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What Is Cosmeceutical Skincare — And A Brief History Of This Beauty Trend

By Guan Tan

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Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C serum, approximately S$108 from net-a-porter.com
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's C+ Collagen Perfect Skin Set & Refresh mist, approximately S$42 from net-a-porter.com
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight serum, approximately S$113 from net-a-porter.com
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's Alpha Beta Exfoliating moisturiser, approximately S$57 from net-a-porter.com
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, approximately S$113 from net-a-porter.com
Felicia Yap
 

"Did you see Samantha in Sex & the City, where she got the peel?" Carrie Gross quips.

Gross, the CEO and co-founder of New York-based cosmeceutical label Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, was referring to an episode from the drama's fifth season, aired in 2002. One of the lead actresses, Samantha Jones ringed her friend, Carrie Bradshaw up. "Honey? I had a little something done," Jones exclaimed on the phone as the camera panned to reveal her bloody and raw face. Jones had a chemical peel done, likely a potent mono-acid peel from an aesthetician or dermatologist's clinic. This very scene was a mirror of, and a commentary on the beauty zeitgeist of the early 2000s — potent chemical peels were the raging skincare trend in the United States back then. 

"That was what was happening back then," Gross laughs in hindsight. "There were a lot of doctors who were doing mono-acid peels. So you would go to a clinic, get a glycolic peel, and they will sell you a series of three. The first one is at 30 percent, then 50 percent, and then at 70 percent." 

HBO/ PinterestIn an episode from Sex & the City season 5, Samantha Jones was left with raw, bloody skin after a session of harsh chemical peel.
In an episode from Sex & the City season 5, Samantha Jones was left with raw, bloody skin after a session of harsh chemical peel.

In fact, the phenomenon of private skin treatments in doctors' clinics dates way back to the mid-'90s. That was when dermatologists found a foothold in the beauty landscape. Prior to this, consumers would only step into a dermatologist's clinic for seemingly embarrassing reasons in the likes of rash and acne. When consumers wanted to enhance their looks, they sought help from aestheticians. Yet, in the mid-'90s, dermatologists started offering laser and retinol (Vitamin A1) treatments and chemical peels. It drew the beauty crowd to them. "It was at that point that dermatologists started to become beauty gurus." 

These were potent treatments that could only be executed in the clinics, or prescribed by doctors — which meant that consumers had to constantly find their way to the clinics. So they were made into mass, ready-made products. 

In 1996, an American dermatologist by the name of Dr Albert M. Kligman partnered Johnson & Johnson and came up with a lower-dosed, user-friendly retinoic acid cream called Renova, targetted at anti-ageing. It triggered a chain effect. Dermatologists with private clinical practices started formulating their own take-home skincare products. More often than not, these products were lower-dosed versions of in-chair clinical treatments. An anti-ageing retinol treatment which could have been 10 percent in strength was diluted to 0.5 or 2 percent in these take-home kits. Similarly, an exfoliating multi-acid peel which could have been highly acidic in the clinic was diluted to 2 percent acidity in a take-home peel. Till date, these products have to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for retail. That marked the birth of the term, "cosmeceutical" — active ingredients that were proven to be beneficial, but made into retail-ready cosmetic products. 

There were a couple of key players in this burgeoning cosmeceutical landscape. Amongst them were notably Dr. Nicholas Perricone, now 70 years old, the late Dr. Fredric Brandt who was known as the "King of Collagen", and Dr. Dennis Gross — Carrie Gross' husband. 

Felicia YapDr. Dennis Gross Skincare's patented two-step Alpha Beta universal daily peel comes in two sealed packs. Pictured here is step one, which contains the active acids. Step two contains an alkaline soaked cotton pad which neutralises the former acids.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's patented two-step Alpha Beta universal daily peel comes in two sealed packs. Pictured here is step one, which contains the active acids. Step two contains an alkaline soaked cotton pad which neutralises the former acids.

In 1995, Dr. Gross developed a chemical peel system known as the Alpha Beta peel. At the start, the test subject was naturally his wife, Carrie Gross, who would drop by Gross' clinic regularly for this peel. Later, the duo developed a take-home version of this Alpha Beta peel. "[In the] doctor's office, it's much stronger. It's not so much the percentage but the way he doses it. It has to do with the pH — it's a little more acidic." With a pack of the take-home Alpha Beta peel in hand, sitting in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Singapore, far from her New York home, Gross continues, "It's all dosed and created for safety."

The rise of cosmeceutical skincare products made it possible for beauty aficionados around the globe to have a go at these famed clinical treatments without jetting into New York City. Along with this Alpha Beta exfoliating range, a comprehensive range of Dr. Dennis Gross' products is available on the e-commerce site, Net-a-Porter.com — including a Vitamin C + Collagen range targetted at brightening and firming skin, a Ferulic + Retinol night range for those with fine lines and wrinkles, and a Hyaluronic Marine Moisturising range for hydration. 

Felicia YapFrom left, an Alpha Beta Exfoliating moisturiser which follows the above peel; a Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight serum. Retinol products should be strictly used at night.
From left, an Alpha Beta Exfoliating moisturiser which follows the above peel; a Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight serum. Retinol products should be strictly used at night.
Felicia YapFrom left, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C serum and a corresponding face mist.
From left, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C serum and a corresponding face mist.

Gross yanked out a sci-fi RoboCop-like LED eye mask named SpectraLite Eyecare Pro. Embedded on the underside of the eye mask are 72 LED bulbs emitting red rays. "So this is a treatment that Dennis has in his practice," Gross explains. The red wavelength in this eye mask is tuned to the same frequency as the machine in Dr. Dennis Gross' clinic. It's an in-chair treatment for anti-inflammation, quite similar to the infrared light treatments that athletes undergo for muscle recovery. In this eye mask, the red light stimulates collagen production, thereby alleviating fine lines and wrinkles around the eye. 

The eye mask looks strangely familiar. Light-powered masks have been around the European and Asian beauty market for years now. For one, there is the famed Parisian brand, Talika which has a series of hand-held devices for common skin ailments — dark spots, wrinkles, and acne. In Singapore, the homegrown skincare brand, Skin Inc's Tri Light, Blue Light, Optimiser Voyage, and I-Optimiser addresses similar conditions. Yet, the American beauty landscape is largely barren in this department. Dr. Dennis Gross' new series of light therapy devices will plug the gap on American shores. The SpectraLite Eyecare Pro will launch on Net-a-Porter.com next week on the 6th August.

"This is what Dennis believes is the new ingredient — to bathe your skin in light." The eye mask is aligned with Gross' skincare philosophy. It strengthens the thin and delicate skin around the eyes. Likewise, be it peels, serums, or moisturisers, all of his products serves to balance the skin — an organ which protects the body from external stressors. "You want to strengthen your skin because the skin's immunology and the skin barrier protects your entire body," Gross continues. "You break the skin barrier and then you go out to the environment where there is pollution? You are potentially going to cause irritation and rash. So you don't want to injure your skin. You want to just strengthen it." 

The local beauty industry is a complex one — there are innumerous brands from the four corners of the globe flooding onto Singaporean shores. Tied to every brand is a differing skincare philosophy. Some swear by abrasive and harsh treatments. Some swear by gentle and natural ingredients. Gross, however, puts it all into place. Skincare is simple as it gets. Quite like how you would swing by the doctor's or pharmacy when you have a common cold, get a dose of medicine to bring your body back into balance — so is skincare. If you have a skin condition that is bothering you, get a potent, medicinal skincare product, and nurse your skin back into balanced, good health. Now, that is cosmeceutical.