Special ingredient skin care product! Is it really that special?

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Ever get excited about a skin care product because of it's ingredients only to be let down once you start using it? Yeah, us too! Sometimes it's not the ingredients fault, but how much of that ingredients is present in the actual product.

On today's blog post, I wanted to show you how I read ingredient labels so you can make better decisions in the future. I know I'm tired of testing product after product with no results! 

For arguments sake, I'll be focusing on how to read a lotion/moisturizer label. They have different names - face cream, hand and body lotion, emulsified body butter, etc.- but their function is the same: provide the skin with moisture and lock it in (or at least that's what I look for in a lotion).

Alrighty, on with the show.

The FDA has very clear rules on what must be included on the product labels: you must include all ingredients used to make the product (or all resulting ingredients) and they must be ordered from most to least. This, for people like me that suffer from allergies, is very important, but it also helps determine roughly how much of a certain ingredient is included. To make an analogy: orange juice, you want to make sure that sugar is not included in the ingredient list, and if it is, that it's one of the last ones there. Similarly, there are certain ingredients that I don't like included in skin care products I use. For example: petroleum (or derivatives), EDTA and sulfates; so the first thing I do is look for those. Next I look for ingredients that I might react to (silicones, SCI, rosehip oil, and many many more). Finally, if I'm looking for a specific function, say hydration, I make sure that the active ingredient is high enough in the ingredients list for it to be effective.

Reading the ingredient list step by step

Now....let's practice

Let's look at this label:

Image showing ingredient list

Step 1: identify ingredients I don't want in my product

  • Petrolatum
  • Mineral Oil
Right off the bat there are two ingredients I will absolutely not use.

Step 2: identify my allergens

  • Dimethicone
Another red flag for me, I can't use anything that includes silicones as they make me break out in a rash

Step 3: identify active ingredients (in this case the product is marketed as a cocoa butter formula)

  • Although Cocoa extract is ingredient #2, the actual cocoa butter is listed further down the list after petroleum, mineral oil and coconut oil.

This is not ideal as it can be misleading, if I'm looking for a cocoa butter lotion, I would like it listed in the first 5 ingredients.

By reading this label, I know I can't use it for medical reasons and for ingredient preference reasons.

Now let's look at this other one:

Image showing another ingredient list

Step 1: identify ingredients I don't want in my product

  • Nothing jumps out

Step 2: identify allergens

  • I don't see any of the ones I react to

Step 3: identify active ingredients

  • Shea butter is ingredient #4
  • Avocado oil is #
  • Glycerin is #

For this exercise I'm looking for a hydrating body lotion, this one lists shea butter (a supreme moisturizer) as ingredient #4....so it will be perfect for the task, not to mention aloe, glycerin and avocado oil which are also hydrators and a moisture lock respectively. So for my needs, this is a perfect lotion.

How to roughly identify how much of the ingredient a certain product has?

Excellent question. Very easy, look for the fragrance. Anything under the fragrance is likely to have been included at 10% or less of total product weight. So if a bottle has 8 oz of product, fragrance is around 10% (or 0.8 oz). Anything under the fragrance is equal or less than 0.8 oz so not too much.

There is one caveat, usage rates. These are the max amount of a certain product that is allowed to be used as percentage of a whole. For example, hyaluronic acid has a max usage rate of 10%. So even if we wanted to have an amazing product full of HA, it ideally shouldn't more than 10% total weight.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to read ingredient lists on your products.