Scott McLennan

Cosmeceuticals – combining science and beauty

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Consumers spend billions of dollars every year on creams, lotions and potions trying to address their concerns about ageing or their skin needs or issues. There is indeed a plethora of opinions, marketing dollars, rumours and old-wives-tales to certainly confuse the most thorough of researchers, however what about the majority of us. I find that people (patients, family and friends and the odd random person who asks me my opinion) just want simple, effective skin care that actually works, doesn’t have 1000 steps, and doesn’t cost their first born. So here are some of my thoughts and opinions about the effectiveness of cosmeceutical ingredients and the importance of product testing.

Lets get some simple facts straight first. Cosmeceuticals and beauty creams, lotions and potions are NOT subject to approval by government authorities (Med Safe, TGA, FDA etc.). The government regulatory agencies require vigorous testing and scientifically proven results for all their approved products.  This essentially means that beauty creams should not claim that they have a therapeutic effect that is similar to those or better than those of prescriptive medicines.  Beauty creams and their ingredients are not as powerful, or as effective as prescriptive medicines – or rather their claims cannot suggest that they are. Often you find beauty creams and their benefits are often not adequately tested nor are their ingredients tested – individually or collectively. Sometimes claims may be greatly exaggerated or deliberately suggestive to confuse the purchaser. 

The difference between Cosmeceuticals and beauty creams, are that generally Cosmeceuticals are products that have active ingredients, and whilst they may not have been approved by the government agencies, they are often thoroughly tested and clinically proven. Most often you will find these products are educated and sold within medical clinics because they are stronger than beauty creams, and their results can be tailored to suit individual patients needs, by clinical staff. Beauty creams that are sold over the counter are generally not active and can be sold without supervision.

Cosmeceuticals are divided into categories based on their active ingredients:

  • Antioxidants
    • These help in reducing the harmful effects of free radicals.
    • Free radicals are molecules that damage our skin’s normal cells, leading to inflammation, increased sun damage and exposure, and have been linked to the development of skin cancers
  • Peptides
    • Small proteins that stimulate the production of collagen and naturally thicken the skin.
  • Growth factors
    • These are compounds that help with new cell and blood vessel growth, stimulating collagen and elastin fibers and help with the generation of newer healthier skin.
  • The new trend in aesthetic dermatology and in using anti-ageing topical products is combination products. Essentially this is where we just put several active ingredients together in one tube/pot to help with convenience and reported efficacy. Some combination products can have; multiple vitamins, multiple antioxidants, retinol plus anti-oxidants, growth factors plus vitamin C, and other unique combinations.
  • Please note: Whilst many of these active ingredients are thoroughly tested and well documented in many scientific journals – many of the combination products aren’t – especially how they interact together. Understanding the differing effects of products when combined is still unknown and often only theorised.

Natural v’s Organic v’s Other’s

Every now and then everyone only wants Natural or Organic products, because what is natural is better for you. This is often a myth and there is no reputable scientific evidence to support this claim. It is a well-known fact that natural or organic skin care products are far less tested and measured than synthetic products and definitely far less than any pharmaceutical product.

Most naturally occurring ingredients and compounds used in skin care today need to be chemically altered. This is for texture, stability, usability, and smell to name a few reasons. As soon as a compound or ingredient has been chemically altered – they are no longer a “natural” product. Enhanced natural ingredients (chemically altered) tend to be more stable, penetrate better and have more long-lasting effects on the skin than true natural plant extracts. So beware the “natural”, it may not be that “natural”.

The best way of understanding the effectiveness of your cosmeceutical product is to understand the testing process and what, if any, testing your products have gone through.

  • Active ingredients are evaluated using a specific form of testing which is used to label the biologic activity and determine if the ingredient is an antioxidant or is anti-inflammatory.
  • Clinicians confirm a products’ efficacy and its ability by reviewing any clinical trials that have been undertaken. The best clinical trial scenario is the double blind, randomised multi-centre clinical trial.
  • Cosmetic companies have been known to test their products on their employees or friends & family using open-label evaluations. 9 out of 10 people agree that this product is the best etc
  • Aesthetic Specialists can often recommend active skin care products that have strong science behind them and have been proven safe and effective in human studies.

My top tips when purchasing your topical potion think of these:

  • What does the product claim to do? What studies have been performed on this product? How were the studies conducted?
  • If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Stick with products and brands that you know to be reputable. Well-known manufacturers have more money behind their active ingredients and product testing. They also have more money behind their marketing teams.
  • Everyone only ever publishes their best results – so just be careful when looking on websites many are biased even if they say they are objective.
  • During the day ALWAYS wear sunscreen and consider using products that contain antioxidants because they have sun-protection properties.
  •  At night, use products that contain retinoids, peptides, or growth factors for their repair properties. Nighttime is the best time to allow your skin time to recover and heal.

Top tips for using your topical solutions:

  • Simple is always best. The less steps and the less confusing the more you will actually use it.
  • Use a very good cleanser – lactic acid or glycolic acid cleanser. NOT SOAP!
  • Use your retinol at night. 
  • Always use a sunscreen during the day.
  • Use your vitamin C, B during the day.

Be open and honest with your clinician about your concerns with your skin, and they should be able to help you use a Simple, Effective and Efficient skin care regime that works!


Scott McLennan
Independent Consultant, Aesthetic Dermatology
Owner & Director – Lifestyle Aesthetics Australia

+61 401120290


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