Subscribe to our blog to stay informed

What are Cosmeceuticals?

The cosmeceutical industry is massive and still growing, so it’s completely normal for anyone to have questions. At Hale Cosmeceuticals, we’re here to answer these questions regarding the cosmeceutical industry, how cosmeceuticals work, and the many varieties of cosmeceuticals available to the public. Our mission is to educate and inform others about how cosmeceuticals revolutionize the skincare industry, help users, and explain the science behind the brand. Follow this helpful guide to answer your burning questions:

● What are cosmeceuticals?
Are cosmeceuticals the same as cosmetics?
What’s the Difference Between Cosmeceuticals, Pharmaceuticals, and Nutraceuticals?
Are cosmeceuticals drugs?
What is the cosmeceutical industry like around the world?
How are cosmeceuticals regulated?
What ingredients are in cosmeceuticals?

What are Cosmeceuticals?

Cosmeceuticals are products that act as both cosmetics and medicines and combine cosmetic products with pharmaceutical products. Typically applied by rubbing the product on the skin, cosmeceuticals contain high amounts of active ingredients like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. They are used for a variety of purposes: to remove wrinkles, decrease signs of aging, heal scars, prevent acne, keep the skin moist, and even as sunscreens. Although the FDA does not recognize cosmeceuticals as an individual product within the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmeceuticals are recognized in many other countries as their own type of unique skincare product.

For centuries, cultures worldwide have used ingredients like botanicals, milk, honey, and essential vitamins to prevent aging, moisturize the skin, and avoid sun damage. Today, many cosmeceuticals use or build upon these methods to create new products that act as cosmetic beauty tools and tools to improve skin health and function.

So are Cosmeceuticals Cosmetics?

The answer to this is “yes and no.” Cosmetics are topical products that, when applied to the skin, protect, cleanse, and generally maintain the applied area. Some cosmetics, like lipsticks or other types of makeup, add pigmentation. Cosmetics sit directly on the epidermis– the top layer of our skin, and do not promote long-term change. Instead, they aim to only alter the skin’s appearance in the short term. On the other hand, Cosmeceuticals act on multiple layers of the epidermis and are absorbed by the second layer of skin, called the dermis. Cosmeceutical products, unlike cosmetic products, contain active ingredients targeted toward different layers of the skin in the form of serums, masks, lotions, and cleansers.

What’s the Difference Between Cosmeceuticals, Pharmaceuticals, and Nutraceuticals?

Cosmeceuticals exist in a space inhabited by several other kinds of health products, including nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. To know the difference between the three, you can follow this guide below:

Pharmaceuticals are products used to treat, prevent, and diagnose diseases. Available as both prescription and over-the-counter products, pharmaceuticals include any drug from vaccines to hormones and vitamins. They have existed in one form or another for hundreds of years and are typically processed by doctors and medical professionals.

Oral nutritional supplements and health foods are considered nutraceuticals. Formally defined as “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease” by Doctor Stephen De Felice, nutraceuticals aren’t prescriptions, nor are they classified as drugs.

Cosmeceuticals contain many vitamins, minerals, and other active ingredients similar to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products. Cosmeceuticals aren’t prescription products, but many dermatologists sometimes recommend them for people who struggle with various skin conditions, due to their use of vitamins and minerals, higher quality, and visible results.

Are Cosmeceuticals and Dermaceuticals Different?

As a relatively new and developing field, cosmeceuticals feature many similar ingredients to dermatologist-recommended (and sometimes prescribed) products. Known as dermaceuticals, these products are for topical use only and are another term for medical-grade or high-quality skincare items just like cosmeceuticals. Dermaceuticals are available as over-the-counter products to all kinds of consumers.

Are Cosmeceuticals a Drug?

While cosmeceuticals contain active ingredients meant to restore the skin, they are not classified as drugs. A drug, by medical definition, is a product designed for the treatment and prevention of disease. Although dermatologists may recommend cosmeceuticals for people with specific skincare needs, cosmeceuticals are readily available for anyone to purchase.
venn diagram cosmeceuticals

Cosmeceuticals Around the World

As an ever-growing, ever-changing industry, cosmeceuticals aren’t as well-established in the medical field as nutraceuticals or pharmaceuticals. However, the cosmeceutical industry heavily relies on skincare and beauty and often goes hand-in-hand with many daily skin routines. Overall, cosmeceuticals occupy a space between medical-grade skincare products and cosmetics. An array of over-the-counter skincare products with beneficial effects and active ingredients is available to everyone without a prescription. These products are ideal for a sustainable and health-conscious beauty routine.

Despite the initial downfall from the COVID-19 pandemic, the cosmeceutical industry continues to rise, with a projected Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.81% from 2020 to 2025, according to Mordor Intelligence. This increase in growth leaves lots of opportunities for private labels to establish their brand early on, and for estheticians and dermatologists to develop and market their own products as well.

Western Cosmeceuticals

In western countries like the United States, cosmeceuticals are primarily used to moisturize the skin, create even skin tones, and reduce blemishes and wrinkles. Western beauty standards emphasize tanned, even skin tones with little to no wrinkles, acne, or blemishes. As one of the primary signs of aging in Caucasians, anti-wrinkle creams take up a large portion of the market.

Cosmeceuticals in Asia

In Asian countries like Japan, China, and Korea, beauty standards are a bit different. While moisturizers and dewy skin are still idealized, paler skin is also greatly desired. Cosmeceuticals in these countries tend to focus on moisturizing, evening skin tone, and brightening skin tone. Skin brightening agents like ascorbic acid are highly sought-after instead of anti-wrinkle creams and tanning agents in Western countries.

Cosmeceuticals Internationally

In Europe and Asia, the cosmeceutical industry is more regulated than in the United States. Thus, many cosmeceutical brands must comply with European and Asian product standards to sell licensed products in these countries. However, both the European Union and the FDA do not recognize cosmeceuticals as their own class of skincare products. Instead, regulations in countries outside the US follow stricter cosmetic standards.

With forty years of marketing, manufacturing, and even doctor recommendations, it’s essential that clinical testing for cosmeceuticals follows procedures similar to drug testing. As the market grows, legislation and regulation for cosmeceuticals will surely improve worldwide.

Cosmeceutical Ingredient Types

Cosmeceuticals are organized into several categories based on their effects:


Ingredient Function Examples
Sunscreens ● Prevent damage from the sun’s UV rays. Zinc Oxide; Titanium Dioxide
Antioxidants ● Clear the skin of oxides, which build up over time from sun exposure, pollution, smoking, and going about your daily life.
● Protect the skin from sun damage.
● Reduce inflammation and redness.
● Regulate skin tone and pigmentation.
Alpha-lipoic acid
Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid)
Vitamin B3 (Nicotinamide)
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Date Palm Extract
Curcuminoids (Turmeric)
Botanicals ● Plant extracts from leaves, bark, flowers, roots, stems, and fruits.
● May contain antioxidant effects.
● Soothe and moisturize the skin.
Aloe Vera
Coconut Extract
Green Tea Extract
Witch Hazel
Ferulic Acid
Hydroxy Acids
(AHAs, BHAs, PHAs)
● Improve skin texture via exfolation and skin cell turnover
● Reduce signs of aging in the skin.
● Hydrate skin cells (PHA)
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (lactic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid)
Poly Hydroxy Acids (gluconolactone)
Beta Hydroxy Acids (salicylic acid)
Peptides ● Repair and regulate processes surrounding skin aging.
● Anti-glycation agent
● Building blocks of collagen and elastin
Copper peptide-GHK
Matrixyl 3000
Palmitoyl peptide 38
Retinoids ● Encourage skin cell turnover
● Reduce wrinkles and fine lines.
● Improve skin texture, regulate pigmentation.
All retinoids are forms of Vitamin A, like retinol, retinaldehyde, and tretinoin.
Skin Brighteners ● Regulate skin pigmentation to reduce dark spots and discoloration.
● Act on melanin pathway
Licorice Extract
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Azelaic Acid
Kojic Acid


General Skin Care Cosmeceuticals vs. Niche Cosmeceuticals

Cosmeceuticals for general skincare include sunscreens, moisturizers, and acne treatments. These products are readily available for consumer purchase and don’t require a prescription. Niche cosmeceuticals specialize in a specific type of skincare and may require a doctor’s prescription to purchase. Products for skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and cystic acne are considered niche products, as are moisturizers and other products specifically for people with diabetes.

Organic Cosmeceuticals

Organic cosmeceuticals feature active ingredients derived from botanicals and are thus considered “all-natural” or organic. Typically, natural cosmeceuticals must have at least 95% of their ingredients remain non-GMO and naturally sourced from plants. These products are also vegan and usually cruelty-free.

Should I Purchase Cosmeceuticals?

Cosmeceuticals are best for anyone and everyone that cares about what goes into their skincare products and people looking for products that heal the skin with long-term effects. In the end, everyone’s skin is different, and before diving right into a new skincare routine, it’s best to visit a dermatologist to see what aspects of your skincare routine you’ll need to improve.

Health and Safety of Cosmeceuticals

As a newly emerging form of dermatological medicine, cosmeceuticals must follow several regulations regarding their use, sale, and production, but the field remains largely self-regulated. While not fully recognized as separate from cosmetics in the United States and several other countries, the scientists and developers within the industry have established their own tight regulations in place of the absent FDA standards.

FDA Guidelines and Classification

Although the FDA does not recognize cosmeceuticals as a separate entity from drugs or cosmetics, it acknowledges that a product can exist as both. In the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA defines a drug as ”products that cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease or that affect the structure or function of the human body.” Cosmetics, on the other hand, “are intended to beautify, promote attractiveness, alter appearance or cleanse [the skin].” Unlike drugs, cosmetics do not need FDA guidance or approval before reaching store shelves.

Cosmeceutical Regulatory Laws

Currently, the United States has relatively lax regulations surrounding cosmetics and the cosmetics industry. However, organizations like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the National Cosmeceuticals of America work towards improving regulations in the cosmetics and cosmeceutical industries.

National Cosmeceuticals of America

Often shortened to the NCA, the National Cosmeceuticals of America organization features a vast array of doctors and scientists that act as an independent regulatory service outside of the FDA. The NCA provides cosmeceutical manufacturers with testing resources, product concept development, and a regulations approval process to ensure cosmeceutical products are safe for consumers. The NCA specializes in a variety of cosmeceutical products, including skin care and hair care products for both humans and animals.

Cosmeceuticals in Medicine

Although they aren’t classified as drugs, doctors and dermatologists often recommend cosmeceutical products to help their patients take care of their skin. Since cosmeceuticals contain greater amounts of active ingredients, they tend to draw more attention in the clinical skincare market as over-the-counter products designed for the average consumer. However, dermatologists’ involvement in the cosmeceutical industry is vital, even if some products are available without a prescription. Doctors and medical professionals play an essential role in regulating the industry, producing cosmeceuticals, helping patients find the right product, and even dispensing products as prescription or recommended items. For example, a dermatologist may recommend products high in retinoids like adapalene and tretinoin to treat cystic acne. While anyone can purchase a cosmeceutical meant to treat acne, dermatologists and estheticians can still recommend these products with their wide range of skincare knowledge.


Cosmeceutical Types

With the many types of cosmeceuticals available, some products emphasize their unique ingredients over others. For example, cosmeceuticals made from botanicals can be organized into subcategories based on their ingredients: organic cosmeceuticals feature non-GMO botanicals, while essential oil cosmeceuticals contain oils and extracts from various plant-based products. CBD cosmeceuticals contain hemp or THC products as active ingredients, which come directly from plants as botanical oils. 

Other kinds of cosmeceutical subcategories include paraben-free cosmeceuticals and vegan cosmeceuticals. The white rabbit logo on a product’s packaging is an easy identifier for vegan and cruelty-free cosmeceuticals.

Aside from ingredients, their function is another way to classify cosmeceuticals. Depending on where you apply the product, a cosmeceutical may contain different levels of active ingredients or ingredients designed to be as gentle to the skin as possible. Eye cosmeceuticals, for example, tend to be tear-free and won’t harm your eyes if you get a small amount of product in them. Lip cosmeceuticals, on the other hand, might feature more potent exfoliators to remove dead skin from the lips. In addition, both the eyes and lips have particularly thin and sensitive skin, meaning they’ll need different ingredients than what you’d typically use for the rest of your face.

Expanding Technology

Technological developments within the cosmeceutical industry have led to recent growths and improvements in safety and sustainability within the field. Most notably, the rise of cosmeceuticals within the clinical space and the use of the related term “dermaceuticals” have further separated cosmeceuticals from cosmetic products by emphasizing their use of active ingredients and the role they play in skin health. Sustainability efforts have also attributed to this, as more botanical substances are being tested to replace parabens and fossil-based ingredients in active and inactive spaces. The increase in ingredient screening has thus led to an increase in new product formulations and a new rising need for safe product testing. 

Cosmeceutical Testing

The Food and Drug Administration does not include cosmeceuticals as an independent category from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Thus, professional dermatologists and estheticians regulate the industry under strict ingredient guidelines and testing procedures. With a recent increase in the need for sustainable skincare products, testing the active ingredients within these products is a necessity.

Nanotechnology in Cosmeceuticals

To create new, unique products or to provide more coverage than the average skincare product, the use of nanotechnology in cosmeceuticals is rising. In essence, nanotechnology involves the manipulation of molecules on a minuscule scale, including the creation, design, and application of ingredient structures. Already a significant component of modern medicine, cosmeceutical experts use nanotechnology to create new formulas that will provide users with safer, more effective results. 

Cosmeceutical Ingredients

The active ingredients are what set cosmeceuticals apart from cosmetics. With higher concentrations of active ingredients in cosmeceutical products, these items tend to promote visible, long-term changes in skin biology and function. Composed of various vitamins, minerals, and proteins, these active ingredients fall into one or more of the following categories: sunscreens, antioxidants, retinoids, botanicals, peptides and proteins, hydroxy acids, and skin-brightening agents. 

Many cosmeceuticals share common ingredients with cosmetic products, including sunscreens and antioxidants like vitamins C, A, and E, botanicals like aloe vera and green tea extract, and other essential oils. In addition to active ingredients, all cosmetics and cosmeceuticals contain similar ingredients to create the texture of the products. Common examples include water and emulsifiers for liquid products, lipid or mineral-based thickeners, and pigmentation products like beet powder, iron oxide, and charcoal.

Recent Innovations in Cosmeceutical Ingredients

In recent years, the cosmeceutical industry has dramatically expanded its repertoire of ingredients, especially botanical and other organic ingredients. With a market pushing for greater care in sourcing active ingredients for both cosmeceuticals and cosmetics alike, many recent brands now boast the signature bunny logo for cruelty-free, vegan products. The industry has shifted and will continue to shift from fossil-based ingredients and parabens to botanicals.

Specialized Cosmeceuticals

Although cosmeceuticals are for everyone, some people need to avoid certain ingredients or have different active ingredient concentrations in their formula to keep their skin healthy. In this case, doctors recommend specialized cosmeceuticals. Although some of these products are prescription-based, many are available to consumers from select retailers. Specialized cosmeceuticals include cleansers and moisturizers for people with cystic acne, cosmeceuticals for people with dermatitis, rosacea, or melasma, and creams for treating diabetic rashes. 

Specialized cosmeceuticals don’t stop at skincare either; you’ll also find an array of hair care, lip care, nail care, and makeup products! For many people with chronic skin conditions, these products are excellent resources to allow for cosmetic use without increased risk of infection. For example, someone with diabetes will need makeup products for sensitive skin to reduce their risk of acne or skin irritation. Alternatively, people with eczema may need cuticle oils to reduce swelling and dryness.

Cosmeceutical Products

As part of a massive, constantly changing field, cosmeceuticals hold a lot of weight in more than just skincare. Cosmeceuticals have found footing in exfoliators, lotions, cleansers, toned sunscreens, and moisturizers in the cosmetics industry. In terms of skincare, the cosmeceutical industry still stands strong with generalized products for reducing acne, regulating melanin production, and managing signs of aging. However, specialized products for chronic skin conditions like rosacea and eczema are far more popular, especially in the medical space in managing dark circles, under-eye bags, general eye coverage, and hypoallergenic eye makeups. 

For Our Business Partners

Our array of cosmeceutical products has a massive breadth, covering products for eye care, skincare, lip care, hair care products, and wholesale cosmeceuticals designed for the general public and niche cosmeceuticals for specialized needs and skin compositions. Here, you’ll find resources to compare and contrast various industry brands, find resources for shopping online and learn more about the various manufacturers and distributors of our favorite products.

Since we work exclusively with skincare professionals like estheticians and dermatologists, our products constantly improve based on new research and client feedback. Unlike other cosmeceutical manufacturers, products at Hale are all manufactured within FDA-registered manufacturing facilities within the United States. All research and development labs are in the US as well.

Our focus on clean, natural ingredients means that our products are high-quality and contain high concentrations of active ingredients to help improve skin health. All orders to licensed skincare professionals are covered under a wholesale price with no minimum.

Let's Start Working Together

We at Hale Cosmeceuticals Inc have been proud to partner with estheticians and dermatologists over the years to serve as a ‘brand incubator’ to help those with ambitions to start and distribute their own line of products. We love working with our B2B skincare professionals and share your enthusiasm about the skin, science, and results.


We can also help those who want to manufacture or develop their own products with custom formulations or packaging!.Have an established line and want to discuss manufacturing? Please reach out to us at 1-800-951-7005 or email to discuss further.

For questions about these or any of our other active ingredients, please contact us online or call us today at 1-800-951-7005.