A dermatologist talks: 5 questions on cosmeceuticals answered
Science meets skin
What exactly are cosmeceuticals?
Cosmeceuticals refer to skincare that is a combination of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They have medical or drug-like benefits, such as improving appearance by means of its ability to affect the structure and function of the skin as recognised by dermatologists. Dermatologists increasingly spearhead the development and use of cosmeceuticals in their practice as opposed to regular cosmetic skincare or traditionally gentle, dermatologist-tested formulas.
Cosmeceuticals are commonly recommended by dermatologists as an complementary treatment to cosmetic dermatology treatments such as lasers, fillers and botox for anti-ageing, as well as a form of skincare when treating skin conditions like acne. The key points to know are these types of skincare contains bioactive ingredients, which means it has been laboratory tested and formulated to ensure effectiveness and proper penetration onto skin. Also, the ingredients are not simply normal moisturisers or typical cosmetic formulas but rather contain anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle, sun-protective, anti-acne and anti-oxidant ingredients that have been backed by dermatological research.Why did you formulate your own range of cosmeceuticals?
My journey with cosmeceuticals started in my dermatology practice, when I formulated a 7-step cosmeceutical skincare range which contains evidence based (learn about evidence-based medicine here) active ingredients for antiaging and skin rejuvenation. The cosmeceuticals were meant for the patients I see, whether they have healthy or problem skin-types, ranging from teenagers with acne to women in their twenties, thirties, forties and beyond. For those with anti-ageing concerns, it is an adjunct to the advanced cosmetic dermatology treatments I offer, such as botox, fillers, lasers and high intensity focussed ultrasound (HIFU), to help to accelerate treatment response and also as a cost-effective way for my patients to maintain the beneficial effects of these cosmetic treatments right at home, with cosmeceutical skincare.
As a dermatologist-tested line, it also works well for patients who suffer from facial eczema, who previously could not use anti-ageing products available on the market as they were not dermatologically formulated. Together with my brother, Zhi Liang, a trained pharmaceutical engineer, we made this a reality through our brand Dr. TWL Dermaceuticals, which has an e-commerce website. Zhi Liang oversees the mass production and formulation with our chemist, ensuring that every step contributes towards delivering nothing short of an effective cosmeceutical.
How do I choose the right brand?
It is important to note that cosmeceuticals are not regulated by the FDA or Health Sciences Authorityin Singapore and so are not bound to the claims on their packaging. As such, it's difficult for the consumer to know if a given product can do what it claims it can do, contains the ingredients it claims to, or if the ingredients have the potential to cause harmful reactions such as phototoxic conditions when exposed to the sun or cause allergic or irritant contact dermatitis.
As a quick rule of thumb, a product recommended by a dermatologist (check your doctor's accreditation here ) would be safe bet. One would be wise to do thorough brand research, look for the labels 'dermatologist-tested', 'dermatologist formulated/recommended' or just consult a dermatologist before you buy. As a cosmeceutical product, it should also ideally be formulated in a laboratory rather than in a cosmetic factory. It should also have the approval of a dermatologist. The reason these factors are important is because, one has to bear in mind that even when the correct active ingredient is present, it may lack effectiveness because of an inappropriate drug delivery system, compound instability, poor penetration, inadequate dosing or the ingredient itself may lack good clinical studies to back it up.
The skincare and aesthetics market today is flooded with cosmetic companies and even 'doctor-designed' skincare products by aesthetic doctors (who are not dermatologists) to add on to the public's confusion of who's the real skin expert. In my practice, I've seen patients who have developed skin allergies to products dispensed to them. Cosmetic dermatology is the realm of specialist dermatologists, I felt it was time that we brought the truth of good, honest, dermatologist-formulated and tested cosmeceutical skincare to the public, for those who may not have visited their dermatologist's office.
What should I look for in the ingredient list?
Cosmeceuticals should contain at least one distinguishing ingredient and have a beneficial effect beyond the abilities of purely cosmetic products. Specifically, antioxidants such as stabilised vitamin C, resveratrol, niacinamide (a skin brightening ingredient) and oligopeptides are the star performers. I have included these in my own cosmeceutical line.
As a botanical enthusiast, I am fascinated with phytochemicals which are present in certain plants, for example, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. When correctly extracted in a laboratory under strict conditions preserving the bioactivity, these have been found to be potent antioxidants that fight the ageing process ( free radical damage). When mixed with peptides, this becomes a powerful mixture I called Larecea™, that is also incorporated as a star ingredient in all the skincare. The source of resveratrol in the night regenerative serum Elixir-V™ Total Recovery Serum is from a relatively rare plant called Japanese knotweed, which produces a potent form of the ingredient known as trans-resveratrol. I also incorporated licorice extract and the more well known Centella asiatica, both have cell regenerative and antioxidant properties. Dermatologists review evidence for these ingredients via a scientific database, PubMed. If you are ever curious about any particular claim made by a skincare line you could also key in the particular ingredient yourself to see if its a fact or farce!
Why should I use cosmeceuticals?
Skincare is something that everyone uses, no matter male or female or of any age group. Take cleansing for example, everyone uses some form of a cleanser, be it a piece of $5 store-bought soap, a $12 drugstore cleanser or a $120 luxury cosmetic brand. So why not use a product that also repairs and heals while cleansing? The trick is how to really know whether you are being told the truth that the product you are paying for. My opinion is, if you're not using a reliable cosmeceutical skincare brand, it's still better for you to opt for a gentle dermatologist-tested product which simply does not strip skin dry or cause an irritant reaction. This is what I prescribe for individuals who may not have the budget, rather than a famous cosmetic brand.
The 7-step regimen I recommend to my patients is meant as a two to three minute routine (which most women already have) that is easily accomplished at home. It is literally DIY anti-ageing that works. It is accessible for people who otherwise may never have the opportunity to speak with a dermatologist, and it also is a way I educate the public on what exactly a dermatologist delivers in terms of the knowledge, quality and experience of healthy skincare as opposed to the general practitioners who practise aesthetic medicine or certain aspects of cosmetic dermatology. Whenever I talk about cosmeceutical skincare to my patients, I give this analogy: One could spend a fortune to perfectly restore and upholster a leather sofa, subject it to poor daily care and lack of conditioning, it will deteriorate quickly, worse than what it was before. Similarly, the aesthetic treatments I offer to them quickly corrects and restores, but a line of dermatologist-tested and formulated cosmeceuticals is crucial for maintenance, besides working synergistically with the treatments.
Dr. Teo Wan Lin, founder and medical director of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, is an accredited dermatologist specialising in medical and aesthetic dermatology. She integrates her artistic sensibility with her research background and specialist dermatologist training, by means of customised, evidence-based aesthetic treatments using state-of the-art machines, injectables (fillers and toxins) which work synergistically with her proprietary line of specialist dermatologist-grade cosmeceuticals Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals. Follow them on Instagram and join the brand's model search here