Article by: Perry Romanowski

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Cosmeceuticals

I saw this interesting review study about cosmeceuticals. The article goes through and looks at the best scientific evidence available for various cosmeceuticals including…

1. Retinoids
2. Kinetin
3. Niacinamide
4. Soy phospholipids
5. Green tea polyphenols

Their conclusion, all 5 of these cosmeceuticals fall short of the proof standards for efficacy as proposed by Albert Kligman (<–famous skin researcher). Of the 5 examined, only Niacinamide was closest to meeting the Kligman standards.  But that’s not what I wanted to discuss.  More important is how cosmeceuticals should be vetted for figuring out whether they are worth including in your formulations or not.

Kligman standards

Albert Kligman was one of the most famous skin researchers in the United States. He was also the guy who coined the term ‘cosmeceuticals’.

He also posed three questions that you should ask about any cosmeceutical product that claims a beneficial physiological effect.

Skin penetration

1. Can the active ingredient penetrate the stratum corneum (SC) and be delivered in a high enough concentration to have an effect on the target in skin?

If enough of the ingredient can’t penetrate the skin then it is not going to have an effect. This is where most cosmeceutical ingredients fail.

Theoretical effect

2. Does the active ingredient have a known specific biochemical mechansim of action in human skin cells?

It’s not enough to penetrate the skin. There has to be some specific known target that the cosmeceutical is going to affect. If not, the ingredient probably won’t have a noticeable effect. Things like fruit stem cells or natural extracts fail in this area.

Clinical proof

3. Are there peer reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled, statistically siginficant clincial trials to substantiate efficacy claims?

And here is where almost all cosmeceutical ingredients fail. Practically no one publishes or even conducts studies of this nature and magnitude. It is probably too expensive or too risky (in case the ingredient doesn’t work) to do so.

Cosmetic chemists and cosmeceuticals

As a cosmetic chemist, you need to remain skeptical of efficacy claims of ingredients and require your suppliers to have answers to each of these three questions. They probably won’t have the answers you seek but if you start asking, they may start conducting the studies.


  1. Avatar
    Nancy Liedel

    I own and have read, with great interest the book, “Cosmeceuticals: Active Skin Treatment.” Which can and should be purchased from Allure, for every formulator. Most of them just don’t pan out.

    The problem? The old bugger, label appeal. Do I go for that, or really stick to what works and has a demonstrable difference to me, personally, when I change the product (learned that from you).

    People want to believe the hype and adding 1% of, “all natural skin-ball,” etc, will really help them. Perhaps it does. The placebo affect has some validity.

    It’s hard to be in a , “more natural,” niche and not use some of these. The words, “super fruit,” makes people drool. I try darn hard to avoid the mentality of the, “all natural miracle.” It does not exist. Moderation in all things.

    The line in the sand I’ve drawn is if it show efficacy at a level I can use. Allantoin, for example, should not be used at more than 2%, or you’re making a drug. However, Allantoin shows real efficacy at .5-1% and over that, nothing much changes. I use Allantoin if the product includes water, or is in a mineral inci that is going to be against the skin. There is no use in putting it in a veil, for example. It’s the last thing you put on. I also have it in my, “Night Powder,” (I formulated it for my skin, and call it, “Desert Powder.” It was my first real formulation that did what it promised. Sucked the oil out of my skin and dry it the heck out. My mid-forties zits went away and my skin looked fantastic. I’ve made more, but it’s out with testers and I’m so dratted busy, I stopped making if for myself. I should not do that).

    Allantoin has been tested and tried as a product with geed efficacy. However, it’s on the surface only. I don’t buy that what we put on is, “drunk up,” by our skin. While there are drugs that can be introduced to the body through the epidermis, it’s darn hard to do. Otherwise, we’d gain weight in the tub. The horny layer is laid out like that for a reason. To keep life out.

    I’m with Perry. It hurts my bottom line, for my niche, but if it shows no efficacy in a double blind study, with a constant, or placebo, I’m not putting it in my product. I do put fruits and veggies in some of my soap, but it’s fun and I make no claims. Other than the natural sugars in the fruits and veggies make a soap with more bubbles.

  2. Avatar

    Very true, Perry. I believe it was Johann Wiechers that also worked in this field. It’s a really pity him passing away paused that research 🙁
    I like some cosmeceuticals for their scent & feel.

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for posting this article. This is most interesting and infrmative. Makes me think twice about what to buy.

    Greetings from Vienna.


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