The latest wave of cosmetics are based on advanced research that includes the use of biotechnology-derived ingredients, genetic profiling for individual skin-care or nutritional regimes, stem-cell-based products and therapies to regenerate ageing tissues, or cell and tissue engineering for cosmetic purposes.
As a consequence of this increasing application of science to beauty, the line between cosmetic and medical research is becoming blurred; the laboratories of major cosmetic companies perform cutting-edge research in areas such as matrix biology, antioxidants and ageing processes. In addition to the goal of making women and men look younger, this research also benefits the development of therapies against a range of serious disorders. Vice versa, various biotechnology companies – such as those that are investigating methods to boost DNA repair or wound healing – have licensed some of their molecules to the cosmetic industry, or have even entered the market with a proprietary line of beauty products themselves.
One of the main impetuses for researching cosmetics is that they are not required to undergo the clinical trials for efficacy to which drugs are subject. In the case of biotechnology companies, this provides a new source of income to finance their basic research; however, the blurred line between drugs and cosmetics creates a complex regulatory situation. Many beauty products- which often sell at a high retail price – come with claims that the product is based on advanced scientific research, giving consumers the impression that they are as effective and tested as drugs. Conversely, the cosmetics industry does not want its products to be regulated in a similar manner to drugs as this would involve extensive, lengthy and costly clinical trials for efficacy. It therefore falls to the regulatory agencies to decide whether a product – despite its claims – is a cosmetic, or whether it should be classed as a drug because it has a therapeutic effect.
As the cosmetics industry and its research laboratories perform increasingly cutting-edge research, the difference between some cosmetic products and some pharmaceutical products is shrinking further – a development that will inevitably attract the attention of the regulatory agencies, such as the increasing scrutiny of Botox. Current legislations generally require that cosmetics must not cause harm to human health with normal or reasonably foreseeable use, and that the product itself and its ingredients must have been tested for safety. In addition, health claims made on the label and in commercials must be substantiated, which is the main problem for so-called cosmeceuticals – products that are claimed to have drug-like benefits.
In the end, cosmetics are not primarily about science, but about the age-old promise of beauty. The increasing use of scientific research in the development of new cosmetics should ultimately benefit the consumer, as it contributes to the next generation of safer and more efficient beauty products.