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The New Combination Therapy: Cosmeceuticals and Prescription Medications


By: Jennifer Wild, DO
Posted: August 1, 2011, from the August 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Combining products into one cohesive skin care regimen can be a challenging task; but, when faced with a skin care regimen that includes cosmeceutical and prescription-strength products, the task can become overwhelming. Now that more and more clients are using prescription medications along with their cosmeceutical products, it is necessary for the skin care professional to have a general understanding of the more commonly prescribed topical medications and their fundamental differences. Although skin care professionals should never make prescription recommendations, knowledge of the various medications that are available and how they work within a skin care regimen will allow for a safer and more unified treatment plan.

What’s the difference?

“Cosmeceutical” is a term used to describe topical skin care products that are not drugs, but have more visible efficacy than a typical cosmetic product acquired over the counter. Cosmeceuticals are not governed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); therefore, the manufacturers of these various products cannot make any medical claims. On the contrary, any medication or drug that is physician-prescribed and regulated by the FDA is considered a prescription. The manufacturers of the drug are able to make medical claims, but must provide qualified studies showing the indications of use and possible side effects.

Simply put, prescription medications and cosmeceuticals can be used in combination; however, it is important to not overstimulate the client’s skin when doing so. This is when your knowledge of commonly prescribed medications is paramount to your client’s skin health. The chart Common Prescription Medications summarizes common oral and topical prescription medications, the type of client that might be prescribed this medication, its key ingredients and its mechanism of action.

The intellectually curious client

It’s no secret that clients are becoming more interested in their overall skin health. Virtually any information about a product, a skin condition or a prescription medication is at the fingertips of the client via the Internet. Because of this, it has become increasingly necessary for skin care professionals to give clients concise, valid answers when they inquire about combination therapy. After all, they look to you to care for the health of their skin. Furthermore, clients may already be integrating a prescription medication into their skin care routine. If this is the case, it is in your best interest and that of the client that you have knowledge of the possible interactions between drugs and cosmeceutical products.

Conversely, you may encounter a client who needs medical intervention for a condition that is not treatable within your scope of practice. For example, a client with a moderate-to-severe case of rosacea may need to be prescribed an azelaic acid gel to help control the symptoms. Although you should not suggest any medication in particular to your clients, you certainly can refer them to a physician who can assess their condition and prescribe accordingly. However, it is in the best interest of your client that you are well-versed in the various medications available and how they work alongside cosmeceutical products.

Simultaneous use, substitution and maintenance