Organic. Potent. All-natural. There are certain buzzwords that trick us into believing that we’ve made the right purchase and that we’re doing something good - for the environment, for our bodies, and for our health.
Sometimes, we’re right on the money - if you go with a “no animal testing” or “paraben free” product you’re probably on the right track. Sometimes, though, we’re off base even when we’re right.
This is especially true when it comes to the world of skincare. With many products it’s not just about finding the right ingredient.It’s also about finding it in the right form, finding enough to be effective, finding a high-quality product, and more. That's a lot to consider, and it can really confuse your purchasing journey.
Here, we clear up the confusion, tell you what to look out for, and break down exactly how to find high-quality, effective skincare ingredients today.
Problem #1: Many Companies Just Want to Sell Product
Here’s the thing - as consumers, there are certain “buzz words” that we look for and trick us into thinking we’re making a great decision for our skin. “Instantly smoothes fine lines and wrinkles”, “collagen boosting”, “age-defying”, “active ingredients”, “non-comedogenic” - the list goes on.
These phrases are usually not all they’re cracked up to be. Trust-building words like “dermatologist tested” or “clinically proven” don’t really mean anything - there’s no standard definition or requirement for those terms. Even a simple water-based moisturizer can be “clinically proven” to reduce fine lines.
Luckily, these tricks are becoming fewer and further between. We’ve gotten smart enough to see through the marketing and ignore the snake oils of the world. We’ve done our research and learned which products actually work and deliver the results they promise.
An “all natural” product with parabens and sulfates? Not so much. Hyaluronic acid, squalane, antioxidants, and glycolic acid? Yes, please.
Problem #2: Identifying Great Ingredients is Only the First Step
But that’s not all there is to it. With many of these products, it’s notjust about the ingredient.There are many additional factors that affect how well a product will actually work:
You need a high enough concentration of active ingredients for these products to be efficacious. Unfortunately, this is wheremost skincare companies cut corners, even the fancy ones.
A good rule of thumb: If it’s not one of the first 5 ingredients on the list, there’s probably not enough of it to be effective. Companies are required to list their ingredients in order of concentration, and the first five ingredients make up around 80% of a product. So look there to see what you’re really getting.
How It’s Made
Many active ingredients are fairly delicate, and the way they’re processed affects how effective they are. For example:
Pay attention to how a company makes their products and keep your eye out for key indicators ofeffectiveness, safety, and ethicality. Here are some terms that can help you find high quality products:
Where It’s Sourced From
Many products are madesynthetically orunethically. Some squalane, for example, is sourced from shark liver - yikes! And some synthetically created AHA's are harsh on the skin. Synthetic vitamin E has been found to be less effective than naturally sourced antioxidants - and the list goes on.
Always keep in mind the form and where it’s coming from when making your decision.
You may be able to find great ingredients in cheaper products - perhaps even on a website that has prime overnight shipping. But keep in mind that many of those products are stuffed with fillers, preservatives, and toxic ingredients.
What are some no-no ingredients to avoid like the plague?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES)
These sulfates (you’ve probably heard that word before!) can cause skin irritation and trigger allergies. SLES in particular is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of a petrochemical process called ethoxylation which makes other chemicals less harsh.
Found in: shampoo, body wash, bubble bath.
This skin-lightening chemical inhibits the production of melanin and islinked to cancer, organ toxicity, and skin irritation - yikes!
Found in: Many skin-lightening creams - so look out!
Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others)
These preservatives are used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold - which sounds like a great idea. But parabens are hormone disruptors and may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. That’s something you never want messed with!
Found in: shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, body lotion, and foundation.
This is a common sunscreen agent and ultraviolet light absorber that’s linked to irritation, sensitization allergies, and possible hormone disruption.
Found in: sunscreen, moisturizer.
Synthetic flavor or fragrance
These engineered scents may contain any combination of 3,000-plus stock chemical ingredients, including hormone disruptors and allergens. The worst part? Fragrance formulas are protected under federal law’s classification of trade secrets. They can remain undisclosed, making it hard to know when you’re dealing with really bad stuff.
Found in: all types of cosmetics.
Surfactants and pH adjusters linked to allergies, skin toxicity, hormone disruption, and inhibited fetal brain development.
Found in: hair dyes, mascara, foundation, fragrances, sunscreens, dry cleaning solvents, paint, pharmaceuticals.
Want more info about what to avoid? Check out the full list here.
Solution: Ignore the Fluff and Do Your Homework
Here are the main takeaways:ignore the marketing, understand your favorite ingredients, and keep things simple.
Do you want to brighten your skin and fade lines away? Then know the chemical names for your favorite anti-wrinkle and brightening ingredients and know what to look out for as red flags.
Don’t try to remembereverythinghere - that’s too big a job for anyone! Just pick one or two top concerns (we recommend things you’ll be using a lot of, like your moisturizer, serums, etc.) and do your homework there.
And remember to ignore all the nonsense. Follow these rules and you’ll have clear, healthy skin in no time! Happy skincare!