Back to blog

Understanding the Ingredients in Skincare Products

skinsunscreensafetylabelsNewsletterHealth & Wellness • 3 min read • Jun 14, 2017 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Kat Smith

If you’re making an effort to be more health-conscious, you’ve probably started thinking more about the foods, medications, and other substances that go into your body. However, you might be neglecting one important area of the body that can expose you to many potentially harmful chemicals: Your skin. The products you use on your skin should be chosen carefully, not just to enhance the beauty of your skin, but also to ensure that the lotions, face and body washes, sunscreens, and anti-aging solutions that you use are not harming your body from the outside in. Unfortunately, deciphering the ingredients on the bottle of any given skincare product may be more difficult than reading a common food label, because many of the ingredients you see will be totally unfamiliar. Read on to get a deeper understanding of what should and should not be on the labels of the skincare products that you use for yourself and your family.

Questionable Additives

On many skincare products, you will see active ingredients and inactive ingredients, and it’s important to get a close look at both lists on the label. Often, inactive ingredients will include dyes and fragrances as well as drying agents like alcohol, all of which can irritate the skin and have possible carcinogenic effects. Here’s a closer look at some red flag ingredients to avoid as you shop for over-the-counter skincare products.

Fragrance – It may seem harmless to add a scent to skincare products—especially body wash, lotion, and deodorant—but the term “fragrance” is typically referring to fragrance mixes that are associated with allergies and poor reactions in the skin, such as dermatitis. Fragrance may also be present in laundry detergents and fabric softeners, which can cause skin irritation due to contact with clothing after washing.

Synthetic colors and dyes – Artificial colors are represented by the letters FD&C or D&C, and they are derived from coal and petroleum sources. In addition to being carcinogenic, these dyes are also bad for the environment, so it’s best to avoid them entirely.

Triclosan – A common additive in deodorant and antibacterial soap, triclosan is an endocrine disruptor, which means it can influence your hormonal balance. You should shop for deodorant that is triclosan-free, and you might avoid antibacterial soap altogether, because overuse can contribute to the development of drug resistant bacteria.

Propylene glycol – You may be surprised at the scope of products that contain propylene glycol—including some processed foods. This organic alcohol may be on many labels, but you should think twice before using products that contain it, since it may irritate and dry out the skin.

Parabens and phthalates – Parabens and phthalates are two p-words you want to avoid, because they can absorb through the skin and disrupt estrogen production, increase the risk of cancer, and cause birth defects. Parabens are common preservatives seen in body wash, deodorant, shampoo, and pharmaceutical products, while phthalates are more common in moisturizers, hairsprays, and perfumes.

Ingredients to Look for

Many of your most frequently used skincare products will be water-based, and they may contain a certain percentage of acids, including AHAs, ALA, hyaluronic acid, and salicylic acid (beta-hydroxy acid). AHAs can reduce fine lines and discoloration, though these acids can make the skin extra sensitive to sun, so you should protect yourself with sunscreen and limited sun exposure. ALA, or alpha lipoic acid, is a powerful antioxidant, which is easily absorbed through the skin. Products with ALA might reduce puffy eyes or brighten a dull complexion. In addition to acids, you might look for DMAE, which is naturally found in oily fish. This compound is great for aging skin as well as preventive care to reduce free radical damage. Finally, you will want to seek vitamins C, E, and K, which are all great for the skin when applied topically or consumed through a healthy diet.

If you’re unsure about switching to a new moisturizer or you’ve broken out in a rash after trying a new brand of face wash, find the answers you need with an online medical consultation through MeMD. We can connect you with a doctor anytime and help you make better decisions for your health.

Reach the World. Giving Made Easy with Impact.

Kat Smith