THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF INGREDIENT LABELS
How to Be a Smarter Shopper
It's important to know you are putting good ingredients on your skin, and checking out the ingredients is a good place to start. But skincare labeling is not the same as food labeling. Just because something sounds good (or bad) doesn't tell you what it will really do to your skin. Here is a guide to how to read an ingredient list so you have a full understanding of what you are putting on your face.
The first isn't necessarily the most important, and the last isn't always the least important: By law, ingredients are listed in order of their weight in a formula, heaviest listed first. Water is usually first because it’s heavy. But that doesn’t mean the product is mostly water. It could contain only a drop. More importantly, a small weight of some ingredient at the end of the list can potentially be the most powerful or take up the most space in the jar. And if something has less than 1%, it can be listed in any order at the end.
Bottom line: Don't put too much emphasis on the order in which an ingredient appears.
Is it for your car or for your face?: The law requires that companies list the chemical names of ingredients, and some of them sound just awful. For example, who wants to put something called “stearic acid’ on their face? Answer: You do! This is a wonderful moisturizer, naturally found in coconut oil. By contrast, a beautiful flowering plant called "belladonna" used to be a very popular ingredient in cosmetics - until they found out it was poison!
Bottom line: Everything in nature has a chemical name - get an ingredient dictionary and look up what the name means before you decide if it's good or not.
Why skin care products are like homemade cakes: Making cosmetics and making dinner are really both just chemistry. A delicious cake doesn't look or taste anything like flour, raw eggs, baking powder or unsweetened coco powder. It's only when you mix them together in a certain order, at a certain speed, heat them to a certain temperature for a certain time that you get the end result - which has no resemblance to the list of raw ingredients. Ingredients often react with each other and when they join they can change each other and become a completely new ingredient all together.
Bottom Line: Know that chemical reactions happen to ingredients. They are not in the jar as individual items. Something that might be bad all by itself can become something very good when it is mixed with other ingredients in a scientific formula.
What's the use?: One of the big myths in skincare is that you can simply apply the right ingredient to your skin, then sit back and wait for the miracle to happen. Ingredients are important for sure, but it makes a difference whether or not it stays on your skin all day long, or gets wiped off, or gets layered with another product. The perfect example is bar soap. Just Soap and water every day? FUGETABOUDIT! But soap used over a moisturizer and removed with a cloth with our "Sandwich" method - PERFECTION!
Bottom Line: It's not just what you use but how you use it.
Quantity Counts:One of the things that makes French skincare so fantastic is that it is an artful blend of a delicate balance of ingredients. A hint of this. A soupcon of that. There are thousands of ingredients that can be fantastic or terrible, depending on how strong the concentration in a formula. Unfortunately, ingredient lists do not tell you anything about this.
Bottom Line: Ask the salesperson or the company about the concentration of ingredients. Particularly with alcohol and any of the chemical exfoliants such as retin A, glycolic acid, salicylic acid and alcohol. If you are hearing numbers like 5% or more, depending on the ingredient, that's very strong.
So how do I know if something is really good for me or not?
*Find out where it's made. Most reputable brands manufacture their products in what is called GMP labs (Good Manufacturing Practice) If you are concerned about a product, you can ask the brand if the product is made in such a facility. This will tell you a lot about the quality of the ingredients and how the product is made. You can check out GMP requirements here
*Consider the source of your ingredient information.The cosmetics industry always has its knickers in a twist about something. It's the engine that fuels the growth of the business. There will ALWAYS be some new miracle ingredient that you MUST have, and some other ingredient that has been used for generations without a problem, and all of a sudden you're being told it's dangerous and bad. Certainly we want to be up to date on any real science that steers us away from harmful ingredients and we encourage everyone to do that. But before you throw out something you've been using happily and safely, do your homework and checkout not just ads and fashion magazines. Check the FDA and other knowledgeable sources that have no interest in selling you something.
The real bottom line: Use your own common sense - it knows more than lots of other sources!