This week’s blog is all about the terminology that catches us out. Most labels are there to look pretty and entice us to buy the product. But how much of what is written is true? How much of what we read has real meaning or value? And how many products are we buying under false pretenses?
The first thing to remember when shopping for skin care, hair care or makeup is that magazines and advertising have close relationships with PR companies. PR companies work for beauty companies. So, beauty companies pay PR companies lots of money to promote them, therefore most of the quotes you read in the speech bubbles by this ‘expert’, or that ‘celebrity’ are indirectly sponsored. The truth, is rarely posted in big bold letters. The point I am making is, that the ‘experts’ are rarely actually ‘experts’ and this does make it super confusing to ever get sound medical or scientific advice about what you are buying. I recommend to anyone having trouble with their skin, read Dr Anjali Mahto’s book called ‘The Skincare Bible’. She is one of the UK’s leading dermatologists and this book has been my bible whilst learning about skin care over the years. Link below, Amazon £9.76.
Brands take advantage of the fact we don’t understand the long scientific terminology they print on their packaging and therefore usually baffle us. I will reference some quotes that have helped me through the minefield that is the skincare aisle.
“Hypoallergenic: This is a manufacturer claim that a product will cause fewer allergies than others. It is not, however, a legally binding term; there is no minimum industry standard to prove the product causes fewer allergic reactions.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.47.
“Non-comedogenic: The literally means ‘will not block pores’ and is often found on the label of skincare for those with acne or oily skin. If an ingredient is comedogenic, it will encourage blocked pores and the formation of black heads. Traditional gold-standard testing for comedogenicity was carried out on rabbit ears. Chemical ingredients were simply applied to the rabbit’s ears and scientists would look to see if comedones or blackheads developed. Many cosmetic scientists and dermatologists felt it was inaccurate and misleading and many influential dermatologists later discredited its use. The EU has now banned animal testing and comedogenicity test commonly take place on humans.
The main problem with products labelled as ‘non-comedogenic’ is that, yet again, there are no industry standards or regulation… therefore, it can still clog pores.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.48-49.
“Clinically proven: This means it is almost NEVER a robust clinical trial with a sound scientific methodology, an adequate sample size or appropriate statistical analysis.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.49.
“Dermatologically tested: Another term deliberately meant to lead you astray. In the UK, there is NO legal definition of the term. According to the EU guidance, the implication is that a dermatologist has supervised the testing on humans. However, there are no standard tests for the safety of efficacy of cosmetic products.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.49.
“Natural: Some have suggested that ‘natural’ should mean that at least 5% or more of the ingredients are found in nature. It’s definition, however, is not regulated in the US or UK. The biggest mistake I see is that people equate natural skincare with somehow being safer than products lacking the label. Botanicals’, herbs and essential oils can still cause irritation and allergies, and these are commonly documented in scientific literature.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.51.
“Organic: The organic label in skincare is also not regulated in the UK. It loosely means a product with ingredients that are grown without the use of artificial chemicals. The majority of these types of products that are certified organic have non-organic ingredients also. As there is no legal definition and the various certification bodies have different criteria to meet for product labeling, there is no beauty industry standard.
Things are a bit better in the US, where the USDA (United Department of Agriculture) provides guidelines for organic labeling in cosmetics. For a product to be labelled ‘organic’, 95% of its ingredients must be certified; ‘organic-derived’ products need only contain 70%. Ingredients are listed in descending order of their percentage of a products composition.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.51-52. So it’s always important to check the label.
“Some have concerns about having products with ingredients that are pesticide-free. However, there is little evidence to show that pesticides in skincare products can penetrate the skin barrier.”- Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.53.
“Organic and natural skincare products are a choice. Some will prefer to use these as they feel like a healthier lifestyle option, and that’s okay. But remain mindful that they may not be any better for your skin. The label itself may not be the halo you first took it for.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.53.
“Fragrance Free: This should mean exactly what it says on the tin but this is not always the case. The only way to be certain is to check the ingredients list.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.51. Refer to book for list of fragrance ingredients to look out for if your skin reacts to fragrance and also be mindful that essential oils fall under a different category but will also contain fragrance.
“Free from chemicals: Now, this one is definitely a label to ignore. Technically speaking, everything is made from chemicals.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.55.
Ah, we reach my favorite term we are seeing more and more of… “Vegetarian/Vegan: In the UK, there is no legally binding definition of a vegetarian or vegan product and you are very much relying on the manufacturer to not be making unsubstantiated claims. Organisations such as PETA provide a list of animal-derived ingredients to avoid; the Vegetarian Society has several approved products. It can be difficult to be entirely certain whether manufacturing process uses animal-derived agents that do not appear in the final product.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.56. This also depends on what you are looking for because cruelty-free products are different to vegan/vegetarian products. One is about whether than product has been tested on animals and the other is whether that product contains any ingredients derived from animals. It’s worth remembering also that just because a product hasn’t been tested on animals doesn’t mean that the ingredients haven’t been tested on animals individually.
“Preservative free: Preservatives are an important component of skincare and are added to beauty products to enhance their shelf-life by preventing the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold. Clearly, this is a good thing (and it would be far worse to not have them); smearing germ-contaminated products around the face or near the eyes is likely to lead to infection.” Mahto, A. (n.d.). The Skincare Bible. p.57. For more details on common preservatives see page 57 of the skincare bible.
So, take it from the dermatologist expert and not me. I have done a fair bit of research and can say I have found lots of evidence to back up everything she says in this book. Next time you go to the shops to buy a beauty product and you decide to buy a product that is £150.00 because it’s ‘Clinically tested’ or ‘organic’ make sure you know what you are buying. Also make sure a product isn’t being sold for a fraction of the price with the exact same ingredients on a different aisle!! I frequently go from high end to low end comparing products of all different prices and by doing that you can find some fantastic low budget products! I hope this blog has helped your understanding of label lingo!
As it’s October, here is a slightly more scary selfie from last years halloween!