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How to Read Skincare Ingredients List Like a Pro

Welcome to the world of skincare and if you are new to this, congratulations on embarking on a new journey to improve your self-care! You’ve mastered the skill to read ingredient labels on your food labels, but what about skincare ingredients list? Similar to making the right choices on what you choose to put into your body through the food that you eat, it is just as important to understand the labeling on the skincare products that you are choosing to put on your skin. Let’s dive into some tips on how to read skincare ingredients list like a pro!


The guessing game to tell if a skincare product is going to work on your skin is similar to that of  telling how a cake is going to taste just by looking at the ingredients list. It is not a guarantee that you are going to be able to make the most accurate decision based on reading the ingredients list alone, but it can serve as a helpful guide. Here is something that you should keep in mind while reading a skincare ingredients list. All companies that produce skincare products are required to list ingredients according to legal guidelines set by regulatory bodies. The general rule is that all ingredients have to be listed in order of concentration from highest to lowest by weight and any ingredient that is less than 1% can be listed in any order. However, the implementation and adherence to this guideline varies from one country to another. Now that you have an understanding of how the ingredients are listed, here are some important mental notes when reading skincare ingredients list. 


Are there any skincare ingredients that I cannot use?

Every skin is unique and while two people may have the same skin type, the way their skin reacts to skincare products may be vastly different. Therefore, it is important to be aware of one’s own skin’s sensitivities in order to determine which ingredients are suitable to be used on the skin. It’s best to steer clear of any possible irritants, as they can further aggravate pre-existing skin conditions like eczema or rosacea. It is also a good reminder to pay close attention to avoid any potentially irritating ingredients like fragrances and dyes that could cause skin reactions when having sensitive skin. For those who maintain a vegan lifestyle of choices, understanding where the ingredients are sourced from is important as there are many skincare ingredients such as collagen and hyaluronic acid that can be derived from animal sources. 


Are the ingredients in the skincare ingredients list high enough to produce the results I want on my skin?

There are many common skincare ingredients such as niacinamide and centella asiatica that are often included in many skincare products. The unfortunate truth is that some of the promotional materials for these skincare products are tweaked to follow the most current skincare trend. For example, lactic acid is a trending skincare ingredient. When looking for a gentle exfoliant with lactic acid to add to your skincare routine, you may find that a particular product may mention lactic acid in the front of the packaging. However, when you look at the ingredients list, you may find that the ingredient is located at the bottom of the list (likely less than 1%). Research has shown that a concentration of 5%-10% of lactic acid is an ideal concentration range to achieve exfoliating results. This does not mean that the product is “bad”. It only means that the purpose of the use of lactic acid in this product is as an adjunct preservative to prevent bacterial growth rather than for exfoliating purposes. Therefore, it is always a good practice to note the ingredients that you would like to include in your skincare routine and make sure that the ingredients are located within the top 5 to 10 ingredients on the ingredients list of a product.


What are the roles of inactive ingredients in skincare ingredients list

Active ingredients are ones that create a change in the condition of the skin. What about inactive ingredients in a skincare formulation? Inactive skincare ingredients are very much like the supporting actors in a movie. Even though they do not get the spotlight during product promotion, they are not “inactive” per se, but rather, these ingredients are important to the structure of the product. There are many functional inactive ingredients that have the abilities to change the texture or pH of a product, assist active ingredients to penetrate the skin, and act as preservatives that stop the products from going bad. These ingredients are often listed after the active ingredient(s) in alphabetical order or descending order of concentration. Skincare products are like food when left on the counter for too long without proper storage. It can become the perfect environment for bacteria and mold to grow, causing the skin to have infection and rash when used. Here are some common inactive ingredients that you will see in skincare products are Acrylates/C10-C30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Capryloyl Glycerin, Carbomer, 1,2- Hexanediol and Dimethicone.


What is the period after opening? 

Most of the time when an unstable ingredient is used in a skincare formulation, which a lot of the time are powerful skincare ingredients, you will find that many of them have a shorter duration of viability for the products. The period after opening of a skincare product is often represented by a symbol of a lid with a bottom container that is labeled with durations of 6M, 9M or 12M. The “M” represents months. For example, a symbol with 12M shows that the product can be used within 12 months of opening the product. If used after the 12 months mark, there is no guarantee that the product is still effective or safe to be used due to longer exposure to environmental factors. However, do keep in mind that these are estimates done by the brands. It is crucial that one becomes familiar with the texture, smell, colour and how the product feels on the skin. One of the ways that one can keep track of the expiry of skincare products is to label the expiry date after opening a product.


Period After Opening - how to read a skincare ingredients list like a pro - Oshen Skin


As much as reading a skincare ingredients list is important in selecting the best products for your skin, It is not meant to tell you everything because skincare companies do not particularly reveal where they source their ingredients or the quality. Therefore, It is important that you keep in mind that understanding ingredients lists is like having an extra tool to help you make better decisions for your skin. It would be advisable to read reviews and swatch the texture at your local stores to have a better overview of a product before investing money into it.

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