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Cheri Frey, MD, FAAD: Exploring Cosmeceutical Ingredients and Their Role in Skin Health


Frey discussed the role of various cosmeceuticals and ingredients in benefitting the skin health of patients, as well as insights into pairing OTC products with Rx.

At the 2024 American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, Cheri Frey, MD, FAAD, presented sessions on the topic of cosmeceutical ingredients and their role in patients' skin health.

Frey is a board-certified dermatologist at Howard University in Washington, DC, and is also an assistant professor and director of the university's residency program.

Frey spoke with Dermatology Times to discuss highlights and pearls from her sessions, "Hot Topics," "Therapeutic Hotline," and "What's New in Dermatology?"


Cheri Frey, MD, FAAD: Hi, I'm Cheri Frey. I am a board-certified dermatologist practicing at Howard University in Washington, DC, where I am an assistant professor and the residency program director.

Dermatology Times: What are a few pearls and takeaways for attendees from your talk?

Frey: Cosmeceuticals is a hot topic, of course, especially with the influence of social media, and even the teen or tween craze that has driven so many young consumers to the market. My talk on cosmeceuticals is really going to focus on natural ingredients; we know that there's a big push from consumers who are desiring products that are "natural." There are some products that do have evidence behind them, so we're going to tease out some of those ingredients, what their skin benefits are, and just help dermatologists to educate their patients and help their patients who are consumers become a little bit more savvy about the products that they use.

Some things, of course, are just trendy and don't really have a lot of evidence behind them. They just go viral. But there are some products, and specifically some naturally-occurring ingredients, that have been put to the test, so in vitro studies, even in vivo studies, which demonstrate some benefit for the skin. We want to point you in the right direction and lead you away from those things that really don't benefit the skin.

Dermatology Times: What are examples of current or recent ingredients you have seen discussed in cosmeceuticals?

Frey: I think people want to hear more about oils, because whether it's skin oils or lip oils, those are very trendy right now, and so teasing out essential oils, and do these really have benefit from the skin? We know that plant-based products, for instance, can cause allergic reactions, and so we want to make sure that if our patients are using plant-based oils, that we can give them suggestions for those that actually have shown benefit for the skin. We're going to talk a little bit about argan oil, for instance, and we'll talk a little bit about a few other plant oils that we use on our skin and on our hair. The oils, I would say are a very, very trendy topic right now, and so we need to understand them a little bit better, because our patients are going to be using them, and they're going to have questions about them.

Rosehip oil does have some benefits for the skin, so we're going to be discussing what those benefits are, the same with argan oil; we're going to be discussing some of those benefits, as well. In addition to other antioxidants, things like adaptogens, we're going to talk about what that means and what the benefits for for your skin are.

Adaptogens are really plant-based products and chemicals that help to lower your stress response, and so whether that's internal or external stressors, these adaptogens, which we get from plants, can help us adapt to those. Again, it's all about fighting inflammation and all about preserving our skin health, so adaptogens are playing a role there.

We'll be covering skin lighteners. There are some naturally occurring ingredients like arbutin, kojic acid, even glutathione, which have been associated with skin lightening. We know that in general, patients and consumers want more even skin, they want brighter skin, and so we're going to be looking at those ingredients which have been shown to decrease pigment in the skin, and we're going to tease out some of the benefits of those products, as well.

One of the other exciting topics that we're going to be talking about is a category of ingredients called polyphenols, which include green tea, and this is something that a lot of people have heard of. But we may not understand exactly what green tea is. One of the reasons we rely on plant-based products is because obviously with photosynthesis, we know that their ability to process that energy from the sun is superior to ours, and so when we look at plants and get ingredients, like green tea, like resveratrol, what we're trying to do is capture the antioxidant properties of those plants. That obviously helps our skin when we talk about the degradation of collagen that occurs with sun exposure in time. We're really harnessing that energy and focusing it in on our skin so that we can slow down the aging process and hopefully even prevent skin cancers down the line. We're talking a little bit about how polyphenols, how antioxidants, can either protect, or reverse, some of the damage that occurs with UV exposure.

Dermatology Times: How widely-available are polyphenols?

Frey: Polyphenols are probably one of the most common antioxidants that occur in our skin care products. If you're looking for serums, or even moisturizers, you'll be able to find green tea or green tea polyphenols in a lot of those products. You just have to flip over the bottle and look for that. Sometimes, it will specifically say, green tea polyphenols, and then sometimes, you're looking for other ingredients, again, like resveratrol, which is another excellent ingredient that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Dermatology Times: How do you balance conversations on Rx treatments versus OTC products patients are utilizing at home?

Frey: I'm a little bit biased because my patients, they come to see me in the office, and so overwhelming majority of them are, to some degree, expecting a prescription. I can't say in general with the trend for consumers are, because I have that bias. But I do try to educate patients that it really takes a combination of things, right? So it takes prescription medicines, but also what we're using over the counter, even our wash and moisturizer, are really important to taking care of our skin, whether we're actually treating a condition like atopic dermatitis, or rosacea, or we're just trying to maintain nice healthy skin or reverse some sun damage, but it really takes a combination. Once you take the time to explain that to patients, I think that they are really receptive. If I just point them to over the counter products, I think sometimes they're a little bit disappointed again, because they came to see me and are somewhat expecting a prescription from me. I do like to make it a more holistic approach for them when appropriate. If a prescription is appropriate, I'll add that in. But I do talk to them a lot about the products they're using at home.

I will say that the tide is changing a little bit as far as people coming in just to seek professional opinions on what skin care products they should be using. I have a ton of patients that don't have a specific diagnosis, but they have come because they've heard of different products online or their friends are using them, and they tell me that they want an expert opinion. So that makes me feel really good that people are coming into the dermatologist, that they're identifying the dermatologist as the skin expert, and wanting an opinion. What I hope to do for my colleagues is just to help give them a little bit more information and break down some of these studies so that when the patients are coming to them asking them the questions, they feel like they're prepared to answer them.

[Transcript has been edited for clarity.]

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