When we buy products for our skincare, hair care, body care or makeup we get bombarded by a bajillion claims! Some of these claims are what attract us and make us choose one product over another because we have read or heard somewhere that said claim is good for us. But do we really understand what they mean? Or do we just follow the confusing hype? I receive a lot of questions whenever I review a product here or speak about it on my YouTube channel where people ask me “but what does blah blah blah mean?” So I decided to research further and come share it in one space where it’s easily accessible.
***Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist, aesthetician, or any kind of medical/technical expert on skincare and cosmetics so do not take the below as gospel. Please always do your own research and consult a professional as concerns you and your needs. These are just my findings.
Hypoallergenic: this means the chances of people experiencing an allergic reaction to the product have been minimized and even people with sensitive skin can use it at a reduced risk because the ingredients in the formula are low.
Non-comedogenic: products that are less likely to cause the occurrence of comedones (pimples) because they have been formulated not to clog pores. This non congestion of pores is achieved by ingredients that do things like get rid of excess oils and kill bacteria. This is can also be labelled as non-acnegenic i.e. not likely to cause acne.
Anti-microbial: products that contain ingredients that prevent against the growth of or kill microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and viruses that cause infections and illnesses. Anti-microbial ingredients work during both the storage of the products and after they have been opened. The most common labeling is anti-bacterial.
Anti-inflammatory: products/ingredients that can help with the reduction or treatment of skin inflammation e.g. itchiness/swelling/redness caused by allergens or other irritants, sunburns cause by UV rays and even actual burns.
Anti-oxidant: compounds that help combat free radicals/oxidants that damage the structure and appearance of skin thus causing problems like changes in skin colour and texture, and weakening or aging skin. Anti-oxidants work by donating electrons to the atoms of these free radicals (which are less an electron) so that the free radicals don’t take the electrons from our skin. Anti-oxidants help with the anti-aging process. Free radicals usually come from the sun, smoking and pollution.
Paraben-free: not containing parabens which are chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives (with anti-microbial properties) that may cause harmful health conditions.
Sulfate-free: not containing sulfate based compounds that are usually used to to make products lather/foam and de-grease effectively as these too cause harm to the health. Sulfate-free products can also be labelled as SLS-Free or SLES-Free.
Alcohol-free: this only applies to products not containing the “bad” drying ethyl alcohol (ethanol, methanol, benzyl alcohol) which is used a solvent in some products and “helps” to enable active* ingredients to sink deeper into the skin. However, products that claim to be alcohol-free can still contain the good fatty alcohol (cetearyl, cetyl, stearyl alcohol) that is moisturizing and helps skin become smooth and supple.
*the actual ingredients that enable a product deliver on its claims/promises.
Oil-free: not containing any animal, vegetable or mineral oils but that include alternative emollients (lubricating substances that help to lock in moisture in the skin) either by creating a barrier that does not allow moisture to escape from the skin (occlusive emollient) e.g. silicons or by attracting and absorbing moisture from the atmosphere into the top layer of the skin (humectant emollients) e.g. hyaluronic acid.
Cruelty-free: this one is very ambiguous within the law and can basically be twisted by an organization to mean any number of things from employee working conditions, environmental responsibility to testing products on animals, which is what most people associate it with. However, even this is a grey area as sometimes it could mean the product was not tested on animals when the ingredients most likely may have been or that the company did not personally test their ingredients/products on animals but may have outsourced a third party to do so.
Dermatologist tested: basically a product that has been reviewed/used by a dermatologist either on him/herself or his/her patient in a causal way and probably not intensively. It’s very misleading in that it creates the impression that more than one dermatologist has run the product through extensive evaluations on various patients and have come to a unanimous, favourable endorsement. Sometimes, this claim is paid for and unfortunately, it is not regulated.
Clinically proven: again, a very amorphous claim that insinuates proper scientific/medical studies/research have been conducted by a team of experts to prove the promises made are empirically true. However, without actual unbiased proof of this the claim is not too heavy when most of the time it is the organization’s own private facility that is credited with conducting them which means they can be steered towards the intended results.
It is important to note that a lot of the terms and claims are not quite legal or rigid and are more marketing tools and can be maneuvered to fit the construct the organization wants them to and are based on “most people.” It really all just depends on what you are looking for. It’s always important to make some effort into checking through ingredients, as cryptic and confusing as some of them are and seeing what is suitable for you. There’s a website called Skin Carisma that my friend introduced me to that allows you to search for skincare products and it breaks down the ingredients and how suitable they are fro your skin type. It’s a really cool tool for research purposes that can make the decision making process easier. I’ve also listed and answered some frequently asked questions below that seek to differentiate some qualities, functions or procedures that also get featured very prominently on beauty products we use.
What’s the difference between fragrance-free and unscented?
Fragrance-free/unperfumed simply means that no additional fragrance has been dded to the product in order to manipulate its smell. However the product may be fragrant in itself based on the smells of the ingredients in the products that have not been tampered with e.g. natural oils used. Unscented on the other hand means that the product has had synthetic fragrances added to in in order to eliminate the actual scent the product has via phthalates that may cause irritation. So fragrance-free may have a smell but unscented has a fragrance that makes sure it doesn’t have a smell. Confusing, huh?
What is the difference between microdermabrasion and a peel?
While these are both more intensive form of exfoliation than the normal scrub-a-dub we are sued to doing once or twice a week, one is a physical/mechanical exfoliation and the other is a chemical process. They both work on the epidermis to get rid of the dead skin cells and build up and to help reveal the newer, healthier skin but microdermabrasion uses special exfoliants (microcrystals) where a peel uses chemicals like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and glycol. Microdermabrasions are recommended more for people with dry skin while chemical peels are recommended more for people with oily skin.
What is the meaning of a broad spectrum sunscreen?
A broad spectrum sunscreen in one that has been formulated to protect the skin against both UVA and UVB waves. Where the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) value is related to the grade of protection from the shortwave UVB waves, the PA (Protection Grade of UVA) informs on the intensity of protection against the UVA rays. It’s important to use a broad spectrum sunscreen every day because UVA rays are acting on our skin all the time and penetrate clouds and windows to cause damage to our skin while UVB rays intensify depending on the time and place.
Is using a skin brightener going to bleach you?
No. A skin brightener does not a bleach make. Brighteners do not tamper with the skin’s natural tone but work at enhancing radiance by battling things like dullness, hyper-pigmentation and scars e.g. vitamin c infused products. Lighteners work by minimizing melanin production in the skin and make your skin tone lighter with continued use. Whiteners on the other hand are proper bleaching products that actually remove melanin from the skin in an intensive way.
I’ve tried to demystify some of the words that are always surrounding the products we use and I hope it helps you gain a better understanding or sets you off on a deeper journey if you are a skincare/beauty lover like me. A good weekend to all.