What Is A Cosmeceutical?
It’s a theme we’ve been dancing around already in some previous Beauty Bullshit posts.
Companies who product beauty products are beginning to make drug-like claims at a increasing rate. At the heart of this problem are products that qualify as “cosmeceuticals”.
So, what is a cosmeceutical?
The name gives a bit of a hint: it’s a mixture between the word ‘cosmetics’ and the word ‘pharmaceuticals’. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a cosmetic is classified as a product “for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance”, whereas a drug is “intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals”. Cosmeceuticals are cosmetic products that make claims akin the claims made by pharmaceutical companies. They claim a drug-like effect, but don’t have sufficient scientific
backing to ground their claim. Rather than hiding flaws, cosmeceutical
companies claim to reduce or prevent the flaws. Big claims plus sciency
diagrams create a huge market share for companies peddling
|Totally going to fix all of your problems.|
As the FDA points out, “The [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic] Act does not recognize any such category as ‘cosmesceuticals’. A product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term ‘cosmeceutical’ has no meaning under the law.” An example of a product that would qualify as both a cosmetic and an over-the-counter drug is anti-dandruff shampoo. It has a cosmetic purpose (to get your lovely locks clean) and a drug purpose (to stop your scalp from looking like a snowstorm).
Cosmesceuticals, on the other hand, are nothing more than cosmetics that make scientifically misleading claims about their effect on the human body.
Interestingly, it frequently works against the best interest of the companies manufacturing these products to provide solid support for their claims. If an ingredient has been demonstrated to be effective using rigorous scientific methodology, it will be classified as a drug and, consequentially, be subject to the same regulatory procedures that the FDA requires of drugs. This means that, unlike cosmetics, they would need to either complete the ‘New Drug Application’ process or subject themselves to an ‘Over-The-Counter Drug Review’. They would also need to maintain significantly higher manufacturing standards, to register their businesses and drug products with the FDA, and to follow standard drug labeling procedures. All these procedures can be costly. And, of course, the FDA can deny approval of the product, meaning that money has gone to waste.
Rather than follow these stricter standards, companies that make cosmeceuticals would prefer to make drug-like claims, but maintain the relatively lenient standards afforded to cosmetics companies. They will test for safety, but there is no legal requirement to test whether the product lives up the claims made by the companies who manufacture these products. As a result, the information about cosmecuetical “active” ingredients are severely lacking, and objective studies that examine specific formulas rarely exist at all. These products are sold at the expense of consumers, the majority of whom believe that the FDA tests these products for both safety and efficacy. (It doesn’t.)
Although the FDA maintains the right to inspect factories, request a change in labeling, or remove a dangerous or misleading product from circulation, these actions are all taken after the fact. Thus, it is usually worth it to these companies to simply hope no regulators bother to investigate, and proceed to make misleading claims.
The consequences of this lack of regulation adds up to big profits. The
United States currently has the largest cosmeceutical market in the
world, reaching $9.4 billion last year.
Though, in the scientific community, the term “cosmeceutical” is seen as a subtype of pseudoscience, many companies have embraced the term because it sounds long and sciency and vaguely makes people think of effective pharmaceutical products. For example, Physicians Formula has produced an “Aging Cosmeceutical Skin Care Set” which claims to “[target] the visible effects of chronological aging…” In actuality, any company that labels its product a “cosmeceutical” is doing you a favor: they are labeling their pseudoscience so that you can stay far away!