What you're really putting on your face

There are so many products on the market but is what's written on the label enough to know what's really going on your face?

There are super strict rules in Australia when it comes to the ingredients in cosmetics so while you might have a reaction to a cosmetic, for the most part it's unlikely to cause any serious or permanent damage.

Some products are better than others and that's where we need to break down the difference between cosmetics, cosmeceuticals and pharmaceuticals. It's all about the ingredients.


These are what you buy off the shelf in a department store or chemist such as foundation, lipstick, mascara, moisturisers and eye creams. They have a superficial effect, making us look good by covering up rather than offering long lasting change.

It's active ingredients that make the big difference to our appearance and there is not enough of these ingredients in cosmetics.

Cosmetics often contain preservatives, colours and fragrances. Any preservatives (they extend the shelf life of a product and prevent the growth of bacteria and other nasties), chemicals or artificial ingredients are present in small doses and unlikely to pose a risk. All ingredients must be listed on the package. 


This is a mix between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. There are more therapeutic benefits with cosmeceuticals as they contain greater amounts of the good active ingredients that penetrate deeper into the skin. 

This means you're likely to see visible changes over a longer period of time such as reducing the appearance of fine lines, tackling pigmentation and boosting hydration. The main ingredients in cosmeceuticals are vitamins A, B and C, antioxidants and hyaluronic acid. (More details of these ingredients further down).

You can usually only find these products at skincare clinics where you might need to have a consultation with a professional. Here you'll get a rundown of the ingredients in the products and any possible side effects. You don't need a prescription for cosmeceuticals.


These products are used as medicine and you need a prescription.

They contain strong ingredients for a targeted effect such as controlling acne and their effect needs to be monitored by a doctor. These products are usually only prescribed for short term use.

Ingredient guide

Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C, E, green tea, Q10 - fights off free radicals that damage the cells in our body, usually caused by stress, poor diet, UV penetration and environmental factors such as pollution.

Vitamin B: niacinamide, panthenol - boosts hydration.

Hyaluronic acid: glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids - boosts hydration, improves skin texture

Retinol: vitamin A - cell renewal, reduces pigmentation

Vitamin B: niacinamide, panthenol - boosts hydration

Vitamin C: l-ascorbic acid, magnesium, ascorbul phosphate - reduces fine lines