CosmeceuticalsThe term Cosmeceuticals is a fusion of Cosmetic and Pharmaceuticals implying that these skin care products have a medicinal or therapeutic value, more so than over-the-counter products that one encounters in stores.


How do they differ from regular skin care products?

Often one will find some of the components of cosmeceuticals in OTC skin creams, but at significantly lower strengths than in the products that are available to medical spas or clinics; consequently the consumer can expect more dramatic improvements in their skin with the higher grade products, and in some cases can have a product compounded in a pharmacy tailored to their specific needs..

The flip side of this coin is the higher the strength of the product, the more potential for irritation , at least in the beginning stages of use- this is particularly true of products containing high strengths of vit A, C, glycolic or other acids, and compounded skin lightening products.

Important ingredients, and what they do

Some ingredients may be available only by prescription- eg hormonal components such as estriol; skin lightening agents such as azelaic acid or tazarotene; ingredients such as ornithine decarboxylase, used to inhibit hair growth; or, dutasteride – to encourage scalp hair regrowth (off-label use- see Section on alopecia).

Much is understood about the complex cycle of renewal of the skin- which is the single most important barrier between us and the outside world, with all its corrosives, pollutants, allergens and infectious agents. Many of the problems that we complain wrt the appearance of our skin are related to

  • self-inflicted damage- such as excessive exposure to UV radiation (sun tanning); to toxins such as the many ingredients in cigarette smoke; and to agents that destroy the natural lipid barrier that retains the skin’s moisture ( excessive washing, especially with soaps); still others are
  • the product of natural aging processes subsequent to hormonal decline or abnormalities – e.g. estrogen deprivation at menopause, growth hormone decline with advancing years, or hypothyroidism; other problems can be the result of
  • subtle micronutrient deficiencies, such as Zinc and yet other problems can be caused by
  • sensitivities to common ingredients in cosmetics, detergents, hair and nail products – ingredients such as parabens, lanolin, dyes, nail varnish solvents etc.

Below are some of the active ingredients found in cosmeceuticals, and their postulated benefits:


Otherwise known as emollients. The most common mode of action of “moisturizers” is to trap moisture in the skin by forming a layer that stops evaporation of water . If one has oily or acne-prone skin , you should look for “non -comedogenic” products -which are not so thick as to block pores and cause blackheads

Examples of occlusive types of moisturizers are plant-based sterols such as aloe, jojoba, shea butter etc. and synthetics such as petrolateum products e.g. Vaseline, or silicone-based products such as dimethicone.

Other products are hygroscopic – i.e. they draw water into the skin e.g. hyaluronic acid, urea, glycerine; finally there are substances such as the AFA’s ( amino acid fillagrin anti-oxidant), ceramides, and syringolipids (an important constituent of the cells of the stratum corneum)- derived from compounds naturally present in the skin, which can become depleted over time, leading to dryness.


The best known and researched of which is Vitamin C; high concentrations of which (17 % in some cosmeceuticals) have been demonstrated to increase the synthesis of collagen. Vit E (tocopherol acetate), green tea extract, and alpha lipoic acid are other anti-oxidants, as are the AFAs – their main role is to mop up free radicals which lead to cellular damage..


Eg AHAs & BHAs (alpha- and beta- hydroxy acids), glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid – are exfoliants, as is Vit A (retinol) – by sloughing off dead surface cells , they encourage increased cell turnover, and over time, are thought to thicken the skin by increasing native collagen production, leading to diminished fine lines and wrinkles. In low concentrations, AHAs may also have a hygroscopic/moisturizing effect.


Dimethylaminoethanol- said to help firm sagging skin, and enhance muscle tone. Its mechanism of action is uncertain- it is known to increase the synthesis of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter, also of phosphatidylcholine- an important ingredient in cell membranes- and has much been researched as a “SmartDrug” i.e. with cognitive- enhancing properties-shown in studies to reduce age-related decline in cognitive ability and memory.

However, its benefit in skin creams is somewhat controversial: [one study demonstrated a 3% alkaline solution of DMAE caused tiny vacuoles or bubbles in the skin cells of rabbit ears, giving the appearance of plumping, while actually damaging the cells]

Whether the pH balanced formulations of less than 1 % concentration – which is the norm in skin creams- while giving the appearance of plumping and tightening the skin- actually cause longer term damage to the skin cells- is a matter for further study.

Marine Algae

Moisturizing , and containing amino acids important to the synthesis of collagen


A plant- derived substance, it relaxes facial muscles, reducing the appearance of expressive lines and wrinkles e.g. forehead/ crow’s feet ( see pHiderma Linurase serum).It lacks the specificity and the longevity of injected botulinus toxins – results being short-lived and dependent on continuous use vs. 4 months duration with Botox, which only acts on the muscles within a 1 cm radius of the injection.

Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide

Sun blockers ( see section below) often added to mineral make-up.


A preservative found in shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, deodorants, most sunscreens, spray tanning solution, makeup. Parabens are xenoestrogens – i.e. they mimic estrogen and have been found in breast cancer tumors. It is not possible to say whether parabens actually caused these tumors, but they are the subject of on-going research. Studies also indicate that methylparaben (in sunscreens) may react with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage. Parabens can also cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis and rosacea in individuals with paraben allergies, a small percentage of the general population. Because of these concerns, it might be wise to avoid products containing these chemicals.


Lanolin is produced from sheep, where it plays a major role in protecting the (wool and) skin. It is an emulsifier that is used in many cosmetics and baby care products, as a moisturizer and a barrier cream, shown in studies to be superior to petrolateum and glycerin.

Some people, however, may have a sensitivity to topical lanolin; it may be worth testing persons with eczema or reactions to various cosmetics , for allergy to this component.

Sun Protection


With the majority of skin cancers being directly due to the damaging effects of UV radiation on cellular DNA, and the lifetime odds for Canadians of getting an invasive skin cancer pegged at 1 out of 7 .. it is important to protect all exposed areas of the skin from the harmful effects of excessive sun exposure . That goes for avoiding the use of tanning beds;…. I myself can attest to the harmful effects of sunbeds , having used them a lot in my 20s, when I found they were an effective way to control acne*… however, I developed multifocal basal skin cancers in my 40s D Hyland.

* for discussion of wavelengths that are helpful for the treatment of acne, but will not cause skin cancer – see Lasers & Light: LED devices; Photodynamic therapy

Many people seem to feel that, just because they are not lying out in their bikini , deliberately trying to get a tan, that they are not subject to the adverse effects of UV light… but sun damage is most often seen in persons who chronically and unwittingly expose unprotected skin to sunlight – so -called “outdoors types” … hikers, golfers, fishermen, utility workers, postal delivery persons, summer motorbike enthusiasts, persons who don’t bother to apply sunscreen on a cloudy, or not-so -hot day, and don’t forget sun exposure in the winter – skiing, etc. *the degree of sunburn, which is a UVB effect, does not reflect the amount of damage being caused by UVA rays that penetrate deeper into the skin and are instrumental in causing skin cancer….about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

Sun damage will progress through benign solar lentigenes (brown spots) , actinic keratoses, to outright skin cancers*… especially on the face, hands, decolletage, temples, even tops of the ears : men – don’t forget the back of the neck, or , if you have thinning scalp hair – apply sunscreen to the top of your head!!

* see section: Skin: Brown spots ..for signs to look out for

The important thing is to apply

  • enough sunscreen (recommendations about 1 oz for sun bathers for exposed areas- a thin coating of sunscreen effectively reduces its SPF capacity)
  • a high enough SPF ( minimum of 30 SPF if spending time in the outdoors- Makeup and moisturizers, if they contain sunscreen at all, will only be at the SPF15 level)
  • often enough (apply it 15-20 mins before exposure, and reapply every 2 hrs.)
  • Use a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB wavelengths (broad spectrum).

In addition to applying sunscreen, you should endeavour to cover up exposed areas of the skin as much as possible- and wear sunglasses that filter out UV light, as this is associated with the formation of cataracts. The Australians coined a motto encompassing the steps we should all take to reduce the incidence of skin cancer

Slip (on a tee shirt) Slop (on sufficient sunscreen), Slap (on a hat) Seek (shade from the sun) and Slide (on wraparound sunglasses)

What to look for in a sunscreen:

What does SPF mean ?

The term SPF reflects the amount of radiation required to cause sunburn with the sunscreen on , vs. without it. As a rough guide, that is understood to mean how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning. Some caveats –

  • It only reflects the effect of protection against UVB which causes sunburn , vs against UVA, which penetrates deeper into the skin, and is associated with photo aging and damage to cellular DNA ,leading to skin cancer.
  • The actual degree of protection afforded by a particular SPF is dependent on how much you apply- applying insufficient quantity may reduce the protection by half.
  • No sunscreen can provide 100% protection against damaging UV rays; as a guideline SPF 15 protects against 93%, SPF 30 protects against 97% , and SPF 50-60 shuts out 98% of UVB radiation.

What is the difference between a sunblock and a sunscreen?

Sunblock refers to opaque sunscreen that is effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays .Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two of the important ingredients in sunblock.

I’ve heard there are potentially harmful ingredients in sunscreens- what should I avoid?

Ingredients to avoid: parabens and oxybenzone – both xenoestrogens- see above, which may have an association with the development of breast cancer; possibly retinyl palmitate-there are suggestions, based on animal studies, that this substance may have cancer-producing effects when exposed to sunlight; also fragrances , which could be allergenic for persons with sensitive skins;

    •  A good brand to try is LaRoche Posay Anthelios., which is parabens free
Our top-selling products

pHiderma Cosmeceuticals

Manufactured by Prollenium Medical Technologies in Aurora, Ontario, this company partners with leading dermatologists to develop professional-grade anti-aging products, for healthier, younger-looking skin

All of their products are dermatologist tested for safety and efficacy, and are supplied in single-dose vegetable based capsules for ease of use. The products are oil-free, non-comedogenic, and hypoallergenic.

They utilize a proprietary Microsponge delivery system, which results in an enhanced product stability. The active ingredients are delivered by means of a sustained release technology which reduces skin irritation. The products address skin conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation, actinic keratoses, aging and photo damage.

Cerum ™  Vitamin C capsules – Revitalize the skin, inside and out….

is a topical 17% Vit C serum formulated to reverse the signs of skin aging. This product is also effective in the treatment of rosacea, acne, damaged skin and post laser treatment.

Vitamin C is clinically proven to stimulate new collagen production. Additionally, as a powerful antioxidant, it neutralizes damaging free radicals . It is combined in this preparation with hyaluronic acid, a powerful moisturizer.

Retinol Capsules Vitamin A – Smoother, healthier looking skin……

Using the patented MicroSponge delivery system, the retinol penetrates to the deep dermis, where it stimulates fibroblasts to produce collagen, thereby reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and reversing sun damage. additionally , retinol capsules increase the thickness of the epidermis, resulting in smoother, healthier and younger looking skin.

Clarifying Under-Eye Serum Reduce Dark Circles………..

The thin, delicate skin under the eyes allows us to see tiny leakages from the fine veins under the eyes which appear as dark circles. This exclusive formula containing pure stabilized retinol. peptides and essential minerals, heals the damaged capillaries, thus reducing the appearance of dark circles, also smoothing fine wrinkles and improving skin elasticity.

Linurase Serum A gentle way to treat wrinkles………….

Formulated with 10% Argireline, Hyaluronic acid, anti-oxidants, and Seaweed bio-peptide extracts, it was designed to combat the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines , without resorting to Botulinus toxin injections; this serum relaxes facial muscles, while nourishing skin cells, making the skin look younger and healthier. Argireline is the wrinkle- reducing component of the serum; researchers have demonstrated a 30% reduction in facial wrinkles with 30 days’ use of the substance.

Linurase serum is recommended as post-peel nourishment as well as in combination with your normal skincare routine to enhance the anti aging effect.

AFA Skin Care Regimen

Specially developed for photopigmentation, and helpful in cases of melasma, these products, in conjunction with a series of in-office Clay Masks & peels will improve blotchy pigmentation and restore moisture to dry mature skins.

They are especially helpful for type 4 and 5 skins ( tanned , olive and darker background ), who would not be suitable candidates for IPL.

The regimen consists of

    • AM: cleanse with AFA cleanser, apply oil-free AFA moisturizer (sunscreen and makeup, if desired)
    • PM: cleanse ( double cleanse or use toner if wearing makeup) and leave AFA acid gel (mild, plus or max) on overnight.

A significant improvement in skin tone, pigmentation, and hydration will be seen in 12 weeks.