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noun [countable] [usually plural]

a cosmetic product which contains active ingredients that have a beneficial effect on the user's body



'The world of cosmeceuticals is about to be shaken up in a major way. According to online reports women who want a delightful fragrance will no longer have to get it from a bottle. A new fragrance range called Swallowable Parfum will put an end to that since women can simply take a capsule.'

carefair.com 5th September 2011

Yes, it's true, anyone wanting to smell sweet all day through will no longer have to squirt themselves from a bottle. All they'll need to do is pop a 'perfume pill' in their mouth, swallow, and, as if by magic, their body's natural perspiration will emit a delightful fragrance for many hours. This may seem like a bizarre idea to some, but this new product, soon to be marketed under the name Swallowable Parfum® is just one further development in the sphere of the now widely recognized concept of cosmeceuticals.

cosmeceuticals are products … which are marketed as cosmetics but contain some kind of biologically active ingredient intended to benefit the user in some way

Cosmeceuticals are products, usually creams and lotions, which are marketed as cosmetics but contain some kind of biologically active ingredient intended to benefit the user in some way. Classic examples of cosmeceuticals are anti-wrinkle creams and hair restorers, both of which purport to improve the appearance of the user whilst having an active effect on their body – a kind of marriage of cosmetic and medicinal treatment.

In the USA, though the term cosmeceutical(s) has been around for some time and is very popular in the marketing of such products, it still causes problems for regulatory authorities like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who have refused to officially recognize it under the US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Although there are strict controls on the development, testing and supply of drugs, no such constraints apply to cosmetics. In practice, this often leads to the careful labelling of cosmeceuticals in order to avoid claims about drug properties and thereby bypass regulation by the FDA, which can be time-consuming and very costly.

If, like me, you're not tempted by the 'perfume pill' but wouldn't mind ingesting something tasty in order to boost your health, then there's also the concept of the nutraceutical (also spelt nutriceutical). This is basically any kind of food or food product that provides health and medical benefits, and can range from dietary supplements in pill form, through to special cereals, soups, drinks, or even genetically enhanced vegetables. Other ways of describing the same concept include the terms functional food and pharmafood. Such foods pose a similar dilemma to cosmeceuticals, as regulatory authorities endeavour to work out whether they are primarily foodstuffs or should be controlled by the much stricter guidelines applied to medicines.

Background – cosmeceutical

The expressions cosmeceutical and nutraceutical are blends of the word pharmaceutical with cosmetic and nutrition respectively. Used as both adjectives and nouns (generally in the plural form), the terms began to enter mainstream use in the early nineties, though cosmeceutical dates back to the 1970s, coined by dermatologist Albert Kligman. Nutraceutical first appeared in 1989, its coinage credited to US medic Dr Stephen DeFelice.

The word pharmaceutical dates back to the 17th century and has its origins in the Greek pharmakeutikos (in turn relating to Greek pharmakeutēs, meaning 'druggist'). Modelled on the derivative pharmaceutics (the science of preparing and dispensing drugs) there's also some evidence for related nouns cosmeceutics and nutraceutics.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 24th October 2011.

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the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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