5 Tips for Reading (and Translating) Skin Care Labels
Shopping for skin care products isn’t too different from online dating. There’s no shortage of overpromising—and under-delivering. And even when you read the details, things aren’t always as they seem. So how does a woman find her perfect skin mate? We asked top experts to help us cut through the most misleading pickup lines so that you can take home the right products for you.
"Fragrance-free" doesn’t really mean it doesn’t have fragrance.
Fragrance-free does not equal unscented. “Fragrance is a synthetic ingredient that can either be used to add scent, or to mask the smell of the formulation, which in some cases is necessary because the base of a formulation may not have a pleasant smell,” says chemical and biological engineer and skin care expert Jasmina Aganovic. Since fragrances can irritate sensitive skin, just check out the label and look for the word "fragrance" in the ingredients list. The FDA requires that all fragrance be explicitly labeled only in the ingredients list, so read it thoroughly to find out what’s really inside.
No matter how good (or expensive) your facial cleanser, it may not be taking off all of your makeup.
“Current makeups are meant to be long-lasting and often stick to the skin around the hair follicle and oil gland openings," says dermatologist Heidi Waldorf. This means that your cleansers might not be removing them, which can lead to irritation and acne over time. “Use a gently vibrating and rotating brush with a nondrying, cleansing lotion to make sure that even stubborn makeup is removed,” Waldorf adds. The Clarisonic Classic Sonic Skin Cleansing System is an excellent option.
Dermatologist-tested isn’t the same as dermatologist-recommended.
The dermatologist-tested label means that the product underwent safety testing, explains Aganovic. This safety testing involves a panel of women using the product for a number of weeks, with any sensitivity reactions monitored by a dermatologist. Though that label means the product is safe, it doesn’t mean that the dermatologist endorses it.
Some anti-aging ingredients don’t penetrate the surface of your skin, much less slow the aging process in your skin cells.
Ingredients like hyaluronic acid have molecules that are too big to penetrate the skin and repair it, says cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski. Others—like Vitamin C—can oxidize and break down when exposed to air, creating a brownish tint that you can see in a product containing it. And yet others have been shown only to work in a laboratory on skin-cell cultures instead of in real-life applications. He recommends sticking to the one anti-aging, anti-acne ingredient that has over 30 years of science supporting it: retinol. Not only does it boost collagen production for firmer, younger skin, but its exfoliating powers help clear up pimples and blackheads. It’s even been shown to help reverse cancerous growths. Try: La Roche-Posay Redermic [R] Intensive Anti-Aging Corrective Treatment, which has .1 percent of pure retinol. Just about anyone can call their product natural.
There are currently no requirements enforced by the FDA for a product to make natural claims. “Some regulations are loosely in place, but not rigorously enforced,” says Aganovic. And while there is slightly higher regulation surrounding organic claims, it’s still a relatively new market and loosely defined. Another newsflash: just because a product is natural or organic, it doesn’t mean that it’s less likely to irritate your skin. “Our skin can easily be sensitive or irritated by common natural ingredients, like citrus and peppermint oils,” she adds.
How closely do you read skin care labels?