Beauty Without Fuss

Monday 4 July 2011

Guest Post - Cosmeceuticals: Are We Expecting the Impossible?

This is the last of my guest posts for this year, and it's from the ever-lovely and adorable Modesty Brown, whom I adore.  She's brought us some more corking pics and some scientific know-how again this year ...


Last year, I got the labcoat out for my guest slot on Get Lippie. I had initially intended this post to be a rant an informative chat about specific active ingredients but in sitting down to write, it has somehow morphed in to musing about cosmeceuticals and their promised benefits.

The skin care world is usually awash with amazing product claims and fancy active ingredients. ‘You too can return your skin to a baby soft state using collagen/growth factors/stem cells/the stolen tears of a lone weeping unicorn’…..ok, so maybe not that last one, but you catch my drift. Some of these claims result in major eye-rolling at the sheer scientific improbability.  I will also admit to shouting at the television, whenever I hear the lines “inspired by the science of genes”. I mean seriously, you want to have a read of Genes V, it’s a bit dry and low on the inspiration stakes…

At this point I was about to launch in to individual gripes about particular ingredients but on reflection I think that’s probably a little unfair. The sorts of products that cause the eye-rolling are those that probably fit best in the ‘Cosmeceuticals’ bracket. Cosmeceuticals fall somewhere between a cosmetic and a pharmaceutical, hence the catchy name. They usually contain biologically active ingredients that are supposed to have medicinal or drug-like properties. I think most anti-ageing ranges could be described this way.

Of course, because they don’t actually contain drugs or medicine, there’s no obligation to go through the same rigorous testing pharmaceutical drugs go through to get to market. I want to read the scientific backing for the active ingredients from laboratory research or patient studies, but often there isn’t any supporting evidence as it simply isn’t a requirement. The evidence for many active ingredients is purely anecdotal. Even when results have been published by the big pharmaceuticals, doubts are raised about bias or lack of statistical significance anyway. So, I wonder if some of my expectations are a little unrealistic. Is it fair to expect over-the-counter, easily available products to give exceptional results and still be reasonably priced? It may be a little ambitious of me to expect such things but at the same time, I’m not the one making the bold scientific claims!

So, how do you weed out the fact from the fiction? How to you decipher the real deal from the magic skin care pixies? Well, I’m coming around to the idea that you have to use your own common sense and sometimes you might just have to take an educated risk. Some ingredients are much better understood for their value in anti-ageing regimes; such as stable Vitamin C, Retinoids, AHAs and Nicacinamide. Consumers are already beginning to understand that Vitamin C in skin care needs to be in a stable form for it to be of value and that Retinoids require a good delivery system to reduce skin surface irritation and maximise the concentration delivered to the dermis. In terms of newer ingredients, I think it’s probably left to us as the consumer to sort the wheat from the chaff or indeed the Collagen from the penta-peptides.

I think that’s where beauty blogs come in. Done properly, skin care reviews can help us discover the products that really work and which products are pure hype. If you’d like an idea of which things you should be looking for in your anti-ageing treatments, there’s an excellent post on  The Beauty Mouth  that I urge you to read, if you haven’t already. In many ways it’s easy to forget the benefits of the basics too, keeping the skin clean and hydrated as well as using a good sunscreen is crucial in taking good care of your skin.

These days, I do try very hard to switch the science cynic off (maybe I need a lab-otomy?). It gets boring dismissing things and I would really like to appreciate the products and treatments for what they are and what they can do. Even if the benefits are purely superficial. I know I tend to gravitate towards skin care that is a mix of science and botanicals. I hated plant science so I can merrily join in with the claims without being any the wiser! I do think how a product makes you feel and what it does for you, even if it isn’t lasting, is the most important thing.

When all else fails, there’s always my magic wrinkle cream!
I do still refuse to subscribe to the idea that more expensive always equals better. If you have several hundred pounds to spend on a cream, then maybe that money would be better spent visiting a dermatologist privately for the more potent, concentrations found in prescription pharmaceuticals anyway? The pots probably won’t look as pretty on your shelf, but the results might actually be more satisfying.

I shall shut up now, as what I really want to know is how you feel about the scientific claims. Do you find it reassuring, does it make you more likely to buy a product or do you simply choose to ignore it all and buy things based on good reviews? Do the scientific claims and active ingredients entice you to spend more money? I’m fascinated to know how other people feel. 


Get Lippie says: Another thought provoking post from Modesty - care to share yours?

This post originated at: All rights reserved.


  1. Very interesting post.I tend to go by reviews rather than what the company claims the product can do, or if a product works well for me then I'll likely buy the rest of the range from the brand, however even going by reviews I have had some very expensive mistakes.
    I think the trouble for me is because my skin is so reactive my first issue is whether my skin can even tolerate a product before I can even look into the proposed cliams of the product. Its also difficult understanding what all the ingredients do of any given product, I have many a time gone through a cosmetic dictionary so as to educate myself but its difficult to fully understand how the products actually work together, I wish I had the knowledge Jane has as I think I would be able to make a more informed choice. In terms of all the marketing claims, I would say Snowberry is a company that I do trust, perhaps because how they detail what their ingredients do and seem quite realistic and upfront and they do seem to make a difference, that said because I don't fully understand product formulations my views could be misguided.

  2. The quasi-science claptrap that some cosmetics companies spout really does irk me...

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it Replica. I have to agree with you on products Snowberry. I've looked at their website and read their catalogue and I find them extremely transparent in explaining their ingredients. Not everything will work for everybody, I think the main problem for me are the farcical claims. I had an interesting chat on Twitter with a beauty journalist only the other day about the recent 'botox in a bottle' advertising. Anyway, I will shut up for now and see what others think!

  4. Some companies do have sensational claims so I like to compare it to actual reviews to get a more balanced perspective of what I can expect. Although I, like Replica, have gone by reviews and found that the product doesn't work for me so I think knowing your own skin and going by your own instinct as well as looking back on products and seeing what kind of textures/formulas/ingredients have worked in the past for you and using that as a guide.
    I find natural and niche skincare ranges better to understand from an ingredients view as I can see things I recognise rather then a long chemical name I haven't a clue what is for and also they tend to inform the consumer about ingredients so I can get a better understanding of what I am using.

  5. Great post! This is a subject I'm very interested in at the moment. The more I read about actives, ingredients, cosmetic companies, and storage, the more skeptical I am about the claims that skincare companies make. I find that making my own skincare using active (scientifically proven) ingredients really means I get the most out of each ingredient. I sometimes miss all the pretty bottles, but I can always compensate with pretty makeup ;)

    After all my research, I find that an effective routine is:

    Vitamin c serum (DIY)
    Sunscreen (a good quality, physical sunscreen, consult EWG for alternatives)

    retinol 0.5%

    and on days I don't use retinol:


    Other actives like B3/ NAG/ Idebone/ Kinetin can be added via a serum applied at night, but the regime above is both basic and extremely effective.

    Exfoliating with a microfibre cloth is gentle, cheap , and effective, and masks can be applied as needed.

    By only using these sorts of actives with published data behind them, you can take control of your own skincare and see quite definite results.

  6. Love the pics and a great post! I also would rather read a review than a pile of blurb. For me the very best "wonder" product is L'oreal's Boswelox - just take out those middle 3 letters and I think we have the sound of a nail being hit on the head!! Having googled this it seems the UK Advertising Standards Authority thought pretty much the same thing about their "anti-creasing" claims!

  7. Great post :) I'm a sceptic generally, I think if I'm going to fork out big money then show me the lazers/fillers/botox. That being said currently I like to spend my money on affordable natural based skincare that does a nice job of giving my skin some moisturisation/protection.

  8. I tend to buy skincare instinctively, and based on online reviews by real consumers. I try not to let advertising sway my decision too much, and of course beauty bloggers are totally invaluable in giving honest reviews. If something works for me, I can tell, and then I repurchase. If I tried to follow the scientific stuff behind everything I would get extremely confused! I don't mind spending a bit going wrong because it's great when you find something that really makes a difference, and I think great skin is worth investing in. great post! xxx

  9. I have a very similar attitude to mascara. They cannot possibly make my eyelashes look like the adverts, because mine are not styled with lash inserts and then enhanced in post production.

    Is it too much to ask for a realistic mascara ad?

  10. Great post, I think along the same lines, I prefer a review from real people than believing the blurb the company's say. Of course they won't say if it doesn't really work, they want to sell sell sell.


  11. So funny you mention Genes V!... I used 3 and then 4 during my Uni days!!! ;-)
    Excellent post, now I'm dying to know the full title of this book you're reading on Natural Products - it seems I've missed that one on my list...
    Great work, ladies, many many thanks! xx

  12. I'm always really skeptical about the great claims made by some companies. I did two years of a biochemistry degree back in the day, so I have some understanding of science and find there are so many wild claims that have no grip on reality. I do think that trial and error, including reviews is the best way to find products that work for me! xx

  13. I'm late to this discussion, but I wanted to comment. Great topic! I always reserach skincare products before I buy them, and I go with user reviews over any brand's claims. Chantecaille, a brand I adore, is one such brand where I won't be forking out $300 for a jar of cream any time soon. Same for La Mer (though, to be fair, I have no tried either). I also want to read reviews written by women either around my age or with issues they want to correct. Nothing frosts my pumpkin more than reading a Makeup Alley review where someone in the 19-24 age group pans a product because it didn't erase her wrinkles.

    My skin is also reactive, so I have to be careful of the active ingredients. Chemical sunscreen is deadly to me, and the penetration enhancers can also be problematic.

    I agree that good skincare starts from the inside. A lot of what you see on my face is reflected from the amount of sleep I get, diet, adequate hydration, and not getting sunburned. (I do not avoid the sun--I'd rather have cancer fighting Vitamin D than worry about few extra freckless or fine lines.)


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