So as promised a while ago, I am starting the beginning of a blog series about being a smart consumer, or “beauty nerd,” when it comes to skincare and makeup– focusing on one ingredient or type of product at a time. Before I jump right into the series and start analyzing an ingredient and the products that contain it… I feel like I should cover some basics. If you are a science person, this will probably all be review for you, but if you aren’t then this will be a good place to start. So lets get right into it!
When you are looking at a product and want to analyze whether it is effective or not, the first place you want to look is to the ingredients. Usually they are listed on the back of a package or the box that it came in and they are listed in a very specific order. Ingredients mentioned first are in a higher concentration of the formula than ingredients listed later…so you can get an idea about which ones make up the bulk of your product and how much of an “key” ingredient may be in it.
There are also “active ingredients” which are listed separately near the top of the label because they are part of a product that is both a cosmetic and act as a drug. The FDA defines drugs as “articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease” and “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals.” This is often where you will find ingredients like sunscreen, anti-perspirant, and fluoride in toothpaste. You can read more about the distinction between cosmetics and drugs here on the FDA’s website.
There is also one more thing that I wanted to address when it comes to skincare…it seems that the word “chemical” has developed some sort of stigma among consumers, particularly with the rise in popularity of natural products. This became more obvious to me when I took the time to read the packaging on one of my former favorite moisturizers, Ole Henrickson Sheer Transformation. I was disappointed to see this description on the back of the jar: “So sheer in texture, this luxurious oil-free cream feels light and silky as it penetrates the skin and helps fade discolorations such as freckles, age spots and sun damage without the use of chemicals.”
Now, that is simply ridiculous..and misleading! There are quite a few accepted definitions for the noun, chemical. Here are a few:
“any basic substance that is used in or produced by a reaction involving changes to atoms or molecules” — Cambridge Dictionary
“element, chemical compound or mixture of elements and/or compounds” – OSHA and the MSDS (two US organizations that regulate chemical safety)
“A distinct compound or substance, especially one which has been artificially prepared or purified.” — Oxford Dictionary
Many science textbooks even go as far as to describe chemistry as the study of anything composed of matter…so that would include everything. Even without that definition, the other three would certainly include every ingredient listed in essentially all cosmetics and skincare– even water and “naturally” sourced ingredients are composed of atoms and molecules and are typically purified before use in products.
So, before getting into individual ingredient posts I feel like it is important to dispel the myth that “all chemicals are bad.”
Now that I’ve gotten off of my soap box, I think we are ready to launch this set of posts! To get started, what ingredients are you interested in hearing about? I have a few in mind, but I would love to hear your input.
PS/Disclaimer: Nothing I write in this series is medical advice and I will be writing from the perspective of a consumer interested in understanding how products work and if they are effective. If you have any medical questions, you should talk to your doctor!