Just as we review the nutrition facts on the backs of our favorite foods, it’s important to take heed of ingredients found in your personal care products. Many of these products contain chemicals that can harm your skin, despite claims that they will turn your acne-prone complexion into sheer perfection. The trouble with reading ingredient labels, however, is that most of the names are complicated and virtually foreign—how is a consumer expected to be educated if he or she cannot even pronounce the ingredient’s name?
According to Shan Albert, lab consultant for CosMedix, “As a consumer, you should first be aware that the ingredients are listed in descending order.” For example, the first ingredient that is listed in the formula is more prevalent than the second ingredient listed, and so on. “Even with this, though, you cannot determine the actual amount of each ingredient. Let’s say that the first ingredient is water: One brand may consist of 85 percent water, whereas another might only contain 60 percent. Reading an ingredient label and knowing what is in the product can be challenging,” she admits.
The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) is a system of names for waxes, oils, pigments, chemicals and other ingredients found in soaps, cosmetics and the like, based on scientific names and other Latin and English words. For instance, the INCI term for vitamin E is known as tocopherol; the INCI name for shea butter is butyrospermum parkii; and the INCI name for vegetable glycerin is glycerin. If a brand chooses to abide by INCI regulations, then it must use the chemical name for the ingredient.
“If a consumer wants to know what is in a product formula, then he or she should either contact the manufacturer for a definition or search the Internet,” Albert says. In fact, some brands have websites that explain the purpose of each ingredient. While synthetic ingredients are only problematic if they have not been chirally corrected, artificial ingredients always run a high risk of irritating the skin and body.
The following definitions briefly explain the four types of ingredients:
Albert says the biggest misconception when reading skin care labels is that you can tell how good a product is from the ingredient deck alone. “While it is important to know what’s in every product, the formula is what counts the most,” she says. “Even if the ingredient decks of different products list the exact same ingredients in the same descending order, the formulas are not necessarily identical. Slight variances in the processing, concentrations and percentages can make all the difference.”
Consumers must also understand that it’s impossible to determine if the product is worth its high price tag just by reading the ingredient deck. “The list of ingredients does not tell you how labor intensive the product is to make—whether or not it was cold processed or cooked by an automatic cooker; mixed by hand or in a 500 gallon vat; or made fresh to order or pre-made and stored in drums,” Albert says. “Bottom line: If a product is inexpensive, then its quality is low-grade. It costs a lot to make a decent product.”
So the next time you turn over the back of your facial cleanser and squint to read the list of foreign ingredients, make sure you do your homework. Call the manufacturer; search the web; ask for advice from a specialist. Being an educated consumer is the best kind of consumer. Your skin would agree.
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