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What are cosmeceuticals?

Cosmeceuticals is a portmanteau word for products that combine the effects of both cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. These products claim a wide range of skin care benefits, such as anti-aging, anti-wrinkle and firming effects, in addition to cosmetic functions.

Cosmeceuticals are becoming more common and more widely used in the UK, but its important to be cautious when opting to use them. Dr Conal Perrett, a Consultant Dermatologist with many years experience of medical and cosmetic dermatology offers only those cosmeceutical treatments that have a good reputation and that are likely to benefit your skin.

Are cosmeceuticals regulated?

Cosmeceuticals are not regulated in the same way as mainstream drugs or medical treatments, and they do not have to undergo a programme of rigorous testing before they are approved for use. As long as the product is not marketed as a pharmaceutical, it does not need approval by the health authorities.

However, any claims made by cosmeceuticals must be backed up by strong clinical or scientific evidence. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority will carefully check the legitimacy of any claims before allowing advertising or marketing to go ahead. If a product makes a medical claim that cannot be substantiated, or which is not backed by a reliable, scientific study using a large enough sample, then the ASA can ask for the ad to be removed.

To avoid such action, comeceutical advertising often makes vague or unspecific claims, using language that is hard to quantify or disprove. These claims are often related to the success of a proportion of a relatively small sample. (eg “8 out of 10 women said they felt their skin looked younger” – referring to just 68 out of 85 women).

Do cosmeceuticals work?

Cosmeceuticals contain a variety of chemicals with known skin health benefits. These include:

  • Vitamin C and E – for sun protection and anti-oxidant properties
  • Coenzyme Q10 – to prevent free radical damage and rejuvenate your skin
  • Peptides – to promote collagen production and firm the skin
  • Retinoids – to rejuvenate skin and inhibit the skin ageing process
  • Retinols – to clean and maintain the skin
  • Hyaluronic acid – to boost skin volume

However, it is important to remember that many high street cosmeceuticals, especially those at the cheaper and of the scale, generally do not contain enough of these active ingredients to make any significant difference to your skin. Even the really expensive creams and lotions, with high concentrations of the active ingredients, will not match the quality or potency of products that you will obtain through treatment with one of our medical dermatologists.

Taking care with cosmeceuticals

Top of the range cosmeceuticals often cost a lot of money for a very little jar, so you should take great care when choosing these products. Always read the small print, check the evidence that the claims are based on and stick to reputable brands with a well established track record in skin care science.

Alternatively, you can just let your cosmetics be cosmetics and leave your skin care in the fully qualified and highly experienced hands of your dermatologist.

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Are nail lamps a skin cancer risk?

Hardly a week goes by without some sensational story in the media about a new cancer risk or a new carcinogen discovered in our every day environment. A typical example of this is the recent study into the skin cancer risks from UV lights used in nail salons.

UV lights are commonly found in nail salons and high street beauticians, and are used to dry and cure nail polishes, varnishes and other finishes such as acrylic nail fillers. They consist of a small box containing a ultraviolet lamp, with an opening at the front into which the hand is inserted. The concern was whether this exposure to UV rays would be harmful to the skin of the fingers and potentially be a cause of skin cancer.

What did the study show?

This was the first study to use a range of actual salon lamps for testing. Dr Lyndsay Shipp and her colleagues tested 17 different UV lights found in 16 different nail salons. The lamps had an assortment of bulbs of different wattage, emitting a range of irradiance.

Having thoroughly tested the bulbs under laboratory conditions, the researchers found that the high power bulbs did indeed produce higher levels of dangerous UV radiation, which is associated with DNA damage and subsequent skin cancers. Inevitably, this sparked scare mongering headlines in the more sensationalist media, suggesting that weekly manicures could cause skin cancer.

However, a more careful examination of the results shows that this is unlikely to be the case. In fact, the team concluded that while the level of UV-A was, in theory, potentially dangerous, the exposure time for the average nail station client was so short that even with multiple exposures to the lamps, the risk of developing skin cancer as a result remained small.

What this means for you?

With so many ill informed headlines about, it can be difficult to know what to believe, but the Health Information Officer from Cancer Research UK, Dr Indrayani Ghangrekar, made the message plain. “Studies have shown that UV nail lamps are likely to pose very little skin cancer risk,” she explained.

The organisation is far more concerned at the lack of awareness of the skin cancer dangers of excessive sun exposure, which presents a far higher risk than a few minutes under a nail lamp once a week.