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Posted by andriantoangkadirjo85 on July 17, 2011

Hi all,

As a pharmacist who worked in cosmetics, I see many ingredients such as vitamins, antioxidants and other common functional ingredients, are used in treatment and personal care products. They are also used in color and decorative cosmetics and well as hair care and other products.. In fact, these common ingredients are used in almost every cosmetic product to make standard claims.

Below is just a quick short list of some of these common ingredients :

  • Hyaluronic Acid (you will see this listed on almost every ingredient label for treatment products)
  • Herbal Extracts (this list gets longer and longer as more vegetable derived ingredients become available)
  • PCA Derivatives (oil or water soluble varieties – used to retain moisture in the skin)
  • Vitamins and Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Resveritrol and Co-Enzyme Q10 (these are highly substantive)
  • Essential Fatty Acids and Complexes (Omega-3 and Omega-6)
  • Functional Proteins and Amino Acids (many are multi-functional – both in activity and aesthetics)
  • Components of Natural Moisturizing Factor (to replace materials in skin that may have been lost or reduced)
  • Ingredients for wound healing, anti-inflammatory and anti-irritation responses (true treatment ingredients)
  • Ceramides and other Cellular Enhancement Ingredients (healthy cells make for healthy skin)

Although there are many other ingredients that can be included in the list, these are some of the most common ingredients used to make the most basic treatment claims.

This have led to a virtual blurring of the boundaries between classical cosmetic and pharmaceutical. While the boundary is clearly defined by the the customer level,the understanding is that a $20 face cream can feed the skin with vitamins, anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. This idea of feeding the face back to beauty has a contributed to the mindset that ageing is a treatable condition that can be fixed if the ‘food’ is if you’re ageing badly, you must be feeding your skin junk ( the same analogy if we eat to much junk food, will jeopardize our heatlh..).

What does our skin really think about these products we slather onto it? I wonder if rubbed into our face, this will ever hit its biological target ?

Cosmetic or Drug?

In theUnited States, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defines cosmetics as “article intended to be rubbed, pour, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body… for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” Examples include blush, lipstick, nail polish, shampoo, and toothpaste.

But once the product claims venture into diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of disease and alleges to affect the structure or any function of the body, the product is a drug. Drugs are subject to stringent regulations, labeling (actives are called out from other ingredients) and testing requirements, which result in the investment of both time and money.

Products can be both cosmetic and drug if the intended use meets both definitions. Moisturizers with sunscreens, moisturizing hand sanitizers, and anti-dandruff shampoos all fall into this category. These cosmetic/drug combinations are subject to the regulations for both drugs and cosmetics. They are considered OTC or Over the Counter drugs.


One other classification of products is cosmeceuticals. The off-controversial but significant contributor to our field, dermatologist Dr. Albert Kligman, coined the term cosmeceutical almost 30 years ago. He defined cosmeceuticals as topically applied products that do have a physiological effect on the skin.  Kligman, however, intended to draw attention to the potential biological effects of all cosmetics that did not just merely camouflage or add color. In fact he said it was “scientifically silly to pretend that cosmetics did not do anything” and that cosmetics might actually be doing a lot of good.

The term cosmeceutical is not recognized as part of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Can cosmetics ever be good for you?

In pharmaceuticals, the prospect of being able to deliver a ‘therapeutic’ or ‘useful’ dose of an active through the skin, such as several common ‘patches’ including those for pain relief, for weaning the patient off nicotine, administering progesterone to menopausal women, simply because their actions are systemic rather than local. All these actives get into the blood stream via percutaneous absorption.

In cosmetics, such method via percutaneous absorption is absolutely out of question. It contravenes the legal definition of cosmetic. These cosmetic products are only permitted to deliver their actives locally (into the dermis or albeit more deeply).

In order to work out if cosmetics really can be good, let’s investigate the role of Vit. E, Vit. A and Vit. C play in skin and bodily health. In 1990’s, a highly active cosmeceautical would have contained the mandatory Vit. A, C and E in their basic oil-soluble form. Today’s product contain vitamin infused extract, nano-delivery systems and pre-stabilized blends. It is reasonable to expect that these super vitamins will last longer, go deeper and hit harder than their forerunners.

The problems caused by deficiencies of Vitamins A, C and E are well documented and telling on the appearance. Visual symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency are dry skin and hair and broken fingernails while being deficient in Vitamin C not only leads to dry skin and hair but also the possibility of bleeding and sore gums, trouble with skin healing, bruising and general pallor. Vitamin E deficiency is less common but those affected many find that the condition precipitates the formation of age spots and leads to a reduction of muscle tone.

There have been many studies looking at the fate of Vitamin E in topically applied products including the trial outlined in the textbook of cosmetic dermatology by Robert Baran which shows that 38.6% of a 5% alcoholic Vitamin E solution had travelled into the viable epidermis and the dermis of a rats skin 6 hours after it was applied. However, vitamin E has also been found to cause contact dermatitis in susceptible individuals – a situation that is not found when vitamin E is ingested.

The topical activity of Vitamin A has also been widely studied and is one of only a relatively small range of actives prescribed by dermatologists to help correct premature skin ageing. When applied topically retinoids bind to the retinoid receptors in the epidermis and that is probably one key reason why this active when applied topically is so successful – it doesn’t have to travel very far! However, just as with the Vitamin E, a topical application of vitamin A can lead to some unwanted side-effects including dryness and flaking, reddening of the skin and sensitivity to sunlight. Again adverse reactions to vitamin A are seldom reported in adults via the oral route as long as doses are kept below the daily minimum.

Finally we come to vitamin C, an active that has been proven to stimulate collagen synthesis in fibroblast cultures. The major problem faced by formulators wanting to use vitamin C is the fact that the biologically active form, L-Ascorbic Acid is highly prone to oxidation and so the less active but more stable forms – ascorbic palmitate and ascorbyl phosphate esters are utilized. On analysis the epidermis is found to contain more than five times the level of vitamin C than the dermis which seems logical given the vitamins key role as an antioxidant. This fact give kudos to the suggestion that a topical vitamin C product could be good for the skin as it is highly likely that as long as the stability issues are addressed and the base vehicle is adequate the vitamin could reach its biological target without contravening the legal definition of a cosmetic. Further evidence of the benefits of a topically delivered Vitamin C dose can be found in a number of papers looking at the skins ability to tolerate UV induced damage. The two studies found in researching this piece show a strong relationship between skin fortified with a topical vitamin C dose and its ability to withstand UV radiation.

Yet again it would seem that cosmetics could indeed be good for you.

In summing up a number of conclusions can be arrived at from the evidence presented. The evidence points to it being true that Vitamins A, C and E can all initiate a cosmetic benefit via topical application without contravening the definition of a cosmetic. Further, these vitamins can, in many cases boost the skins ability to deal with both intrinsic and extrinsic antagonists – the sun, visual affects of hormonal imbalance, irritation, and dryness. Finally we see that it is possible to plot the relationship between the applied dose and the visible outcome in a similar way to that experienced with an oral application. However, we have also seen evidence supporting the theory that topically delivered vitamins is tolerated to a lesser degree than those applied orally. There are also physical and chemical hurdles to overcome when seeking to administer an active vitamin dose through the skin route. These counter-indications are not insignificant and may, in some cases prove to be an insurmountable challenge.

On balance it seems that cosmetics CAN indeed be good for you but if you think that getting your vitamins at the day spa will allow you to gorge on fast food and caffeine don’t expect any miracles. Vitamin infused cosmetics may be doing your skin good but as far as the rest of your body is concerned, it’s back to the salad bar.

andriantoangkadirjo85 bottom line

– It’s time to get up close and personal with our skin product relationship in a bid to answer the question about the benefits and discover if cosmetics can ever be good to us..

– Cosmetic can indeed be good for us.

– A healthy life is the answer for healthy skin ( read my post about anti-aging cosmetics )

– Pharma-cosmetics/ Cosmeceuticals will be the trend of personal care industry development.

– Cosmetic industry is getting closer to pharmaceutical industry and should now get inspired by the same manufacturing process.



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