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Dermocosmetics and Cosmeceuticals



[Translate to English:] Dermokosmetik

How to combine cosmetic and pharmaceutical ingredients

A certain trend has been visible in the cosmetics market for some years now: knowledge in the fields of dermatology and cosmetics is starting to overlap into an ever widening grey area between pharmaceutical and cosmetic care products. Terms like dermocosmetics, dermaceuticals and cosmeceuticals reveal that cosmetics is pushing its way into the field of pharmaceuticals for more profound reasons than just complying with legal demands for proof of effectiveness. The transitions between care, prevention and healing are smooth, and many substances are being used as both cosmetically and dermatologically active ingredients. 

Cosmetics and dermatology share the same goal, namely of healthy, physiologically intact skin. Which path can be taken to get to this goal, however, is governed by different laws for the two fields. Pharmaceutical ointments can only be used for medical treatment, for example, while cosmetics are used as supportive prevention of skin problems, or in other words skin care. Cosmetics and dermatology combine to form dermocosmetics. 

According to a definition by the “Gesellschaft für Dermopharmazie” (Institute for Dermopharmacy), dermocosmetics or dermaceutical products are cosmetic media where the intended cosmetic purpose is achieved under consideration of certain dermatological and pharmaceutical aspects (1). 

Dermocosmetics are increasingly in demand, as more people are finding they have delicate skin and react sensitively to conventional cosmetics. Dermocosmetics must satisfy very high demands in terms of quality, effectiveness and tolerability, given that they are also used to prevent and treat pathological skin changes. Despite high demands on their quality, dermocosmetics are nevertheless cosmetics and therefore to be clearly distinguished from pharmaceuticals. 

The field of dermocosmetics has given rise to the newer marketing term ‘cosmeceutical’. Like dermocosmetics, cosmeceuticals are medical-dermatological skin care products that are claimed to maintain and even improve the skin’s function. Often, however, products are already referred to as cosmeceuticals for containing innovative, high-tech active ingredients.

Besides the high expectations on the quality and tolerability of cosmeceuticals and dermocosmetics, the modern and demanding customers nowadays expect proven effectiveness before they will give out their hard-earned money. 

An advantage of cosmeceuticals is that many of their ingredients have already been used for years in dermatology and have thus been tested on a broad “user base” (see the table). The actions of identical substances are, of course, the same in cosmetics and in pharmaceutical ointments. The crucial difference is in the claimed action: cosmetics are not allowed to bear claims like soothing, healing or anti-inflammatory. 

Active ingredientPharmaceutical functionCosmetic function
AllantoinWound healingUsed for skin irritations and dry skin (similarly to urea) 
CarbomersWound coveringSodium carbomer, thickener (stabilizer), ultrasound gel component
D-PanthenolWound healingIncreasing skin moisture, smoothing skin, increasing cell division rate, inhibiting itching, antibacterial action 
Echinacea extractWound healing, immune stimulationUse in care preparations for couperose, rosacea and perioral dermatitis
Green teaTreatment of condylomataIncreasing microcirculation; astringent
Hamamelis extractWound healing, anti-inflammation Mild astringent, ingredient of tonics, lotions, and aftershaves
Hyaluronic acid In eye preparations against reddening and inflammation (“dry eye”)Smoothing wrinkles, forming an elastic moisture film
ChamomileAnti-inflammation, soothing of irritations, wound healingSoothing skin, for sensitive skin 
Salicylic acid Acne (comedolytic and keratolytic; from 5 %), wart-removal (approx. 10 % solution)Antimicrobial and keratolytic activity, peeling (β-hydroxy acid). Maximum permitted in care creams is 2 % and in shampoos is 3 % 
Vitamin A acidTretinoin, isotretinoin: Regeneration of skin, chemical peeling, acne treatmentBanned in cosmetics; vitamin A palmitate allowed (converts to vitamin A acid in the skin) Used for new collagen formation and regeneration of atrophic skin. Use against acne and cornification disorders 

The dosage of active ingredients in cosmetics is usually lower than in pharmaceutical products. However, special cosmetic carrier systems allow dermocosmetic products to make do with a fraction of the pharmaceutical concentration of active ingredients and yet still exhibit a similarly good action (2).

As can be seen from the table, precursor substances of banned actives are already being used in cosmetics. Vitamin A palmitate is a good example, which converts to vitamin A acid in the skin. 

The current trends and hypes in the classical cosmetics market cannot always be addressed in the cosmeceuticals segment. Research, development and studies take more time in this field, since the laws are stricter and new actives have to go through a long and costly trial phase before they can be introduced on the market (3). 

Various experts see the future of skin care as a combination of medicine, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. This supposition is corroborated by the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly informed and will select a “safe” product by preference. They want care products whose mechanism of action is clear, understandable and, above all, credible. Dermocosmetics and cosmeceuticals satisfy this demand, with no small thanks to marketing by pharmacies and drugstores.



  2. Rolf Daniels: “Die Rolle der Dermokosmetik im Anti-Aging”. In: Kursbuch Anti-Aging p. 334-342.


Claudia Dür

Social Media Manager

Stories - Nature - Movement. These three words have the greatest meaning in my life.

As a passionate communicator, I am responsible for social media at IMPAG. In addition, I write various contents for our communication activities in the area of personal care. I love stories, constructive exchange, open discussions and teamwork. In my spare time you meet me and my family always in motion, be it biking, climbing and hiking in the mountains or surfing in the waves of the Atlantic.

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