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Getting under the skin of ‘cosmeceuticals’

A blend of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, cosmeceutical brands promise skin-changing results – but beware of imposters

“Cosmeceutical brands like Biologique Recherche are not just about skin maintaining, but skin changing.”

“Cosmeceutical brands like Biologique Recherche are not just about skin maintaining, but skin changing.”


Unless you’re among the special few who have been blessed with blemish-free, wrinkle-free and eternally youthful skin, at some point you’ll be looking to up your skincare ante and find something that will deliver real, lasting results. You may have come across the term ‘cosmeceutical’ on your search.

Jennifer Rock, chief executive and founder of The Skin Nerd and Skingredients active skincare range, is keen to point out that the word itself is “a lovely portmanteau, but it’s a marketing term rather than a certifiable, highly-regulated sector”. She says anyone can call themselves a cosmeceutical brand, but it is the potent ingredients and the amount of them that will upgrade a product from simple cosmetic status.

“Clearer, brighter, optimally functioning and healthier skin, that will age later” is, generally speaking, what’s promised by cosmeceutical brands that offer active, results-driven products to their customers, according to Kristina Viskontaite, an educator for Image Skincare and an experienced aesthetic therapist.

Cosmeceutical products will, in general, have a higher concentration of active ingredients, meaning more effective, targeted results and a more direct approach. Dawn Hill, expert facialist with Floraison.ie, says “cosmeceutical brands like Biologique Recherche are not just about skin maintaining, but skin changing”, and that’s where the difference arises.

So, how do you know you’re investing in something that’s going to deliver those results you’re after?

“There is a lot of confusion about skincare products in general. That’s why it is very important to seek professional advice from a skin expert when investing in skincare,” advises Viskontaite.

While cosmeceuticals don’t quite have to be prescribed, they should always be purchased somewhere that provides education on their use, as well as advice on what complementary products to use.

Power tools

“Cosmeceuticals are the power tools of the beauty industry, and although you’d use a scissors without a second thought, I like to think most people would learn to use an angle grinder before putting it into use?” says Rock.

“There is no need to be afraid of them but there is a need to be educated on them so that you don’t overuse or misuse ingredients such as exfoliating acids, which can do more harm than good if utilised incorrectly,” she adds.

Rock’s brand is built on the belief that people can achieve real skin health, beyond just temporary aesthetic effects. She says: “When people are using the correct cosmeceutical products for them, they usually see a dramatic change in their skin after the 28-day mark, as 28 days is the average skin cycle.

“Cosmeceutical skincare works to protect, repair and correct at a deeper level. That’s not to say that cosmetic skincare can’t contribute to skin health, as it absolutely can, but for the most part, cosmeceutical skincare will have more of an effect and maybe get to that effect faster,” she adds.

When cult skincare brands like The Ordinary and The Inkey List pop up with actives like hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid and retinol in similar concentrations to the pricier cosmeceutical brands, people rightly question what the difference is.

In simple terms, those brands are undoubtedly excellent and worth using, but generally you’re paying for one ingredient – great if you need to add more hyaluronic into your routine, or you want to trial the use of turmeric. But there’s a reason cosmeceuticals are so expensive.

“It’s about the efficacy of final formulation. Also beware of smart marketing – just because it sounds good doesn’t always mean that it is good,” Viskontaite advises.

Jennifer Rock agrees, saying: “Cosmetic brands are divils for something known as “angel-dusting”, where a small amount of a well-known ingredient is added to a product simply so that they can mention it in their marketing.

“This is why I advocate for a good read of the ordered list of ingredients found on the bottle, tube, inner leaflet or box of your product,” she adds.

Worth the spend

Skincare you invest in needs to also be skincare you can trust. Here are some brands that won’t make you regret your spend.

– Image Skincare Vital C Serum, €76, renaissance-skincare.com

– Skinceuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF30, €41, skinshop.ie

– Biologique Recherche P50 Lotion, price varies, see floraison.ie or thegreenhouseproject.ie for details

Murad Resurgence Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream, €79.95, cloud10beauty.com

Skingredients Sally Cleanse, €25, skingredients.com