Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Easy Guide To Reading Cosmetic Labels

Easy Guide To Reading Cosmetic Labels

Understanding ingredients gives you the power to identify what doesn´t work for your skin, and pick what does. Product descriptions are vague, seducing and misleading, the ingredients list is where the hard facts are !

...  and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

I remember the first time I saw my guy reading the ingredients of a shampoo. I was all like "Wow !!! He´s so brainy ! and he knows science ! I´m just an arts major, I could never do that !" Fast forward till today: I love to see the respectful expression on the face of my friends when I tell them "oh, this has got SLS, that´s why it´s making your scalp itchy."
I´m no chemistry whiz and I understand only some basics of label-reading, but that itself is a big help ! Decoding labels and understanding the product is easier than you think. 

   So, here are some easy tips:

The first ingredients count most

Ingredients have to be listed in order of quantity (except for anything that is under 1%, that is listed at the end in random order). Always take a peek at the top three ingredients, since that´s what the bulk of the cosmetic is made of. Alcohol among the top 3 ? The product might be drying and irritate sensitive skin. Mineral oil ? Clogs pores. Plant oil ? Probably good.

Always search for the advertised ingredient

If the label says "with xyz", check where on the ingredient list xyz is. Is it there at all ? Where is it on the list: high up or low don ? I´ve seen olive oil cream with mineral oil as the first ingredient and olive oil way lower down. That means they put tiny amounts of olive oil in just so that thy could advertise it on the label. Notable exceptions are ingredients that are so intensive that the product cannot contain much of it -- like vitamin A in retinol form. You´ll always find that at the end of the list.

Perfumes and colorants hide at the end

If you´ve been paying attention (rap rap), you´ll know by now that perfumes and colorants have undisclosed ingredients, and are common skin irritants. Look for stuff that is either unscented, or with natural essential oils. Ditto for the colouring. If anything says "hypoallergenic", "for sensitive skin" or something similar, it might be fragrance free, but always check !

Before the smells & colours hide the preservatives

Anything ending with -paraben is bad news, especially is there are several of them. Ditto for Formaldehyde.

Dealbreaker ingredients

I don´t pretend to understand every single ingredient on the list. In fact, I only know a handful. But more often than not, the few thing I do recognise help me to make guesses about the stuff I don´t recognise. If I pick up a shampoo and the first thing I see is SLS, PEG, parabens and parfum, I know that the rest of the ingredients won´t be much better. Likewise with mineral oil, alcohol near the top of the list. If I see that the producer has avoided the most obvious bad ingredients, chances are that care has been taken with the rest of the ingredients.

Simple & short lists

When a cosmetic has too many ingredients, chances are that most are superfluous and don´t do much for the skin (there are the fillers, the fakers, then the colourants, others change the consistency etc, and then there are extra preservatives for the extra ingredients). There is always the chance that something with irritate or clog pores, and certain ingredients may not work with each other, and you´ll never be able to pinpoint which ingredient is at fault. A good cosmetic usually has just a couple of well-chosen ingredients. Short lists are your friend !

Ingredients that you can understand

When producers use natural ingredients, they like to add the common name of the ingredient as well (cos sometimes even friendly ingredients can have scary latin names). So, it´s always a good indication if you see stuff like "shea butter" and other recognisable ingredients. Of course, it could be a sham, if you see many of the bad ingredients as well.

Still overwhelmed ? The internet is your friend

Skin Deep has a is a database on cosmetic safety. You can search for a specific product, or, say, get a list of chapsticks that have the lowest hazard scores. If your product is not on there, you can always Google up the ingredients list of the product you´re interested in. Then, Google up a couple of the ingredients. There is a lot of easy-to-understand info on this on the web. If you really can´t be bothered, use Skin Deep to find brands generally rated as low hazard, and just buy from them.

Reading for experts:

Of course I´ve simplified things a lot here, but it´s meant to be a very basic primer. So I hope you forgive the sweeping statements ! Do you have any tips to share ? Any helpful sources or sites ? Do you read labels or do you prefer to buy from trusted natural brands ?

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