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The effects of over-the-counter-cosmetics and cosmeceuticals on your skin

Did you know that over-the-counter (OTC) cosmetics are products that can only make an impact on the outer layer, also known as the “dead layer” of your skin?

On the other hand, cosmeceuticals are products that penetrate the layers of the epidermis – live tissue under the “dead layer”. Take a guess: which one is regulated in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and which is not?

OTC skincare does not require pre-market approval by the FDA, while cosmeceuticals (a hybrid of the words “cosmetics” and “pharmaceuticals”) are regulated because pharmaceuticals are considered drugs and require the FDA’s pre-approval.

Let us take a closer look at the definition of both types of products in further detail, according to the FDA. Pharmaceutical or drug: “Articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals”.

Topical pharmaceuticals penetrate through the layers of the epidermis and affect the structure and function of the skin, like topical steroids or Retin-A.
OTC cosmetics: “Articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body… for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or function.”

Our skincare concerns

The human skin has five layers. The bottom layer is known as the stratum basalis, where grape-like, hydrated skin cells that the body recently made, are located. These are living functional cells, and contain lots of DNA information.

Old cells are pushed upwards to the skin’s surface when the body produces new cells. These old cells dry out and become the layer of dead skin on the surface until they shed. This process takes about 28 days when we are young. When we are older, it can take up to 60 days, causing skin problems such as spots and pigmentation.

Dead skin cells cannot be revived. If you would like to keep your skin looking flawless and spot-free for many years, you have to better understand how these products work.

OTC products

The beauty products that we see in glossy magazines and television commercials are OTC products that we can buy at retail pharmacies like Guardian or Watsons and the beauty section of departmental stores.
When we buy OTC products, we often “self-diagnose” and hence, these products must be made safely, as the big cosmetic companies cannot afford to frequently deal with the liability of consumers having issues with active ingredients.

OTC skincare products smell and feel good, but you are not likely to have a lot of active ingredients. Also, since cosmetic companies don’t really have to prove that their products are effective, the special active ingredient listed in the formula only has to appear somewhere on the ingredients label, which is listed in order of most to least.

So, the further down that the active ingredient is on the list, the smaller the amount of that specific ingredient. And because OTC cosmetics are produced and distributed in bulk batches, they are packed with just as many preservatives as there are “active” ingredients.

Cosmeceutical products

In a nutshell, OTCs are for superficial treatment. On the other hand, a medical product prescribed by a dermatologist will treat skin problems, but they don’t provide any benefit to your appearance.

This is where cosmeceutical products come in – by providing the benefits of both cosmetic products and pharmaceutical-grade creams. They usually come in the form of creams or ointments, and are a combination of the right amounts of active ingredients that provide best absorption of nutrients for the skin.

When you visit your aesthetician, he/she does not prescribe pharmaceutical products, but offers the next best thing: well-formulated and tested cosmeceutical products. The effectiveness of a cosmeceutical line depends on three things:

• Can the active ingredient (in the product) penetrate the stratum corneum (outer layer of the skin) and be delivered in proper amounts to targeted cells in the skin?

• Does the active ingredient have a biomechanical effect on the targeted tissue/cells?

• Has the product been researched and peer-reviewed in medical publications and subjected to successful clinical trials?

These are questions to ask your aesthetician when you consider a cosmeceutical product.

Which works better?

We now know the biggest difference between an OTC product and a cosmeceutical product is the way the ingredients are delivered into the skin. In an OTC product, the molecular structure of the ingredients are coarse and large, and don’t penetrate the skin. A cosmeceutical product has the advantage of a delivery system known as “liposome technology”.

Liposomes carry small ingredients down to the skin cell layers and release the ingredients into living cells, where they can make a difference to your skin’s appearance. Cosmeceuticals have actually been around since the mid-90s, and now, we are seeing more advanced products with revolutionary delivery systems, known as “vectorise technology”.

The technology, which made its appearance in 2014, is still new to the cosmetics industry. The delivery system uses a sphere-like structure, made up of up dozens of layers, like an onion. Ingredients lie in between these layers, which fall away as the sphere sinks down into the skin, supplying the skin with nutrients at every layer, providing nearly 48 hours of activity in just one application.

Products using this technology are very active in the skin, and for that reason, it is unlikely that you would ever find such products in the high-end departmental stores. If you are serious about improving the health and quality of your skin, talk to a qualified skin-care specialist who can diagnose and prescribe specific products after a thorough analysis of your skin’s needs.

In addition to products, ask him/her to educate you on why you might be experiencing skin problems, and don’t forget about lifestyle tips that will help you towards improved skin health.

By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, 24 Jan 2016

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