Cosmeceuticals promise anti-aging products, pose health risks


By Aristides Theodoropoulos, Technograph Writer

Some, more than others, are coming into contact with cosmetic products purported to exhibit anti-aging effects. These products, now being called cosmeceuticals, can be found all over the internet as well as on store shelves.

The term “cosmeceutical” was coined in 1985 and is defined as “cosmetics that contain bioactive ingredients purported to have medical or drug-like benefits.” Companies claim products containing these bioactive ingredients have benefits that extend beyond using the average moisturizer or traditional topical product. Despite these  miracle claims, there are no legal regulations in place that require manufacturers to prove the products live up to the benefits that they claim to provide.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “the term cosmeceutical has no meaning under the law.” The main difference between a drug and a cosmetic product is that drugs must be approved by the FDA and cosmetics do not. This disregard has the potential to lead to many problems. If cosmeceuticals are not approved by the FDA, there is no oversight on whether or not these products are actually effective for the consumers’ needs.

May Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University, has taken it upon herself to teach undergraduates in the biology department. She teaches her students about the ways in which humans utilize phytochemicals — naturally occurring chemicals — from plants for our own benefit, including cosmeceuticals. Her students are also taught how to critically evaluate primary literature. This is an invaluable skill, especially in a country where there is no regulation on the efficacy of certain products, some of which even claim to exhibit drug-like side effects.

In reference to the cosmeceutical world, Berenbaum said “it’s a jungle out there since there is no regulation on cosmeceutical products. Any chemicals can be used that have been approved for another product. In cosmeceuticals, that may be recognized as safe but not necessarily as effective in these cosmeceutical products.”

Not only is this a real danger to consumers, these companies may have other tricks up their sleeves. These corporations may, in fact, conduct scientific research on the bioactive ingredients of their products. However, the findings of these specific studies are very much subject to personal interpretation. Because there is no regulation by the FDA (or any other agency) on cosmeceuticals, producers are able to make any claims they feel might benefit their profile

This is not to say all cosmeceuticals should be painted as ineffective. However, it seems the free cosmeceutical market is more than capable of taking advantage of consumers who may not have the proper education to decipher whether or not products are as effective as they claim. An even more likely probability is consumers are probably unaware of the lack of regulation that these products are subject to.

Berenbaum feels certain companies are taking advantage of uneducated consumers, “especially the anti-aging product consumers who are predisposed to feeling they are aging or have to look younger.”

Perhaps you have never come across the term cosmeceuticals before. Nonetheless, someone you know or even yourself may own a product within the category. With these findings, you might find it worthwhile to educate those around you about the limited amount of regulation on such commodities.

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