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What are active ingredients in cosmetics? What does active even mean? And are the rest of the ingredients “inactive?” This week we give you some tips on how to spot which ingredients really work.     

Click below to play Episode 37 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Name that brand

We try out a new game where I ask Randy to name beauty brands based on their advertising taglines. How many of these can you name?

  • Look Ma, no cavities.
  • Because I’m worth it.
  • That’s the beauty of nature plus science.
  •  99 and 44/100′s pure.
  • Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.
  • Healthy makes it happen.
  • Take it all off.
  • THE company for women.
  • Makeup for all ages, all races and all sexes.
  • The makeup of makeup artists.
  • Manly yes, but I like it too.
  • The beauty authority.
  • Laughter is the best cosmetic so grin and wear it.
  • Makeup inspired by you.

Listen to the show for the answers.

Question of the week: What are active ingredients?

Lia asks…I hear people talk about “active” ingredients in cosmetics. What are they? And does that mean some ingredients aren’t active at all? How can I tell which is which just by reading the label?

Active ingredient type 1: OTC drug actives

There are really two types of “active” ingredients. In both cases they deliver the promise or the benefit of the product. The “truest” active ingredients are those specified as drugs by the appropriate governing body. Those are required by law to be listed as “Active Ingredients” on the product so that’s very unambiguous. Not only does the active have to be identified as such but it has to be used in the formula at specified levels so you never have to wonder if it’s used at a sufficiently high concentration.


  • Avobenzone or Octinoxate in sunscreens
  • Benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid in anti-acne creams
  • Fluoride in toothpaste

15 cosmetics that are actually drugs

There are 15 categories of over the counter drugs that people think are cosmetics.

A monograph is essentially a recipe book that tells formulators exactly the ingredients, doses, and formulations they can use when creating an over-the-counter drug. It also gives the exact claims that can be made about the product and describes other labeling requirements.

Here is a list of cosmetic/OTC products that are governed by an FDA monograph.

  1. Anti-acne products – This monograph describes 40 different ingredients that can be used for anti-acne. Rule was finalized in 1990 although there was some action in 2010 on Benzoyl Peroxide.
  2. Toothpaste & anti-cavity products – This monograph gives a list of over 20 ingredients that can be used to fight cavities. The final rule was issued in 1995.
  3. Topical anti-fungal – Products that are topically applied to places that need anti-fungal effects (diaper rash, feet, etc). Final rule was originally passed in 1993.
  4. Anti-microbial products – There is a long list of ingredients that can be used for topical anti-microbial products. For most of the antimicrobial ingredients, the final rule has not yet been issued. It is suggested you follow the proposed rules when formulating.
  5. Antiperspirant – This monograph is for products that are designed to stop sweating. The final monograph was originally issued in 2003. It lists 26 active ingredients that you can use.
  6. Astringents – These are classified as skin protectants. The final rule was originally issued in 2003.
  7. Corn & Callus removers – Definitely a niche product but some cosmetic companies might want to create these formulations.
  8. Dandruff products – If you are planning to create an anti-dandruff shampoo, then you have to follow the rules of this monograph. The final monograph was issued in 1991 & revised in 1992.
  9. Hair growth / hair loss – The final monograph for these types of products was issued in 1989 and includes nothing that works. However, in 1994, Minoxidil was switched from a perscription drug to an OTC. It remains the only non-perscription option.
  10. Nailbiting products – There is a monograph for products that are designed to stop people from biting their nails. Who knew? The final monograph was issued in 1993.
  11. Psoriasis – These products are designed to treat the condition of psoriasis. The tentative monograph was issued in 1986 and has yet to be finalized. Only a couple of active ingredients are allowed including Coal Tar and Salicylic acid.
  12. Skin bleaching – Skin lightening products are OTCs in the US. The tentative final monograph was issued in 1982 but it has yet to be finalized. There are only 2 active ingredients acceptable for skin lightening.
  13. Sunscreen – It’s been a long time coming but a final monograph on this topic was issued in 2011.
  14. Topical analgesic – These products find a wide variety of application and cover products such as those designed for diaper rash, cold sore treatments, poison ivy treatments, and others.
  15. Wart remover – Products that are used to remove warts. The final monograph was issued in 1990 but updated in 1994. Thirteen active ingredients are listed.

Active ingredient type 2: “Functional” ingredients

Now just because an ingredient is not a drug doesn’t mean it’s not active. As Perry said, active can mean that the ingredient delivers the benefit of the product. In that case, the surfactants used in a shampoo or body wash are active because they’re responsible for cleaning hair and skin. The same thing goes for the silicones in a hair conditioner, the colorants in a mascara, or the polymers in a hairspray. If the ingredient is essential to making the product work, then it is “active.”


  • Detergents in shampoos and body washes.
  • Oils in skin lotions
  • Dye precursors in hair colors
  • Polymers in hairsprays
  • Alpha hydroxy acids in anti-aging product

These are not easily recognizable. First of all they’re many more of these “functional” ingredients than there are drug actives so it’s impossible to create a meaningful list. Also, unlike drugs, they can be used at differing levels – at some concentrations they are functional at lower levels they are not. As a rule of thumb if it’s in the first 5 ingredients it’s probably functional can help but even that’s not full proof. There are many functional ingredients that are used at lower concentrations. (cationic conditioners, for example, some anti-aging actives like Niacinamide.)

Base ingredients

They form the delivery vehicle for the active ingredients. Active ingredients are rarely used by themselves in a 100% concentrated form. There’s usually an optimal use level for ingredients to ensure that they do their job. Therefore the actives have to be “diluted” with something. That something may be as simple as water or as complex as a cream or lotion base or an aerosol spray. It may take dozens of ingredients to form the “base” of the product. Solvents, like water and alcohol, and emulsifiers, to help oils and water mix together, are among the most common types of base ingredients.


  • Water in most products
  • Cetyl and stearyl alcohol in conditioners, hand and body lotions.
  • Talc in pressed eye shadow or blush.
  • Alcohol or propellant gas in a hairspray

Control ingredients

They ensure the product stays within acceptable parameters.
Gums and polymers are used to stabilize emulsions, acids and bases are used to balance pH, polyols are used to maintain texture after freezing, and preservatives are used to protect against microbial contamination. These are just a few examples of control agents that help maintain the quality of the product.


  • Xanthan gum in creams and lotions
  • Citric acid to control pH in water based products
  • BHA in oil based products
  • Benzophenone 4 in clear products (protects color)

Aesthetic agents

They improve the product’s sensory characteristics.
The look and smell are important parts of almost every cosmetic product which is why you’ll see colorants and fragrance used so frequently. You might even see “glitter” particles added.


  • Fragrance sometimes listed as parfum.
  • Colorants with names like Blue #1, Green #5, Violet #2. Iron oxides, ultramarines, etc.
  • Glycol distearate (Opacifier)

Featured ingredients

They are added to increase consumer appeal. These ingredients are also called pixie dust, fairy dust, marketing ingredients and a few other names. These are truly “inactive” because they’re added ONLY because they look good as part of the label. They serve no function other than to attract consumer’s attention. These ingredients include botanicals, vitamins and minerals, (some) proteins and just about anything else “natural.” You can easily spot these ingredients because they are often incorporated into the product name (Sun-kissed Raspberry Shampoo) or placed on the front label (lotion with jojoba oil).

This depends on the product – if you have a shampoo with natural jojoba oil . It’s likely to be used at a freatured ingredient. It would be at a very low level and it would be rinsed away.

However a skin lotion with organic jojoba oil it does serve the purpose of being “featured” but it could also provide a benefit, in this case emolliency, skin softening.

Spotting “active” ingredients by reading the label

First of all, why would you even want to identify active ingredients? There are a couple of reasons.

1. You’re looking for a new product that’s supposed to deliver a specific benefit, like an anti-aging cream. If you’ve been listening to the show you know that certain anti-aging actives have been proven to work better than others. So, if you know what to look for in an active ingredient you’re less likely to waste your money on crappy products.

2. Or, you may have a favorite product that’s either discontinued or that you want to find a cheaper alternative for. In that case, understanding which ingredients are really providing the benefit will help you find a replacement.

In the case of drug actives it’s easy. For “functional” cosmetic ingredients you’ll have to do a little more digging.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

When it comes to cosmetics which are over the counter drugs, active ingredients are clearly defined. But for the majority of beauty products “active” is kind of in the eye of the beholder. We’ve given you some broad guidelines to identify which are truly functional ingredients but you really have to look at each product on a case by case basis. And that’s difficult if you’re not a trained cosmetic chemist. But if you are trying to identify an active in a specific product we’d be happy to help. All you have to do is start a discussion thread in our Forum.

LIL buy it now button

Buy your copy of It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick to learn more about:

  • Clever lies that the beauty companies tell you.
  • The straight scoop of which beauty myths are true and which are just urban legends.
  • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
  • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


Understanding what cosmetic claims REALLY mean

Cosmetic companies (at least in the United States) are prohibited by law from making false claims. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t make claims that sound amazing and wonderful even though they are not that meaningful. Understanding what claims really mean and what kind of evidence is required to support them can make you a smarter shopper.

Figuring out claims

The first step in figuring out how product claims are supported is to figure out what claims are being made. This takes some practice and some thoughtful reading. Let’s look at the example of  Pantene Shampoo + Conditioner.

I like Drugstore.com because they list claims and ingredients in a handy text-friendly form. Here is what is listed for the Pantene product.

Pantene’s unique shampoo & conditioner system with weightless moisturizers replenishes hair from root to tip to help prevent split ends from forming.

Pantene Dry to Moisturized Conditioner helps repair damage, revealing your light, bouncy, revitalized hair.

Moisturizing conditioner strengthens hair against damage and breakage
Helps Protect against damage and split ends
Gentle enough for color-treated or permed hair

Step 1 – List of cosmetic claims

Now, let’s list all the claims they are making.

1. Pantene’s unique shampoo & conditioner system
2. …with weightless moisturzers…
3. (system) “…replenishes hair from root to tip…”
4. “…help prevent split ends from forming”
5. (Pantene) “…helps repair damage…”
6. “…revealing your light, bouncy, revitalized hair.”
7. “Moisturizing conditioner strengthens hair against damage & breakage”
8. Helps protect against damage and split ends
9. Gentle enough for color-treated or permed hair

Step 2 – Logical Evaluation

A few of these claims can simply be supported with logic.

1. As long as the exact shampoo & conditioner formulas are not used in some other line, they are unique. Thus, the claim is validated.

2. This claim is a little questionable as the term “weightless” implies they have no mass. However, the company could support this by weighing hair before use, then after use and as long as there is no significant difference, the claim is verified.

3. “Replenish” is practically a meaningless word so the company has lots of leway in defining it. As long as they can prove something is left behind (e.g. silicone, cationic polymer) then they could support this claim.

4. Preventing split ends can be supported by counting the number of split ends caused by combing (robotic comb). They can compare it to treated versus untreated hair. If there are less split ends on treated hair, the claim is supported.

5. “Repairing damage” is a tricky claim to support, but “helping to repair damage” is much easier. By pointing to the moisturizing ingredients and the improvement in combing as proof, the company can support the claim of helping to repair damage.

6. These are just fluff claims but the company could use an Instron or Diastron or some other hair device to demonstrate “bounciness.” As long as they compare it to some untreated control, they wouldn’t have a problem doing better.

7. Strengthen hair is a tricky claim but companies have used robotic combs to demonstrate that there is less breaking when combing through treated hair. The hair isn’t actually stronger but it breaks less so TV and other media have accepted the argument.

8. Supported with the same test that supports claim #7

9. This is a vague claim but they could support it by washing colored hair with the system and demonstrating that it hasn’t significantly changed.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Reputable cosmetic companies will never lie to you about what their products can do. However, they may exaggerate the truth to entice you to buy a product. If you learn to read between the lines and to understand what claims really mean you’ll be able to make better shopping choices. And always remember – if a claim sounds to good to be true it probably is.


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Beauty science news – June 29

I hope you’re strong enough to take this because it’s not beauty science news of the weak! (Get it?)

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O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet Cream – look at the label

There must be a lot of people suffering from dry feet because O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet cream is the number seven best  selling beauty product on Amazon.com this week. Let’s look at the label. 

Apparently what makes this product so special is that it contains an unusually high level of glycerin which can bind moisture to skin. (You don’t typically see glycerin featured as the second ingredient in a formula.) It also contains paraffin wax and dimethicone which will coat the feet and provide an effective barrier. Allantoin is also a known skin soothing ingredient.

Interestingly this is also a soap-type emulsion because it is made with a fatty acid and an alkaline base.

O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet Cream Ingredients

Water , Glycerin, Stearic Acid, Ammonium Stearate, Ammonium Borate, Dimethicone, Ceteth-10, Laureth-4, Paraffin, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Allantoin, Octyldodecyl Stearate, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

You can support the Beauty Brains by shopping for ANY product using our Amazon link. THANK YOU!

O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet Creme


Fresh Stick Deodorant – Vintage cosmetic video

Since the TV show “Mad Men” has become so popular everyone seems to think that the 1960s were the pinnacle of creative advertising. Clearly these people have not seen the 1956 spectacle that is Fresh. Stick. Deodorant.

The commercial features a guy balancing on a rotating drum, spinning five rings on his arms while the announcer drones on about how staying fresh is a tough “balancing act” for “difficult cases.” Now that’s entertainment!

I’m not sure how they decided this would be a compelling advertising campaign but I can’t imagine how they came up with the name. The meeting probably went something like this:

“What should we call this thing?” asked the client.

“Well, it keeps you fresh.” says the account manager.

“And it’s in stick form.” the graphic designer chimed in.

“I’ve got it!” shouts the agency vice president. “We’ll call it “Fresh Stick.”

Don Draper has nothing on these guys!

And now for the beauty science part: Fresh Stick used sodium zirconium lactate in a gelled soap base of water and alcohol.  To prevent the alcohol from evaporating stick the entire thing had to be sealed inside a glass jar. Not exactly what you’d call convenient packaging. Modern antiperspirant sticks consist of fatty alcohols and volatile silicones which are much easier to package and have much better application properties.


Does mayonnaise really kill head lice?

Missy says…I used two lice treatments on my hair. Today I am trying to condition my hair because it is completely dry and still a little itching. I researched and mayonnaise is supposed to kill lice plus condition hair….is this true??

The Beauty Brains respond:

Can mayonnaise kill head lice? Missy, Missy, Missy. That is ridiculous! It only takes a quick search of the scientific literature to prove that using mayonnaise on lice is just a load of bull… wait a minute… There’s a study in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that suggests this might actually work? Hold the presses!

The science of suffocation

Here’s the deal. While it’s common to use pesticide-like materials to kill lice there is a newfound interest in alternative methods because lice are becoming resistant to some of the pesticides. Fortunately it turns out that lice can be killed by a method that is more physical than chemical: if you plug up the little breathing ports on their body you can actually suffocate them. The problem with this approach of course is that you have to really make sure you smother them in something. Just putting on a shower cap (like some people) suggest isn’t going to cut it.

According to the journal Pediatrics a product called DSP lotion (which stands for Dry-On, Suffocation-Based Pediculicide) uses an emulsion consisting primarily of fatty alcohols to coat the little buggers. The lotion is applied wet and then blown dry with a hair dryer. The resulting film plugs the spiracles and the lice suffocate. In the published testing the treatment was 96% effective.

Is mayo murderous?

So what about mayonnaise as a murder weapon for lice? Mayonnaise, as the cooks in our audience already know, consists of egg whites, vinegar and lemon juice. Since egg whites do have film forming properties it’s not inconceivable that they could “shrink wrap” the lice just like the DSP product. I presume to make it work properly you would also have to blow dry it on the hair to maximize the shrink wrapping effect. Fortunately, there’s nothing in the mayo that will dry out your hair.

Of course it’s also possible the level of solids in mayonnaise is NOT high enough to be effective. But, it’s certainly a cheap alternative and there’s no risk in giving it a try. If you’re more desperate for surefire solutions you can track down this DSP product.

The Beauty Brains bottom-line

Sometimes even the most seemingly outlandish statements needs to be evaluated down to see if there’s any  potential truth to it. In this case it turns out that using mayonnaise on your hair might just take care of lice after all.


Does glass packaging mean a cosmetic is better?

Catharine’s question…Love the podcast, I especially like the beauty science or bullsh*t segment. (So do the guys in the family). Anyhow, my question may be more marketing than science.  When I travel I prefer to buy products in plastic containers instead of glass because of the weight. This is often difficult to do with my favourite products. I have always assumed the reason for glass packaging was marketing – to give an aura of luxury and quality.  Am I wrong? Is there some science reason for glass?

The Beauty Brains respond: 

Catharine has stumbled on a sure fire way to prompt us to answer your question: say nice things about our podcast. (Or about our book, It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick.) Just kidding! (Or AM I?)

When to pay for a nice piece of glass

Plastic is a great packaging option because it’s cheap and lightweight. But there are at least three reasons that cosmetics should be packaged in glass instead of plastic:

1. To protect the product from outside elements

A key role of packaging is to protect the product from the elements, particularly oxygen, because oxygen molecules can slip through certain plastics. While oxygen transmission can be reduced through the use of multilayer plastics equipped with barrier coatings, glass is an almost perfect barrier. Therefore, for formulations which are very sensitive to oxygen (think antioxidants) glass may be a superior material. Keep in mind, however, that a squeezable plastic tube which doesn’t expose the product to air will do a better job of protecting it from oxygen than an open mouth glass jar that exposes the product to air and to your fingers every time you apply it.

Protecting the product from light is also an issue. A darkly tinted glass container  may do a better job of protecting a product from fluorescent light than a thin-walled plastic tube.

2. To protect the package from the product

Some formulas can actually interact with plastics to compromise the integrity of the package. Perfumes are a classic example. Due to the solvent nature of the alcohol and the perfume oils themselves some perfumes can actually dissolve plastic containers. That’s why you almost universally see fragrances packaged in glass. Other formulas can cause plastic “crazing” which results in the appearance of small cracks in the package wall that weakens it. In either case such interactions can cause the package to rupture. Glass packages are impervious to this problem.

3. To protect the product from the package

Even if the integrity of the package itself isn’t compromised, the quality of the formula may be impacted by formula-plastic interaction.  That’s because certain ingredients in the formula can leach plasticizers out of the package. These chemicals can interact with the formula and negatively affect its stability.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

There are some cases where glass is technically superior to plastic. But more often than not it’s used to connote high quality and therefore justify the price of more expensive products.

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Is “kitchen chemistry” really good for your hair and skin? This week Perry and I bust a bunch of beauty myths about using ingredients from your kitchen in home made beauty treatments.  

Click below to play Episode 36 or click “download” to save the MP3 file to your computer.

Show notes

Randy’s Refinery29 Rant

We love the the website Refinery 29 but sometimes their advice isn’t based on science. As an example, I talk about their article on fixing dried out mascara with eye moistening drops.

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t

A special animal themed version of the much beloved game where I challenge Perry and our listeners to guess which of the following 3 beauty science headlines are fake. (2 are real, one is made up.)

  1. A Philippines Zoo is offering ‘snake massages’ by 4 giant pythons.
  2. Chinese spas offer fish pedicures where tiny fish nibble off your dead skin.
  3. At an Arboretum in Thailand is you can get a butterfly facial which is said to soften skin and brighten and your complexion using butterfly wings.

Can you guess better than Perry?

Beauty Myth Busting

Today we’re introducing a new segment where we bust beauty myths. (I wanted to call this “The Beauty Brains Big Busts” but Perry didn’t like the name.)

1. Apple cider vinegar softens hair and reduces dandruff
Vinegar has a low pH but other than helping to remove mineral build-up on hair, it doesn’t do much. There is no evidence it helps with dandruff.

2. Tumeric paste gets rid of zits
There is some evidence that components of turmeric have antibacterial properties but it’s never been proven to be helpful for acne.

3. Oil-pulling whitens teeth and “detoxifies” your body
This may help reduce bacteria in your mouth but there is no reason to think it will whiten teeth (it won’t) or detoxify – it definitely won’t do this.

Oil pulling may however, improve the health of teeth and gums. One study shows swishing sesame oil in the mouth improves reduces gingivitis and plaque; there was a net decline in mean plaque scores.  Another study, as reported by the British Dental Association, shows that “pulling” with coconut oil can reduce cavities. They found that that “coconut oil strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria including Streptococcus mutans – a major cause of caries.” However, the coconut oil may need to be “pre-digested” with an enzyme to make it most effective.

4. Rice flour exfoliates your skin
Will rice flour help for exfoliation? Maybe as long as the starch capsules aren’t so hydrated that they’ll just smoosh into your face.

5. Petroleum jelly grows longer eyelashes
This ingredient will definitely help condition eyelashes but there is no evidence that it will improve hair growth.

6. Frozen aluminum foil soothes puffy skin
If you wrap your face in frozen foil the coldness could help reduce swelling.  But foil won’t cool as efficiently as something like a gel mask which you can buy in any drug store.

7. Ketchup fixes brassy hair
Ketchup is made of tomatoes and has a low pH so it could help remove minerals and the tomato may stain the hair. But it could give an uneven color. Better would be something like a henna rinse.

8. Honey cleans your face
While honey can help moisturize the skin and has some anti-bacterial effect, it does not have good cleansing properties. Better would be some type of oil that you can apply and wipe off. Honey would work better as a moisturizer/facial mask.

Honey appears to work against bacteria in two ways, depending on the type of honey. In most types, the bees add an enzyme that generates low levels of hydrogen peroxide, which is the active ingredient that kills bacteria. In a special honey, known as Manuka honey, the bees feed on nectar of the flowers of the manuka bush which imparts additional anti-bacterial properties. Both types of honey can be effective but (and this is VERY important) their efficacy can vary greatly from batch to batch. Any given jar of honey may or may not have a high enough antibacterial activity to really work. To ensure efficacy, each lot of honey must be tested for activity before you know it will really work.

9. Green tea gets rid of bags under your eyes
Green tea is filled with polyphenols which have an antioxidant effect however, there is no evidence that topical application would have any benefit.

10. Coconut oil plumps your face
There’s no evidence that this oil would help to plump your face (other than the normal plumping effect you get from moisturizing.) This would actually work better as an oil cleanser than a face plumper. Coconut oil also can help strengthen your hair so you might want to try that as a home remedy.

11. Blackstrap Molasses gets rid of gray hair
No, this won’t stop the appearance of gray hair. It’s caramelized sugar and carmel is a colorant so it MAY stain hair and cover gray.

12. Fabric softener sheets can replace your conditioner
Putting laundry products directly on your skin is not a good idea because they maybe irritating. Even if safety wasn’t an issue, why would you want to do this? Fabric softeners are are NOT optimized to condition hair. While they may help reduce static they certainly won’t improve the feel of your hair and they won’t give it more shine.

LIL buy it now button

Buy your copy of It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick to learn more about:

  • Clever lies that the beauty companies tell you.
  • The straight scoop of which beauty myths are true and which are just urban legends.
  • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
  • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.


When is a cosmetic really a drug?

Innovation from the cosmetic raw material companies always makes me smile. I remember when one particularly “innovative” company would come in for a visit and always show these incredible compounds with mind blowing claims. While I always admired their attempts there was a fundamental thing they did that I found troubling; they would blur the line between cosmetic claims and drug claims.

I still frequently see this with the way both cosmetics and cosmetic raw materials are marketed. So, I thought it would be helpful to go through what is a cosmetic.

What is a cosmetic?

Let me first apologize to our International readers. This article will focus mainly on the US market. However, many of the same principles apply.

According to the FDA a cosmetic is…

“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” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)]

And to distinguish cosmetics from drugs, the FDA further defines a drug as…

“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” [FD&C Act, sec. 201(g)(1)].

What does this mean?

The key piece to consider is the part in the definition where it states “…articles intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man…”

So, when companies make claims like…

  • Ingredient will stimulate collagen production
  • Ingredient will inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase
  • Ingredient will prevent premature gray hair

…they are making DRUG claims, not COSMETIC claims. If you use these ingredients in your formulation with the intent that they are going to have the effects claimed, you are no longer making a cosmetic. You are formulating a drug that is regulated differently than cosmetics. (Mostly, it requires more testing and validation).

What is not a cosmetic?

So to simplify the difference between cosmetics and drugs think of it this way.

A cosmetic is a product that is designed to clean or alter the appearance of the skin and hair without affecting metabolic processes. Body wash, skin moisturizers, make-up, etc. are all cosmetics as long as they are not intended to ‘stimulate collagen production’ or otherwise interfere with natural body processes.

When is a cosmetic a drug?

There are some products that are both cosmetics and drugs. This would include products like anti-dandruff shampoos, toothpaste, antiperspirants, sunscreens and anti-acne treatments. These products have to comply with the rules governing both cosmetics and drugs.

Innovation in the cosmetic field is difficult because cosmetic chemists are restricted in what type of effect they can have on the body. If you have created a formula that affects the normal functioning of the body’s cells, then you are no longer formulating a cosmetic, it’s a drug. Until they change the rules, things called cosmecuticals are just marketing fluff.


Beauty science news – June 22

Another lazy Sunday means another five beauty science stories for you to peruse….