5 Things to Look for When Choosing a Natural Skincare Line
5 Things to Look For When Choosing a Natural Skincare Line.
— Decoding an ingredients list to make healthy skin choices.
✎ Kat Guerrero
Skin (ahem: the epidermis) is our largest organ. According to National Geographic, some adults carry up to 8 pounds and 2 square meters of flesh. Skin acts like a porous, waterproof shield that protects the body from external damage and prevents infection. It’s also full of sensitive nerves that influence the cranial connection with the outside world. The external influences applied to skin, whether that’s a moisturiser, an oil or a face mask, are eventually reflected on the inside.
Hence the need for a conversation about not only the ingredients we should put on our skin but the act of decoding ingredients lists. Especially when products label common ingredients like cocoa butter as ‘theobroma cacao.’
We’re all for a challenge. Instead of getting frustrated at the way the industry approaches ingredients, we’re firm believers in taking the time to decode ingredients in order to make healthy skin choices for the long-term.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way shall we?
In Australia, products are required to list all their ingredients in descending order of mass or volume. If ingredients fall under a 1% bracket or are followed by colour additives, they can be listed in whatever order the producer deems appropriate, after the key ingredients have been categorised and listed. Products are not required to include the quantity or percentage of each ingredient.
As a rule of thumb, your main focus should be on the first 5 or so ingredients. After that, it’s important to know what each ingredient does and if they are toxic to the skin in any way, but they shouldn’t be your main concern.
Often ingredients we would recognise, like water, are listed under their scientific name (aqua) to indicate variation in a lab and fulfil the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) requirements. The INCI plays an important role in maintaining consistently in the skincare industry - that makes it easier for both producers and consumers to understand what is in a product.
We applaud the INCI for ensuring consistency, but for anyone looking to understand their ingredients, the scientific, latin and english names of ingredients can get confusing pretty fast. Some brands choose to break down ingredients by including bracketed information, but others just chuck the ingredients on the packaging and let it go straight to market.
We’ve put together a quick guide for decoding ingredients to make sure your skin is getting the nourishment and products it actually needs.
Keen on learning more about each ingredient? There’s a handful of useful databases that break down ingredients, explain their benefits and make it easier for consumers to self-educate:
Make a list of ingredients you know you want to avoid.
We’ll make it easy for you. In our humble opinion, there are a few products you should steer clear of because of their known negative effects and synthetic properties:
Unless your synthetics are from a trusted lab, or you believe in the power of synthetic products (which is fair!), be warned that synthetics can cause allergic reactions, hide harmful chemicals and contain phthalates (hormone disruptors). Synthetics, by definition, are naturally derived ingredients that have been molecularly replicated in a lab.
The mystery ingredients that allow dirt and grime to be easily washed away while creating that oh so pleasurable foamy lather. Good news: they attract oil and water, which cleanses your skin thoroughly. Bad news: Sulphates can strip away natural oils and damage the skins protective barrier for the long term.
Silicones are added to skincare products because of their ability to make products spreadable and smooth. While silicones may feel great in the short-term, they are known for trapping debris in pores, disrupting the skins regulatory process and promoting dehydration.
Parabens are a common hormone disruptor, which shifts the body’s hormonal balance.
Tailor Your Products to Your Skin
Everyone has different skin. So why would we use the same products?
Our genetics determine our skin type and there’s really nothing that can be done to change out unique epidermis. While some skin types can tolerate harsh products, others are sensitive. Some people are acne-prone while others seem to never have a blemish.
Prior to investing money in products, take the time to learn about your skin and understand what it does or doesn’t need from external products. There is no one product or set of cleanser that are suitable for every skin type. If you have the means, we urge you to make an appointment with your dermatologist to understand your personal skin type. Additionally, memorising a list of ingredients that your skin type should avoid or seek will be helpful when you’re speed scanning ingredients.
Trust the numbers
We’re proponents of supporting brands that are transparent and disclose their ingredient percentages. According to the INCI, companies are not required to state the exact percentages, just the ingredients. We prefer erring on the side of caution and knowing exactly how much of each ingredient makes up a product.
Skin products are primarily composed of a mix of liquids and chemicals. Not all of the ingredients need to have a large concentration to have a major effect. Certain ingredients only need to be at .5 – 1% to be efficient.
Get Real: Where Is The Product Going?
Ingredients matter. We’ve made that much clear. But it’s worthwhile to consider the physical application of a product and what layers of the skin it penetrates.
If a product is being applied to the skin and rinsed off without residue, having more lenient approach about the ingredients is acceptable. If the product is being fully absorbed into your skin, you sure as hell should know exactly what your pores are absorbing.