skincare explains: “Here at MECCA, we class cosmeceuticals as a step up from traditional skincare. They can be extremely beneficial in helping to improve the appearance of skin.”

Want to learn more? Read on!

What are cosmeceuticals?

Today, the term cosmeceutical describes skincare that incorporates potent active ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, retinol, niacinamide or antioxidants. Think of them as ‘supercharged’ formulas that are designed to help with texture, uneven skin tone or the appearance of fine lines. Cosmeceutical skincare brands tend to place a strong emphasis on science when creating formulas.
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What is the difference between cosmeceuticals and traditional skincare?

Traditional skincare tends to focus on maintaining the skin more broadly through non-active ingredients, such as occlusives (read: formulas that ‘seal in’ the skin’s moisture) or micelles (which help to cleanse the skin).

The difference between cosmeceuticals and traditional skincare is the inclusion of active ingredients for various purposes. For example, vitamin C can help with the appearance of fine lines and dullness in the skin. However, with this and any other cosmeceutical ingredients, it’s important to consider how the concentration of active ingredients can impact your results.

What are the common active ingredients found in cosmeceuticals?

Cosmeceutical ingredient lists often read like a ‘greatest hits’ of skincare! Some of your favourite actives make the cut, including:

  • AHAs: Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are often present in cosmeceutical skincare for their exfoliating effect.
  • Antioxidants: These molecules neutralise free radicals whilst also assisting in protecting skin from oxidative stress and damage caused by environmental aggressors (like UV and pollution).
  • Hyaluronic acid: This potent hydrator binds to water molecules to help keep skin looking plump and fresh; it’s a cosmeceutical skincare classic!
  • Niacinamide: Vitamin B3, aka niacinamide, is a skincare multitasker, helping to minimise the appearance of pores as well as uneven skin tone and texture. Plus, it can also assist in moisture retention.
  • Peptides: These short chains of amino acid sequences are the building blocks of larger proteins; one of the major roles they play in skincare is to help in the quest for firmer and plumper-looking skin.
  • Retinol: Also known as vitamin A, retinol – and its many forms and derivatives – is often hailed as a skincare wonder for its ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines, uneven skin tone and blemishes.

Which skin types can use cosmeceuticals?

Because cosmeceuticals are designed for a variety of skin attributes, they can be a suitable option for all skin types. Oily skin types may see benefits from cosmeceuticals that include active ingredients such as salicylic acid, while cosmeceuticals including hyaluronic acid will likely be a good option for those with dry skin. Cosmeceutical skincare with retinol, peptides and vitamin C are ideal for mature skin, while those with sensitive skin may look for gentle actives like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide in their cosmeceuticals.

What are the cosmeceutical skincare brands?

Cosmeceutical skincare brands are often founded by or associated with dermatologists (like Dr. Dennis Gross) and other specialists (like Dr. Barbara Sturm and Skinstitut) or scientists (like Verso). Here are some of our favourites at MECCA:

  • Dr. Dennis Gross: Founded by New York-based dermatologist and skin cancer researcher Dr Dennis Gross, this range is known for combining complementary active ingredients, such as retinol and ferulic acid or vitamin C and lactic acid. The brand’s legendary Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel was designed to replicate the type of chemical exfoliation clients would receive in his clinic and has been a crowd favourite ever since its creation.
  • Dr. Barbara Sturm: To start her career in beauty, Dr Sturm opened a clinic in her native Düsseldorf, Germany. She is credited for popularising hyaluronic acid serums, and her formulas focus on keeping the skin nourished and hydrated.
  • Skinstitut: Australian skincare brand Skinstitut keeps simplicity at the heart of its philosophy, with each formula reviewed by a council of dermatologists and doctors. What will you find inside its purple-toned packaging? Actives like peptides, vitamin C, retinol, niacinamide and glycolic acid. A MECCA favourite? The Glycolic Scrub 14%, for ultra-smooth skin.
  • Verso: A form of retinol lies at the heart of Stockholm-based Verso’s formulations. Its range of skincare is designed with premature signs of ageing in mind, such as the appearance of uneven skin tone and texture, while also boosting clarity and luminosity. We love the Super Facial Serum, which combines retinol with hyaluronic acid and peptides.

Related topics and brand tags

Skin careHyaluronic acidVitamin CNiacinamideRetinol

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