With an overwhelming list of ingredients out there how do you know the good from the bad?
When it comes to food, everyone knows that organic and natural produce is better for you, but it seems this logic hasn’t yet hit the same critical mass in the skin care industry.
The fact is we all use skin care products, whether it’s a soap bar, a moisturizer or mascara or all of the above. It’s also a fact that our skin is porous and absorbs much of what is applied to it and that includes the myriad of synthetic and harmful chemicals contained in the majority of body care products sold today.
The FDA and cosmetic companies say no worries – it’s just small quantities, however, no one actually knows what the long-term effects of their application are and secondly, what the cumulative effects of being exposed to a cocktail of chemicals (however small) every day will do.
Europe, on the other hand, has gone and banned well over a thousand of these harmful ingredients that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, genetic mutation and/or reproductive harm.
In a previous post we discussed the importance of organic and natural products. How we can properly identify those products by either (i) looking out for a certification or logo or (ii) by simply reading the ingredient list. But how do you know which ingredients are good for you? There are thousands out there and marketing does a great job at muddying the waters!
So, to answer this, we looked at a cross-section of the best organic and natural skin care products on the market (based on a variety reviews including our own). We then collated a list of the most common ingredients found in those products.
Interestingly, it’s no accident that those products have the best reviews. The majority of the ingredients in them have solid research backed evidence that they’re healthy for you.
By just referring to, or becoming familiar with, our list below you’ll be able to identify whether the product you’re looking to buy has a quality formulation or not.
Also if this is your first time visiting, our approach to sustainable beauty (or personal care products in general) is to look for brands and products that are:
- organic / natural
- palm oil free
- have ethical ingredient sourcing policies and
- use thoughtful, (ideally) compostable packaging.
We hope to provide a useful resource for you! We’d also love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for any additional ingredients you think should be added to the list!
CLICK FOR COMMONLY USED TERMS
Antioxidant: is a molecule that inhibits, or stops, the oxidation of other molecules. They occur naturally in plants, animals and plant based foods like vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate. Our own bodies also naturally produce a complex system of antioxidants to combat oxidation or the chemical reactions that create free radicals.
Emollients: are waxy lubricating agents that contain a mixture of compounds used to soften, smooth and hydrate the skin. They also contain occlusive properties, meaning they provide a layer of protection which helps prevent water loss. There are a variety of emollient ingredients including plant oils, mineral oils, shea butter, cocoa butter, triglycerides, stearates and fatty acids like lanolin.
Emulsifier: are substances that stabilise or prevent emulsions from separating, like the combination of oil and water.
Free radicals: are ions or molecules that have an unpaired electron which causes them to be highly chemically reactive towards other substances, including our skin cells. They attach and bind themselves to other molecules which changes the chemical structure and results in damage or destruction of the original molecule.
Thankfully, we’ve evolved to create important defences (i.e. antioxidants) to protect our cells and especially our DNA from free radicals.
Humectant: is a substance that attracts water molecules (usually from the deeper layers, like the dermis), to the epidermis or upper layer of the skin. By doing so, it prevents dryness and maintains the skin’s suppleness.
One of the most well-known humectants is glycerin which naturally occurs in all lipids (i.e. fats), including our own skin. Note that a lot of humectants have emollient properties, while not all emollients have humectant properties. A combination of the two make for the best moisturizers.
Sebum: is a complex oily mixture of glycerides, fatty acids, wax, squalene and cholesterol that’s produced by the sebaceous glands. Except on our palms and soles, these glands are found all over our body with the highest concentration found on our back, forehead and chin (around 2,600 to 5,800 sebaceous glands per square inch).
Sebum is vital to our skins health. It provides a layer of protection from bacteria and fungi as well as reducing water loss from the inside but also providing a waterproof shield from the outside. We need just the right amount of sebum for optimal protection, however, too much can lead to clogged pores and eventually acne.
Polyphenols (also known as phenolics): are naturally occurring phytochemicals or micronutrients that are found abundantly in fruit, vegetables, red wine, tea, plant oils to name but a few. They influence and contribute to the bitterness, astringency, color, flavor, odor and oxidative stability of the food or liquid. Phytochemicals are important because they have potent antioxidant properties which helps protect cells from free radicals.
They also have a range of other positive biological effects like inhibiting angiogenesis (growth of blood vessels that feed tumors), reducing inflammation and promoting normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
There are 4 major types of polyphenols to look out for, flavonoids (fruits, vegetables, legumes, red wine and green tea), stilbenes (red wine and peanuts), lignans (flax, legumes, cereals, grains, fruits and algae) and phelonic acid (coffee, blueberries, kiwifruits, plums, apples, and cherries).