Do drugstore cosmeceuticals deliver the same benefits as expensive department store brands?

March 2, 2011

Do drugstore cosmeceuticals deliver the same benefits as expensive department store brands?
Do drugstore cosmeceuticals deliver the same benefits as expensive department store brands?

Baby boomers are funding a war against aging skin. The “Today” show estimates that U.S. sales of skin-care cosmeceuticals have reached $6.4 billion annually and those sales are expected to grow. On behalf of this aging population, Katie Couric turned a confused face to Diane Berson, professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and asked, “What the heck is a cosmeceutical?”

Berson explained that cosmeceutical is a marketing term created to describe a product that is more than a cosmetic but less than a pharmaceutical and claims to have anti-aging properties. Cosmeceuticals are not subject to FDA scrutiny like prescription pharmaceuticals, are largely unregulated and thus fall into a gray area. The term has no meaning at all under the law.

When Berson stated that among other anti-aging properties, cosmeceuticals claim to have anti-oxidative benefits, Couric said, “Isn’t the key word here, claim?” Berson explained that oxidative damage from ultraviolet light impairs collagen and elastic, which are support structures of the skin. As an example of oxidative damage, she points to what happens when a slice of apple is exposed to the air. (Thankfully skin doesn’t react like an apple, or we would all look like monsters by the age of 2.) Berson likens the anti-oxidative effects of cosmeceuticals to drinking green tea or red wine. She says these measures “may help a little bit.” She implies that, similar to taking vitamins, they make us feel like we’re doing something good for ourselves.

Peptides are another magical anti-aging ingredient that are supposed to prevent wrinkles, moisturize and provide elastin and collagen protection. Peptide-containing products range from $18 to $150. According to Berson, the inexpensive drug store products have the same amount of peptides as their beautifully packaged department store counterparts; Olay Regenerist Serum at $18 is every bit as good as Strivectin at $150. Generally, the ingredients in drugstore anti-aging products are the same as those in pricey department store products.

Sunscreen is the one anti-aging product Berson recommends as a must. Use it all day, every day and every season. Ultraviolet rays penetrate glass, so use it even when you’re remaining indoors. An SPF of 15 is sufficient for every day, blocking about 96 percent of the sun’s rays. But if you’re very fair, have a history of skin cancer, or plan to experience intense sun exposure, use an SPF of 45.

If you have past sun damage or other concerns about your skin, see a certified plastic surgeon or a dermatologist. A board-certified plastic surgeon from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery can give you a prescription for stronger topical formulas, or may recommend dermabrasion and laser treatments. 


The mission of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAPS, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to www.surgery.org

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About ASAPS
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world’s leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body.  ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; active members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. International active members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.

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