One good thing that has come out of the recent awareness of using proper skincare, is the importance of the ingredient list. At one time, it was nigh impossible to find the ingredient list of any product online, unless you buy it, and get it off the packaging. Today, most websites will list their ingredients, or if not, one of their retailers will. That said, today, there are still brands (I came across a local one during a product launch) that do not print their ingredient list on the box. Needless to say, I will not use their products for the simple reason, I won’t trust a brand that isn’t up front about what’s in their products. I’m not even sure that it’s legal.
Consumers are becoming more savvy and educated, and retailers are recognising this. To me, this is a good thing. It is always good for us to know what is in a product before we buy it. Perhaps you are aware of an ingredient that your skin is sensitive to. You will want to avoid it, and knowing that it is in a particular product helps you decide whether to purchase it.
It is very much like reading the ingredient lists of packaged food and drinks. What is in there can be educational. A 100% fruit juice carton sounds like it could be freshly squeezed juice, until you look at the ingredient list and realize that it’s made from concentrate and enhanced with flavouring. It isn’t technically wrong, but it can be misleading. Or perhaps, a sugar-free product makes you think it’s healthier, but it contains sugar substitutes like aspartame. In skincare, we will usually see words used like “Dermatologically tested” or “Hypoallerganic” What do they mean? Very little, to be honest. It all lies in what’s in the ingredient list.
Ingredient lists help us make a more informed choice. So how is it I’m saying that it could be a bad thing?
Well, I say so, because there are people who take these lists way too seriously. I have faced more than a few people who are disdainful of a product I may enjoy using, on the grounds that the ingredient list does not look “good” <- their words. When I ask if they may have tested the product, or at least tried the texture, or why they say so, they say they haven’t. But they can “tell from the ingredients that it’s not good” so it’s not worth trying.
This is where I say that a little knowledge may not always be a good thing.
Unless we are cosmetic chemists, I don’t think it’s possible to tell, just from reading a list of product ingredients, if a product will suit your skin, or if it is “good” for you, or if it is a good product in general. I’m not even sure if a cosmetic scientist can tell with accuracy. Sometimes, an ingredient list may boast a host of beneficial ingredients, that on its surface, makes it the best product you can use to achieve results. But perhaps, the formulation is poor so it is thick and goopy, and uncomfortable, or it smells like rotten eggs. Would you still want to put it on your face?
I personally believe that a big part of a product’s efficacy lies in its ingredients. But there is the other part that cannot be discounted – sensorial pleasure. If the texture of a product is uncomfortable or smells like rotten fish, you will be less likely to want to use it regularly. If the product formulation feels uncomfortable on your skin (a good example is The Ordinary Vitamin C), you’d not want to continue using it (I didn’t). No matter how good the ingredients are, you just won’t feel comfortable with it on your face. By contrast, perhaps there is a product with fewer “good” ingredients, but which feel comfortable on your skin. You’d be more likely to continue using it, and it is this regular use that will deliver benefits to your skin.
I’ll use The Ordinary as an example. The ingredient lists for their products are generally quite short (because short is good, according to common belief) and the ingredients they use are known to be effective, while affordable. However, my experience with their products has shown me that their formulation leaves a lot to be desired in terms of delivering sensorial pleasure, and also was incompatible with my skin. For example, The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid I tried once before broke me out. But its active ingredient, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, is similar to that found in the Mad Hippie Vitamin A Serum, and I derived significant benefits from using that one. If I don’t enjoy a product, the odds are, I won’t use it as often as I should. Perhaps you say that that should be secondary; if I love skincare I should love anything that is good, regardless of how it feels. Well, sorry mate, I’m also human, not a machine and not a lab rat.
For this reason, when I am doing my research into a new brand or new product, I look to sites that not only talk about how good an ingredient is, but also tell you what the product is like in terms of texture and scent. I have the utmost respect for websites like Beautypedia, that I often reference, but also often disagree with their views. Quite often, their views are premised upon reviewing the list of ingredients for a product, not the product itself. I have my beef too with sites that purport to dissect ingredient lists without looking at the product as a whole.
For this reason, while I may also disagree with some opinions of Caroline Hirons (don’t take her sunscreen advice for one – always, ALWAYS wear sunscreen) I trust her judgement of products better, because she tries them, she understands what ingredients work, and she approaches skincare as a consumer would. She has disagreed with the views expressed by Paula Begoun (owner of Paula’s Choice, and who used to run Beautypedia) as well, so I balance off those conflicting views and make my own decisions.
I naturally take every opinion out there with a grain of salt (and you should too – do your own research). All I’m saying is, an ingredient list is like a guidepost. It points you in the direction of where you want to go, and it may give an indication of potential pitfalls along the way. But it does not tell you what the condition of the road is, nor does it tell you what you may see along the way. You’d only know if you choose to take that road.
With skincare therefore, my approach is always to test the product itself, so I know how it reacts on my skin. Quite often, I only take a cursory glance at the ingredient list, to have an idea of what is in there, or what ingredient might irritate. With sunscreen, I need to know what their UV blockers are. But I don’t go through it with a fine-tooth comb. I use products some people sneer at, but which to me helps my skin. I have also used products that have good ratings from ingredient lists peepers, but which break me out.
I usually don’t look at the ingredient list again until I absolutely have to (or I write a review, in which case, I always include the ingredient list where I can find it, to satisfy the peepers). I count myself lucky that my skin is not too sensitive to many cosmetic ingredients. If I had more sensitive or reactive skin, I would likely be more careful about reading ingredient lists.
Of course, in all this time, I have worked out what I like in skincare, and what ingredients I should look out for. For example, silicones in skincare do not trouble my skin, but I do not like it when a product has too much slip. So, I watch out for silicones in creams, not because of whether it’s good or bad, but because of how it affects the texture. Similarly, mineral oil or petroleum derivatives. Opinions vary as to whether it is good or bad for your skin. But I try not to use products with mineral oil or petroleum derivatives because often, the texture feels heavier than I’m comfortable with. There are exceptions, as with everything. A note about alcohol – I use products with alcohol. Not all alcohol is bad so there’s no need to go into a tizz about spotting alcohol in the ingredient list. But it will be something else for another day.
I’m not saying that we should remain ignorant about what goes in the products we use on our skin. I’m all for educating ourselves. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be so clinical. The ingredient list is not the be-all-end-all of your enjoyment of a cosmetics product. Neither does it determine if a product will work on your skin. Science can explain a lot, but there is also a lot that science cannot explain. Sometimes, we have to look a little beyond the list, and try not to be a buzzkill. If someone enjoys a product that may be perceived to be “bad”, let them. Maybe, point them in the direction of a similar product that is better for when they are looking for a change.
What bums me are science warriors who may not even be trained in the subject, who strut about, taking people down, and killing your enjoyment of a product. People who tell you “The ingredients don’t justify the price of the cream, why pay so much for crap” *stomp**prissy sneer*. Just stop that. There are nicer ways to say these things. Try “How about trying Y product. It has similar ingredients but isn’t as expensive” or “Maybe try X product next, the ingredients look more promising”.
I’ve tried to change minds about using sunscreen daily. Yet, I still get longtime readers, and friends who have heard me preach it, tell me “I still don’t wear sunscreen everyday” At one time, I’d nag at them and be all huffy and pious, pursing my lips and going “tsk tsk, how can?!”. Now, I just say, “It’s your choice” because at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to – Our choice. And no one should tell us any different.
So, read ingredient lists, and educate yourself. But don’t go around throwing it in other people’s faces. Sometimes, there is more to life than a perceived “clean” list of ingredients.
Do you read product ingredient lists and does it affect your choices?
I try to. I’m not an expert (of course, I’m not trained) but I have learnt to identify some ingredients that work for me, or that I should avoid. I don’t believe in a magic pill, or magic ingredients. I feel sometimes, it is about how it is combined that makes one product work better than another, and that is something I find out best after actually using it. Above all, I try not to preach at anyone. Let us enjoy our skincare – we all make our own choices :)