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Deciphering Skincare Ingredient Lists
It’s easy to be cynical about cosmetic ingredients. They all have suspiciously long names, and the media is constantly telling us about cancer risks and other issues associated with commonplace cosmetic ingredients. The barrage of claims on labels often sound too good to be true (and many times they are, as any good beauty buff knows). We want to help you differentiate between marketing spin and genuine miracles of science. In this day and age of truly amazing anti-aging technology, consumers should be able to identify what is good for them and which products will work without being toxic.
If you don’t already, we strongly encourage you to read the whole label on any skincare product you buy – not glance, read. What will you be putting on your skin? Is it natural? Intelligently organic? What about preservatives? Most importantly, does the formula actually contain the ‘active’ amount of human stem cell extracts (not just plant based) or anti-aging peptides that the advertising promises? If not, the claims are just that… claims, not reality; and you will end up paying premium prices for what turns out to be dime store cosmetics.
Deciphering the ingredient list is the most challenging part. We’re here to help you understand which ingredients to avoid, which ingredients are effective and how to see through the veil of marketing claims.
- Avoid preservatives like Parabens because butyl paraben is estrogenic, meaning it emulates estrogen in the body – and we all know what that can lead to.
- Formaldehyde and its substitutes should be avoided, like imidazolidnyl urea and DMDM hydantoin. These are preferred to formaldehyde but certainly not ideal.
- Better preservatives include antioxidants, benzoin gum, citric acid, bergamot oil and other essential oils.
Not all synthetic preservatives are bad for you… in fact, they help keep products bacteria free so they resist contamination and have a longer, safer shelf life in the home. To truly have preservative free products (especially for those people that have severe skin allergies), cosmetics would need to be kept in the refrigerator.
Certain ingredients work and some are just window dressing, like the latest snake venom potion. Beware: many retailers and manufacturers jack up the prices of serums or lotions because of these ‘exotic’ ingredients that aren’t really all that effective or ‘exotic.’ Proven, industry-standard constituents include hyaluronic acid for moisturizing, pentapeptides for brightness, collagen building and wrinkle reduction, plant-based antioxidants and human-based stem cell extracts. Other so-called ‘breakthrough’ ingredients, until shown to work, are more hype than substance.
Watch for fancy names for common ingredients. These are meant to make you think you’re getting more than you really are. For example, some cosmetic cleansers claim to use an ingredient made from natural coconut, better known as sodium laureth sulfate. Technically, it’s ‘derived’ from coconut but it’s as common as dirt and is so harsh and drying, it should never be used on skin.
We hope this helps you make smart, healthy decisions and take advantage of the skincare innovations that help, rather than risk harm to you.