We hear it often: If we want to improve our diets, start by reading nutrition labels and being more concerned about what’s in our food. The same can be said of our skin-care regimens. The trouble is, a skin-care product label tends to be virtually indecipherable to anyone who isn’t a chemist—or a dermatologist. So, here are a few ways to break the code and find the products that work best for you.
Don’t buy into most claims
As common of a sight as terms like hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic have become on skin-care product labels, there are no FDA definitions that govern their use. The same goes for “clinically proven” and “dermatologist-tested.” In other words, a company can test extensively to ensure its product is what it claims it is or not, and still use the term.
Don’t disregard the terms altogether, though. Instead, use them as a guide, but then dig a little deeper. For example, if you have sensitive skin, avoid products with fragrances or known allergens, such as parabens or propylene glycol. If you’re prone to breakouts, look for liquid and gel textures, and be cautious of products that claim to be “oil-free.” A product can be pore-clogging and not contain oil.
Read the whole label
Similar to nutrition labels, the ingredients within a skin-care product label are listed in the order of their concentrations—except for the ones that comprise less than one percent of the formula and colorants, fragrances, and preservatives. Those are listed in any order the manufacturer likes. That said, even at a low level, some ingredients can change your skin. So, read to the end of the label.
Pain rarely means it’s working
Two of the best ingredients for smoothing and brightening your skin, retinol and vitamin C, respectively, can be irritating or become unstable at their most effective levels. There are, however, exceptions: slow-release retinol (it should be indicated somewhere on the box) and ascorbic acid, which is a form of vitamin C. Find those and you can be confident you’re getting the highest-possible levels of the active ingredients without risking redness or irritation. (It’s still a good idea to patch test before trying any new skin-care product.)
Don’t ignore what’s in plain sight
It’s easy to focus on certain ingredients because they’re exotic or being lavished with praise by beauty bloggers. But, in the process, we also tend to tune out or bypass other ingredients that we see all the time—ingredients that are quite effective. Niacinamide, for example, is excellent for evening skin tone. And sodium hyaluronate is among the best ways to plump lines. Basically, there’s usually a reason why an ingredient’s used so often. So, don’t ignore what’s in plain sight.