Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic ingredients: introduction to skincare

Cosmeceutical is a word first introduced in the 1980s as the combination of “cosmetic” and “pharmaceutical”, to describe products that contain an active ingredient known to exert a biological therapeutic effect on the skin.

From a regulatory point of view the term cosmeceutical has no meaning; a product can be a cosmetic, a drug, or both; nevertheless, skincare brands are increasingly using this word to market their products, carefully studying the claims they make in order to keep the cosmeceutical product in the cosmetic category and not having to undergo the thorough (and costly) FDA approval process for drugs.

skincare cosmeceuticals

What are the goals of skincare?

Skincare products may be used for a wide variety of reasons, but we can sum up the main goals of skincare as the following:

In particular, the first three goals listed above should be pursued by everyone, regardless of skin type, age, gender or skin conditions. The skin is our outermost organ, and its functioning is very important for the organism: among its many function, the skin prevents and regulates the loss of body fluids and electrolytes, helps regulate the body temperature, and serves as a physical barrier that protects us from the outside environment stopping microbes, UV rays and oxidant agents. Cleansing, protecting and moisturizing are 3 simple actions that help maintain and restore the proper functioning of this important organ.

Knowing your skin type before choosing a skincare product

Once one goal has been defined there is one more very important step before shopping for products: knowing, and understanding, your skin type.

One of the most widely known skin type classifications, used by skincare product manufacturers, defines 5 basic categories:

  1. Normal Skin.
  2. Oily Skin.
  3. Dry Skin.
  4. Combination Skin.
  5. Sensitive Skin.

A more recent and thorough classification of skin types is the one developed by Dr. Baumann which classifies the skin in 16 different types based on the combination of 4 parameters: hydration, inflammation, pigmentation and skin aging risk factors.

  • Oily (O) vs dry (D)
  • Sensitive (S) vs resistant (R)
  • Pigmented (P) vs non-pigmented (N)
  • Wrinkle-prone (W) vs non-wrinkle-prone (T, tight)

The skin type may change over time: lifestyle, aging, stress, diseases, hormonal changes (such as menopause or pregnancy), climate conditions, … may produce a change. The use of a proper and tailored skin care routine can also change the skin type and overtime you can get to the healthiest skin type, which is “normal” in the 5-category classification or “ORNT” in Baumann’s classification.

For more information on the different skin types and how to determine your own skin type, check out the dedicated blog post.

Layering: the steps of skincare routines

Layering is another important aspect in skin care routines: layering in the correct order optimizes absorption, penetration and efficacy of the selected products. Although the following steps may vary slightly depending on each individual and on the products used, in general the following is the correct order of application, or layering, of skin care products:

Morning skin care routine:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Eye products
  3. Treatment product or prescribed medication
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Sunscreen

Night skin care routine:

  1. Make-up remover (if using make-up during the day)
  2. Cleanser
  3. Eye product
  4. Treatment product or prescribed medication
  5. Moisturizer
  6. Retinoid*

We’ll go more in depth into proper layering of skin care products in a dedicated article.

*Many people apply retinoids at an earlier step. The reason it was put as last item is that it is an aggressive product and by applying it last, we can limit its penetration. The frequency of application, the retinoid type and its concentration, and the step in which it’s applied will depend upon your own characteristics and preferences.

Skin care and Cosmeceutical Ingredients

Please find below a link to all the articles on skin care topics and on cosmeceutical products covering each theme more extensively. These are common classes of cosmeceuticals found online and in physical stores.




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