Getting Nerdie With The Skin Nerd: Over The Counter Vs. Cosmeceutical Skincare

The Skin NerdSkincare is gearing up to be THE beauty and wellness trend in the coming years – what does this mean for the average skincare user?

Well, realistically, it’ll mean that easily available, over the counter (OTC) products will begin to emulate the forerunners in skincare, these forerunners being South Korea (check) and cosmeceutical brands.

Is this a problem in itself? No!

It means that the most advanced of ‘skingredients’ will be brought into the price range of many, thanks to the wonder that is trend analysis. The issue is that some of these ingredients are not easily transferable to the world of OTC skincare.

What is a cosmeceutical?

Cosmeceutical is a combination of the words “cosmetic” and “pharmaceutical”, kind of a marketing buzzword more than anything, but a great descriptor nonetheless.

If a product is cosmeceutical, it is a product that contains ingredients that penetrate into the lower layers of the skin to create changes, for example, tackle bacteria or stimulate collagen. A true cosmeceutical can only be obtained through having a detailed consult with a skincare professional.

A true cosmeceutical can only be obtained through having a detailed consult with a skincare professional.

This differs from over the counter products as over the counter products do not contain the amounts of active ingredients that can cause change in the skin. They can be obtained sans consult and without advice.

They soothe, pacify and calm the skin and can help boost the skin’s barrier function but it is important to note that not all OTC products are created equal and some can contain harsh and drying fragrances and preservatives.


My experience lies in the world of the cosmeceutical. I have trained and lectured with brands that began with a plastic surgeon or dermatologist with a dream to spread skin health, such as IMAGE Skincare and Environ.

These brands blind test their products and have them tested independently to ensure that the results they are getting are real. In this sense, the cosmeceutical triumphs.

What is ‘angel dusting’?

What is important to note is that many cosmetic skincare brands will do something known as ‘angel dusting’ so that their ingredients align with massive industry trends.

‘Angel dusting’ is when a negligible amount of an active ingredient is included in a product so that they can say the product contains this ingredient. This practice should not have an effect on the product itself – the onus is simply on the consumer to be aware that this happens.

Anouska @anouskapb No7 Early Defence Glow Activating Serum 2

Some more affordable cosmetic products do contain traditionally cosmeceutical-style ingredients and in relatively high levels.

One recent example of this would be the No7 Early Defence GLOW ACTIVATING Serum, where sodium ascorbyl phosphate (an easily absorbable form of vitamin C) is near the top on its list of ingredients.

I have heard of and seen horror cases where people have overdone it on readily available acids and caused their skin long term damage.

Vitamin C is the type of ingredient that can transition from the cosmeceutical world to the cosmetic world easily.

What happens when we have high amounts of acids available without a consult?

Misuse and overuse of acids. That is what happens. This is seen in particular with acids such as glycolic acid.

I have heard of and seen horror cases where people have overdone it on readily available acids and caused their skin long term damage.

In scenarios that are not worst case, I’ve heard of people breaking out persistently, having flare ups of lifelong skin conditions and having chronic dry patches due to unmonitored use of some of these products.


What’s my advice on choosing OTC or cosmeceutical products?

My advice to those looking to learn more about the world of cosmeceutical skincare and active ingredients is to book in for a consult with a skin therapist to ensure that you get the results you are looking for without causing your skin irritation (or, in some cases, devastation).

I see cosmeceutical skincare as the route for people looking to bring about change in their skin but cosmetic skincare is ideal for someone maintaining their skin, who wants it to be clean, moist and balanced but is not focused on correcting skin concerns.

In the end, the choice of whether you’re using OTC or cosmeceutical skincare is up to you but be cautious when it comes to products offering huge promises without having the papers or trials to back it up – you know what they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Jennifer Rock is the founder of The Skin Nerd online skin consultancy. If you’re interested in having a consultation with one of her expert Nerdettes, click here for more information.

You can follow Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (@theskinnerd).