Cosmetics – Effect, Application & Risks


The term cosmetics includes a heterogeneous family of products whose members are responsible for the wide range of tasks related to body care and beautification. The definition of the term also includes the delimitation of the scope of action of cosmetic products, as well as their classification according to specific functions for individual areas of the body and according to the composition and nature of their active ingredients.

What are cosmetics?

The definition of the specific properties of cosmetics is laid down by law in Germany. Cosmetic products are described as substances or preparations of substances that are applied externally to the human body or in the oral cavity.

They have cleaning and caring functions and are intended to influence the external impression of people, including their body odour , according to the wishes of the wearer. Their active properties are not primarily intended to alleviate or cure any disease or body damage. This means that cosmetics are not subject to approval, but are subject to labelling.

Although this stipulation is intended to distinguish between cosmetic preparations and pharmaceuticals, in practice the distinction is difficult in many cases. On the one hand, this applies where cosmetic care uses raw materials that are also used in medicines. On the other hand, all applications move into a border area in which cosmetics positively influence the external appearance by alleviating the effects of physical deficiencies or overfunctions.

Application, effect & use

According to their range of tasks, cosmetic products are divided into preparations with a care or decorative function. Caring cosmetics are used to cleanse and protect the body and can be differentiated according to the area of ​​the body in which they are used.Skin care , oral and dental care , hair care and intervention in the nature of body odor are the most important tasks of cleaning, protective and caring cosmetic active ingredients. For example, make-up for the face and eyes, nail polish or self-tanning products are used for decorative purposes. In particular, the effect of care cosmetics is often in the border area to the tasks of so-called topical drugs that are used locally on the body surface.

Cosmetic care products for sensitive, irritated skin are closely related to medicinal creams used to treat inflammatory skin diseases . Moisturizing substances are similar in their effect to medicinal substances against eczema , neurodermatitis or psoriasis . The cosmetic treatment of blemished skin is becoming akin to medical measures against acne . And the tasks of a cosmetic deodorant are closely related to the functions of antiperspirants, which counteract increased sweating in the form of ointments or powders.

Similarities in the mode of action of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are due not least to the fact that the same raw materials are often processed in both product groups. Medicinally effective substances such as panthenol, urea , evening primrose oil , witch hazel , linoleic acid , vitamin K and many others are used in both cosmetics and medicines.

Plant, Natural & Chemical Forms & Types

The rules for the production of cosmetics are set by the EU. It stipulates the labeling requirement for the ingredients, prohibits the use of animal experiments for toxicological tests and imposes responsibility on the manufacturer or importer for the compatibility of the products sold.

There are over 8000 different substances that are approved as ingredients in cosmetics and many of these are highly controversial. Most classic preparations for skin care work on the basis of emulsions of water and chemically highly filtered mineral oils. Silicones, preservatives, nanoparticles and emulsifiers that keep mixtures of oil and fat stable are just a few examples of substances that have an increasingly bad reputation as ingredients in cosmetics, yet are widely used. Natural cosmetic products are an alternative here.

However, there is no generally binding definition for the properties of natural cosmetics. A wide variety of seals stand for products free of mineral oil and preservatives or certify the use of plant-based raw materials from organic farming. Because there are no binding guidelines, it is often very difficult to decide on the quality of cosmetic products based on alternative ingredients.

Risks & side effects

Emulsions, the fat components of which are obtained from mineral oil, are substance preparations that are very stable in contact with atmospheric oxygen and water and are not susceptible to microbial degradation. They are therefore a well-tolerated and tried and tested basis for the production of cosmetics.

Unlike herbal preparations, however, cosmetics based on petroleum do not contain any unsaturated fatty acids that the skin can use as active ingredients. Vegetable hydrocarbons are very similar to those in human skin. They are easier to utilize than mineral oils and protect the skin from water loss by stimulating its metabolism. So while mineral oils are well tolerated but only have a superficially greasy effect, plant-based substances can react better with the skin but are more likely to trigger allergies .

Because the tendency to allergic reactions is a question of individual predisposition, tolerance must ultimately be tested on a case-by-case basis.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.