The world of skincare is vast in the modern age, which is both good and bad. There’s a benefit for diverse skin types, but the one minor downside is the ‘confusing AF’ number of ingredients and product labels you have to shimmy through to find what works for you.
You already know where we’re going with this – we’ll be breaking down some of the most common ingredients in skin care products, highlighting a few you might want to fall back from, and draw your attention to how products are labeled that you might’ve been in the dark about.
A Broad Look at Product Taglines and Features
Take a look at your favorite facial wash, exfoliant, or just about any skin care bottle, and you’ll see a range of terms pertaining to the product in question. Ecocert, Paraben-Free, Broad-Spectrum — wtf do they all mean though? Here are some simple definitions you can wrap your head around:
- Broad-Spectrum — This applies to sunscreen products that protect from both UVA and UVB rays. While UVA rays cause wrinkles and hyperpigmentations, it’s the UVB rays that burn your skin. A sunscreen that shields against both provides the widest range of protection possible.
- Fragrance-Free — Some fragrances cause allergies. This label means the product is free of such fragrances and should be safer to use if you have a heightened sensitivity.
- Hypoallergenic/For Sensitive Skin — This is another label for those with certain sensitivities. Hypoallergenic and “for sensitive skin” products are less likely to cause reactions on skin like redness, itchiness, rashes, etc.
- Paraben-Free — This means the product is free of preservatives known as Parabens (more on those later).
- Phthalate-Free — This group of chemicals has specific drawbacks that make them less-than-desirable for skin care use. The Phthalate-Free label indicates the product contains no Phthalates.
- Sulfate-Free — Products containing sulfur can be harsh. These products have none.
- Unscented — This term is slightly different than fragrance-free, in that they may contain chemicals that mask scents. Useful if you aren’t sensitive to fragrances but don’t want your products to contain any noticeable smell.
With some of those confusing label terms out the way, let’s take a look at specific ingredients next…
The ‘Tea’ on Skin Care Ingredients
An important thing to note when looking at skin care ingredients is if they contain active/inactive ingredients or not.
Those two labels are reserved for any skin care product that claims to treat/prevent a medical condition (acne, for instance). The FDA classifies these as drugs, and because of that fact, the ingredients that treat the condition in question must be listed under the product’s “active” ingredients. All others fall under the “inactive” category.
Skin products that make no medical claims are called cosmetics and will list their ingredients without differentiating between active and inactive ingredients. When we’re talking about ingredients that go on your skin, though, they all matter (active or not), so let’s take a look at some good ones you’ll find across various skin care products:
- Lactic Acid — A natural product great for exfoliating and reducing the appearance of dark spots or hyperpigmentation. It is the gentlest of the alpha hydroxy acids.
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids — These acids help improve the appearance of fine lines, age spots, irregular pigmentation, and enlarged pores.
- Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) — Helps improve the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines and dullness.
- Ceramide — Think of this as a kind of wax that helps improve the barrier that your skin creates against your environment. Your body produces it naturally, but that production slows with age.
- Manuka Honey — Antibacterial and antimicrobial, aiding in the prevention of breakouts. Also an anti-inflammatory, Manuka Honey can help soothe and reduce redness and swelling from irritation and blemishes.
- Salicylic Acid (Beta Hydroxy Acid) — This acid helps to exfoliate the top layer of skin, removing the dead cells. It also helps penetrate follicle openings to improve the condition of acne-ridden skin.
- Witch Hazel Extract — A natural astringent that helps reduce irritation and decrease oil and redness. It can also reduce bacteria growth on the skin while speeding up the healing of scars and blemishes.
In addition to the good ingredients, there are—unfortunately—a few bad ones that you oughta avoid at all costs:
- Parabens — Parabens are preservatives that can help prevent the growth of bacteria, but they also disrupt hormone balance, which can cause a slew of other problems.
- Phthalates — While phthalates have their uses, they can also damage endocrine functions in humans, and wreak havoc on your liver and kidneys.
- Sulfates — These are detergents you’ll find in shampoos, body washes, etc. They can cause allergic reactions and serious skin irritation, so it’s best not to take a chance on products containing these.
The bottom line? Get to know your skin care products, learn how ingredients will affect you, and choose wisely to avoid irritating your own unique skin. Everybody’s skin is different, so the more you know, the better.