Here is everything you need to know about cosmeceutics and cosmeceuticals: what they are, what they are for, what they contain and the plus compared to normal cosmetics.


Nowadays, more and more people are looking for cost effective non-invasive methods to improve the appearance of the skin and protect the skin from the signs of aging. The excessive spending on prescription drugs used to treat photoaging and many other factors have led to the increase in the use of products such as cosmeceuticals.

We also keep in mind that today the doctor, mostly dermatologist, has registered topical medicines, both ethical and O.T.C. (from the English “over the counter”) for the therapy of skin diseases but when dealing with minor pathologies or non-pathological imperfections, it also requires preparations that are not necessarily registered medicines. If we exclude the use for aesthetic reasons of two drugs such as minoxidil and retinoic acid, the doctor mostly uses unregistered preparations which, in practice, fall within the scope of cosmetics, but which are formulated according to a perspective dermatological and non-cosmetic, ie “cosmeceutical“.

Cosmeceuticals: what they are

As also explained by prof. G. Proserpio in his book “The other cosmetics ..”, while cosmetological dermatology is a medical-therapeutic practice aimed at treating pathologies caused by the improper use of cosmetics, medical dermocosmetology, while remaining a practice of medical interest, is not included among therapeutic practices but constitutes the field of professional interest of the doctor in the cosmetic field. In particular, dermatological cosmetics is a sector of cosmetics aimed at providing the dermatologist with cosmetics formulated according to his needs. In practice, it corresponds to cosmeceuticals.

Cosmeceuticals are cosmetics formulated for the needs of the dermatologist and what matters is to make them in compliance with the law on cosmetics, with the aim of providing the doctor with effective preparations that meet his needs. Unlike the magisterial galenic recipes compiled entirely by the dermatologist, the cosmeceutical product is built on an excipient studied by the cosmetologist technician and contains one or more functional substances suggested by the dermatologist.

The term cosmeceutical was introduced for the first time at the end of the 90s to indicate a category of products, to be understood as a middle way between cosmetic and drug, characterized by the presence of biologically active ingredients capable of interfering with specific skin structures .

It is now necessary to underline the difference between cosmetics and drugs: cosmetics act on healthy skin, helping to maintain it, while drugs treat skin that has one or more pathologies. We will define “cosmeceutical” as a product that has both strictly cosmetic elements and ingredients also present in pharmacopoeia, but admitted in cosmetology.

In Italy the ingredients used in cosmeceuticals are cosmetic raw materials and, as such, fall within the various Annexes (I, II, III, IV, V) to Law 713. No drug can be used in cosmeceuticals. What characterizes cosmeceuticals are the linearity of the excipient and the dosage of the active substance. Regarding the dosage: although “cosmeceutical” is a term not yet regulated by the European Union, it is commonly used to indicate a cosmetic with a high content of functional principles and activity demonstrated by recognized tests.

Moreover, unlike classic cosmetics, cosmeceuticals do not usually contain dyes and perfumes and, in particular, are characterized by the selected presence of few preservatives or by the alternative presence of self-preserving agents.

From the preparatory point of view, cosmeceuticals should as such guarantee the safety of use (the product must be tolerable even by the most sensitive and microbiologically pure skins), permeability (the active ingredients must be able to cross the skin lipid barrier, reaching the dermis ) and they should also undergo clinical trials that can demonstrate their efficacy and safety of use.

Cosmeceuticals: what they are for

The use of cosmeceuticals in modern medicine is fundamentally linked to the correction of skin imperfections, in particular to the protection of the skin from skin aging phenomena, in an active and rapid way.

At present, there are many cosmeceuticals that can boast specific functional activities (protective, anti-aging and / or soothing, exfoliating, depigmenting photoaging), although there remains a gap in the various countries regarding their approval and regulation.

Cosmeceuticals can therefore be used in general to: protect the skin from UV radiation; correct any discoloration; prevent the formation of wrinkles and skin furrows; moisturize and improve the other physical properties of the skin; protect the skin from damage induced by reactive oxygen species; perform an anti-aging action; correct any skin imperfections.

Let’s go into specifics. For example, a cosmeceutical line for oily skin should: gently cleanse, normalize sebaceous production, absorb excess oiliness, exfoliate the skin, counteract bacterial proliferation, favor the closing of pores, moisturize, reduce redness (especially of the sebaceous follicle), protect from atmospheric insults, visibly improve the overall appearance of the skin, be antioxidant and with high anti-radical activity. For firming instead: in case of skin relaxation it should have an antioxidant, smoothing, firming, remodeling, lifting action; in case of cellulite blemishes, water retention, heaviness of the legs, it should have the following action: antioxidant, slimming, draining, lifting, antioxidant, firming, smoothing, anti-fatigue, elasticizing. A cosmeceutical eye contour serum, on the other hand, would act on wrinkles, eyelids, bags and dark circles and should have: soothing, draining and toning action to deflate and relax bags and eyelids and if strengthened by the roll-on massage it also stimulates the skin microcirculation (against swollen eyes ), moisturizing, tensor, firming, covering and uniforming effect.

Cosmeceuticals: what they contain

For semplification, the main categories with the relative mechanism of action have been summarized for cosmeceuticals. In detail:

1) antioxidants:

antioxidants counteract the oxidative phenomena induced by free radicals (singlet oxygen, superoxide anion, peroxide, hydroxyl), which can be formed following various endogenous and / or exogenous conditions (inflammatory processes, smoking and / or alcoholism, sun exposure, stress , eating disorders or incongruous diet) and which are responsible for metabolic changes and / or phenomena of premature aging and carcinogenesis. They belong to this class:

  • vitamin A and its derivatives, capable of inducing the differentiation of epithelia, the increase in cell turnover and the synthesis of collagen (used in events related to chrono- and photoaging);
  • B vitamins (niacinamide, panthenol) with sebum-regulating, moisturizing and re-epithelizing activity (use in various pathologies such as acne, scars, pemphigoid);
  • vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), involved in cell repair mechanisms, collagen biosynthesis and melanogenesis (used in the prevention and treatment of skin with photo-induced damage and in hyperpigmentation);
  • vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) which alone prevents the peroxidation of plasma membranes and in combination with vitamin C reduces the risk of erythema and edema from exposure to UV rays (used in photoprotection);
  • alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), with anti-inflammatory action (use in damage from chrono-aging), which participates in various antioxidative mechanisms such as the reduction of glutathione (GSH) and ascorbic acid, and highly absorbable through the membrane cellular, carrying out its antioxidant action inside and outside the cell;
  • coenzyme Q10, which prevents the peroxidation of cell membranes induced by UV rays (used in the prevention of photoaging);
  • polyphenols, which represent a group of substances of plant origin that are mainly used by virtue of the moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, photoprotective, astringent, protectors of capillary fragility, anti-tumor action, the latter related to the ability to induce the expression of protective action genes involved in cellular response (use in hydration and damage from photoaging); among the polyphenols we mention for example oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, powerful antioxidant antiaging molecules, present 10 times more concentrated than the other extracts on the market in the cosmeceuticals of an Italian excellence, Domus Olea Toscana, which has been able to extract them in this way through university research carried out thanks to collaboration with the University of Florence.

2) growth factors, molecules capable of inter and intracellular modulation that play a fundamental role in the processes of growth and cell proliferation;

3) peptides: they are neurotransmitters able to stimulate the growth of fibroblasts. In particular today biomimetic peptides are of great topical importance: they are small sequences of natural-identical amino acids that mimic the action of a natural protein by binding in a highly specific way to cell receptors that regulate particular biological processes. For example, Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-19 (botox like) mimics botulinum toxin in a safe and reversible way and in vitro tests carried out at the University of Florence by Domus Olea Toscana have shown that it inhibits the transport of neurotransmitters that induce muscle contraction, reducing it by 30%, while in vivo tests conducted on 15 volunteers with a 5% solution showed a 38% reduction in wrinkles after 28 days of treatment (measurements with profilometry and stereoscopic microscopy). Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-5, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the synthesis of collagen I (mostly present in the skin) by 230% by a cell model of human dermal fibroblasts in an in vitro culture (72 hours). In vivo he demonstrated, in a 5% solution, after a treatment of 28 days on 15 volunteers, a reduction of wrinkles of 33%;

4) oils and extracts of vegetable origin; some examples? licorice extract is vasoconstricting, healing, anti-irritation, lightening, sebum-regulating, while the rocket extract stimulates the overproduction of an endogenous tripeptide, increasing the natural anti-free radical and skin defense capacity and effectively reducing irritation (in vitro demonstrated in just 24 hours, with a 3% solution, to drastically increase up to 50% the antioxidant capacity of epidermal cells while in vivo it produced a 20% reduction in redness induced in the test on 13 volunteers in 48 hours and 4 applications ; the sundew extract contains functional polysaccharides and a specific phytocomplex capable of effectively reducing the imperfections of cellulite: clinical tests with anthropometric measures and dermatological tests carried out with 3% extract on 20 volunteers showed after 4 weeks of application twice a day a clear reduction in the circumference of the upper third of the thigh and the degree of cellulite (-5.5%), evaluated according to the parameters of firmness, skin tone and orange peel skin;

5) exfoliants, keratolytics, humectants. Hydroxy acids belong to the class of exfoliants: alpha-hydroxy acids such as tartaric, citric, lactic acid, glycolic acid, AHA fruit acids from grapes, apple, lemon and wheat, and beta hydroxy acids such as acid salicylic, and are useful for an effective exfoliating action and to stimulate cell renewal with delicacy: they eliminate dead cells, smoothing and illuminating the skin; among the keratolytics we mention azelaic acid, which in addition to being antiseborrhoeic, anti-irritation, antibacterial against Propionibacterium Acnes, counteracts the abnormal thickening of the stratum corneum of the epidermis); among the humectants, there are substances that reproduce the natural moisturizing factor (NMF), amino acids, allantoin and its derivatives, glycerin, collagen, hyaluronic acid, glycosaminoglycans;

6) depigmenting agents (eg hydroquinone).

Cosmeceuticals: an example of Made in Italy

As for the production of cosmeceuticals in Italy, one of the pioneers and Made in Italy excellences is Domus Olea Toscana, which in addition to using zero km ingredients produced by the company itself, enhancing the land from which it comes, has obtained the eco-organic and organic certifications, collaborate with the University of Florence to carry out studies on the extracts and efficacy of their products. is an official resellers of Domus Olea Toscana in Italy and abroad.

Domus Olea Toscana cosmeceuticals (of which is the official dealer in Italy and abroad) are routinely subjected to the following tests:

  • microbiological (CHALLENGE TEST: microbiological tests performed at the Pisa laboratory for the microbiological safety of the product and its stability over time);
  • for skin tolerability (PATCH TEST: skin tolerance test performed on volunteers by the University of Ferrara and Pavia. The products were found to have high skin tolerability and suitable for sensitive skin);
  • for anti-aging efficacy (DPPH TEST: test performed by the University of Florence to evaluate the neutralization activity of free radicals, responsible for skin aging. United. Read HERE the text of the article);
  • for Nickel (NICKEL TESTED: <0.0001%. Even those allergic to Nickel can safely use Domus Olea Toscana products).

Dr. Laura Comollo

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