What is the difference between COSMETICS and COSMECEUTICALS?

The cosmetic industry is growing rapidly without any signs of slowing down, but with more people becoming conscious about their looks and health, new technologies and treatments are being introduced regularly.

What is the difference between cosmetics and cosmeceuticals? Cosmetics and cosmeceuticals both enhance the beauty of the skin. However, these two similar products (which can sometimes be found in the same section of department stores) are not quite the same thing. Cosmetics are mainly for cover-ups, such as foundation. Cosmeceuticals, on the other hand, work from within to stimulate natural processes.

Cosmetics are used for the purpose of enhancing beauty, and are worn primarily for that reason. Cosmeceuticals is a relatively new category in the cosmetic market. Cosmeceutical products are different from cosmetics since they have additional benefits in the treatment or care of the skin, such as acne remedies and sunscreens, which they may also be used to prevent or treat other diseases.

Cosmetics are intended to promote the beauty process while cosmeceuticals targets the structure and function of your skin (Wikipedia). In other words, cosmetics are used externally to beautify, whereas cosmeceuticals work at a deeper level in the skin to improve the health of your skin.

Antiperspirants that stop you from sweating, toothpaste that whitens teeth, or anti-bacterial soaps, as well as SPF 30 or 50+ sunscreens, are classed (by definition) as drugs.


Whenever you hear people talking about cosmetics, they generally refer to makeup. The FDA defines cosmetics as makeup and as products designed "for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body's structure or functions". So soaps, shampoo, deodorant, fragrances, makeup, etc are classed as cosmetics.


I used to think it was Dr Albert Klingman who first used the term cosmeceutical, however researching it, I found it was Raymond Reed, founder of the U.S. Society of cosmetic chemists, who created the concept of "cosmeceutical" in 1961. The American dermatologist Albert Kligman popularized the term “cosmeceutical” in the late 1970s. In 1980, he went on to research Vitamin A and its effects on acne, sun damage and premature aging. This is when Retinol and its use in skin care were first used, which has revolutionized how we treat skin today.

Dr Alber Klingman defined Cosmeceuticals as skin care products combining cosmetics and pharmaceuticals ingredients. They are more active than basic skin care products which cleanse and cover up imperfections. 

Cosmeceuticals are regarded as skin care products with active ingredients claiming to have stronger benefits than basic cosmetics but not as strong as prescription drugs. Many cosmeceutical lines are known for delivering visible results without using prescription drugs.

In the ever-evolving beauty market, the variations of the cosmeceuticals concept have exploded. Some similar terms I have seen for cosmeceuticals include: nutraceuticals (ingested orally), aquaceuticals (using marine products), floraceuticals (using botanicals), neoceauticals, dermaceuticals, cosmedicals, active cosmetics, nutricosmetics, etc

Regardless of what they call themselves, they all are essentially the same. Skin care products with active ingredients which claim to have stronger benefits than basic cosmetics but are not as strong as prescription drugs.

Cosmeceutical products can now be purchased just about everywhere. I have seen products in pharmacies, not surprisingly, since cosmeceuticals are originally a marriage of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. 

Cosmeceuticals are not restricted to professional products only. Many department stores, supermarkets and pharmacy products contain ingredients that fall under the classification of cosmeceuticals such as retinol, B3, vitamin C, hydroxyl acids, peptides, growth factors, etc. High percentages of active ingredients are no longer the only differentiating factor, nor is the delivery system. Encapsulation technology has been around for decades and is used by many big brands. Some pharmaceutical products do have high percentages of active ingredients and department-store products have been using active ingredients and advanced delivery systems for a long time.

So what makes a professional, salon-only cosmeceutical different to a department store or a pharmacy skincare product? 

What makes the difference is the quality of the raw ingredients, the quality of the end product and a professional strength formula that delivers results. Generally, professional-only products do have higher percentages of actives in them, but the thing that sets them apart is the elegant and clever formulations. 

The higher percentage of actives, the different variety of actives and the way ingredients are combined to deliver a synergistic effect. Professional-only products rarely advertise to the mass market, they rely on results and word-of-mouth, not so much on marketing. So they have to perform and deliver dramatic results fast.

Professional-only products usually have an extensive range that can be tailored to individual skin types, conditions or concerns. They are professional only for a very good reason. It takes a trained, Certificate IV, Diploma or Degree qualified skin therapist to understand the skin in detail, the complex biological mechanisms and how these are affected by the environment and lifestyle. Only a qualified and trained therapist can confidently develop an effective treatment plan using professional-only products that will deliver results.


Some terms used to differentiate cosmetics from cosmeceuticals include: smooths, boosts radiance, clarifies, evens skin tone, improves skin texture, moisturizes, hydrates, protects, conceals, highlights, softens, conditions, lubricates, cleanses, tones, refreshes, clarifies, deodorizes, absorb excess skin oil, removes impurities.


Strengthens skin, strengthens/improves barrier, reduces redness, reduces the appearance of rosacea, anti-irritant, minimises blotchiness, unclogs pores, removes congestion, controls breakouts, purifying, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, increases skin's elasticity, firming & lifting, prevents signs of ageing, anti-aging, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, regenerates damaged skin, stimulates skin repair, heal, penetrates the skin to act, fades or reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

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The Essential Skincare Guide by Jana Elston

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