What’s in a label?

Imagine you’re walking into Sephora or down the skin care aisle at Walgreens, it can give you an overwhelming feeling. There are so many products that all claim to be miracles, how can you determine a worthwhile product from one that’s just got a great marketing team behind it? The trick to navigating through the aisles is to read the label. If a moisturizer or serum that says it can “eliminate all your wrinkles,” it’s lying. There are some wonderful products out there, but unless a dermatologist with a Botox injection is popping out of the bottle, it isn’t going to happen.

There are however many breakthrough products that can soften the look of wrinkles, firm the skin, and promote a more youthful looking complexion. The way to determine the frauds from the breakthroughs is to read the label! This in itself can be a daunting task, what is terephthalylidine dicamphor sulfonic acid, again? It’s easier than it looks though; here are a few key terms to look for:

AHA’s (Alpha Hydroxy Acid): An active ingredient derived from fruit acids. Helps exfoliate the top layers of the epidermis: promotes moisture restoration and helps penetration of other ingredients; highly sought after for use in anti-aging and bleaching skin care products. Look for glycolic, lactic, malic, citric, tartaric acids.

Antioxidants: General term for a large group of natural and synthetic ingredients that work to reduce free-radical damage and environmental stress on skin.

Avobenzone: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens.

Benzoyl Peroxide: Antibacterial agent that kills the bacteria  P. acnes,  the germ responsible for acne breakouts. Can be drying and/or irritating, so it should be  used in moderation.

BHA’s (Beta Hydroxy Acid): a subclass of organic acids; the most common one is salicylic acid, a long term ingredient used for exfoliation of dry skin as well as for acne therapy.

Caffeine: Used to alleviate  puffiness under eyes.

Collagen: The main supporting fiber located within the dermis, gives strength and provides structure.

DEA (Diethanolamine) : An organic alkali used in skin care formulas to neutralize acids (raise pH).

Dimethicone: A form of silicone; skin protectant; moisture sealant; noncomedogenic (wont clog pres); has been used in some scar therapies.

Elastin: A fiber within the dermis similar to collagen, gives support and “snap” to the skin. In topicals, it cannot penetrate the skin, but does have moisturizing effect. It can also communicate with the skin and promote natural elastin production.

Fragrance: An aromatic blend of natural essential oils and/or synthetic fragrance substances.

Glucosamine: An amino sugar compound produced by the body typically found in the liver, that aids in treating inflammation and skin discoloration.

Glycerin: Hydrates and provides a skin barrier against loss of moisture; allows topical agents to go on very smoothly; may clog pores when present in high concentrations.

Grape Seed Extract: A botanical extract shown to be an effective antioxidant.

Hyaluronic Acid: Also referred to as a “cyclic acid”; an effective humectant/moisturizing agent. This is found in the skin, and is an excellent water binding agent.

Hydroquinone: Skin pigmentation lightening agent; a maximum of 2% is sold over the counter; higher concentrations available by prescription.

Isopropyl Alcohol: Vehicle with antibacterial properties; drying to the skin especially in higher concentrations.

Jojoba Oil: Is an effective emollient and lubricant,  also a skin identical ingredient.

Kojic Acid: Skin lightener; sometimes promoted as a bleaching agent for ethnic skin.

Liposomes: Active ingredient delivery system made of hollow spheres of phospholipids (such as lecithin) that are up to 300 times smaller than skin cells. Liposomes are filled with active agents which they carry into the skin and then gradually release.

Parabens: One of the most commonly used group of preservatives in cosmetics today; nonirritating and nonsensitizing. Methyl paraben may degrade releasing methanol, a potentially toxic chemical. To what degree this actually occurs in skin care products is unclear. Various forms exist, name ending in (e.g. methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, etc.).

Peptides– Chains of amino acids, that help to make the skin produce more collagen.

Salicylic Acid: The most common BHA (beta hydroxy acid); medically used as an exfolliant. Cosmetically used in some chemical peels and to reduce oiliness and acne.

Sodium Laurel Sulfate: Used in most cleansers and soaps; acts as a surfactant, offers good foaming qualities; a known skin irritant, but contrary to popular misconceptions, does not cause cancer.

Sulfur: Helps kill some species of bacteria on the skin improving acne, seborrhea and psoriasis. Typically found in soaps, shampoos and some topical acne medications.

Vitamin A: Important for skin renewal; may improve skin texture and fine lines; may improve acne. Less effective and less irritating than tretinoin. Causes sun sensitivity and not to be used if pregnant or nursing.

Vitamin C: (L-ascorbic acid) boosts collagen synthesis by fibroblasts; vital water soluble antioxidant both systemically as is and when applied topically.

Vitamin D: Regulates cell turn over; prescription derivatives of vitamin D are used to treat psoriasis (Dovonex).

Vitamin E: (Tocopherol) an oil soluble antioxidant widely used in skin care; also an emollient.

Water: Most frequently listed main ingredient in skin care products, used in its purest form, void of minerals and other chemicals, hence the various names like distilled, deionized, purified, etc.

Witch Hazel: Botanical with astringent properties, helps remove excess surface skin oils.

Zinc Oxide: A compound of zinc and oxygen, zinc oxide is a mild antiseptic and anti-irritant. When added to sunscreens, it physically prevents UV light from reaching the skin.

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