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AAD Suggests Key Items to Look for in Cosmeceuticals

Posted: December 11, 2008

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Farris explained that the key to evaluating the effectiveness of cosmeceuticals is understanding how they are tested. After an active ingredient has been identified, it is evaluated using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which is used to characterize biologic activity and determine if the ingredient is an antioxidant or anti-inflammatory. PCR testing also can tell if an ingredient increases collagen production or reduces collagen breakdown. Although PCR testing is a valuable part of the testing process, many of the claims made as a result of PCR testing are not substantiated by human studies.

"For dermatologists, the gold standard for confirming a product’s efficacy remains the double-blind, vehicle-controlled study," said  Farris. "In this type of objectively designed study, the product containing the key ingredients is tested against the vehicle, or the product formulation that is similar to the product being tested but without the key active ingredients." Farris explained that even though a compound may stimulate collagen production in PCR testing, it does not mean that the ingredient will cause any visible improvement in fine lines and wrinkles.

“Since cosmeceuticals are not subject to the FDA’s rigorous approval process, most cosmetic manufacturers do not perform double-blind, vehicle-controlled studies,” said Farris. “Instead, they rely on what are called open-label user studies where subjects apply test creams for a few weeks and then assess their improvement over baseline. Unfortunately, these types of studies are of no real value in determining product efficacy because they do not assess the vehicle's effect and there are no objective measures. People participating in these studies want to believe that they look better after using the product, but that does not necessarily mean it works."

Farris offered these tips when purchasing cosmeceuticals:

  • Ask yourself what the product claims to do and what kinds of studies have been performed.
  • Trust your instincts. 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.
  • Beware of Web site claims, as many are biased even if they say they are objective.
  • During the day, use products containing antioxidants, as they have sun-protection properties. At night, use products containing retinoids, peptides or growth factors for their repair properties.

Talk to your dermatologist about the best options for your skin care needs. For more information on aging skin, go to the "AgingSkinNet" section of, a Web site developed by dermatologists that provides patients with up-to-date information on the treatment and management of disorders of the skin, hair and nails.