BSA reader Yogesh Pillay asked: “I’m trying to be more aware of harmful substances in my skin-care products. What should I be checking for and why?”
Make-up has been around for centuries but we’ve come along way since the Egyptians first whipped up a batch of toxic product that included a dash of copper and a generous pinch of lead. But since knowing what goes on our bodies should be as important as knowing what goes in them, we asked Dr Maureen Allem to school us on some basics.
Don’t skip the fine print
Some ingredients are only harmful at very concentrated levels. If you’ve been reading your labels, you will have noticed most manufacturers will not give you an indication as to the concentration or amount of any particular ingredient in their product. But in most cases, ingredients are listed in a descending order, starting with the largest amount in the mix (usually water or aqua) to the least. If a product is hyping a particular ingredient but it is listed near the end, then there’s a good chance that there is not much of that ingredient in the product. When purchasing product, choose brands with the fewest ingredients possible and are advertised as allergy-tested. If a company isn’t transparent about the ingredients it includes in its formulas, look elsewhere. The other important thing to consider is that some products, although there may be nothing wrong in the formulation or ingredients in the product, may be considered harmful if used incorrectly for the wrong concern.
Learn to read Latin
Kidding, but it is a good sign if you’re seeing Latin on a label. If an ingredient is natural, it’s sometimes written in Latin on the ingredient list. So if you’re looking for a moisturiser for instance, there’ll be a Latin terms with the English word (often a plant or food you’ll recognise) in brackets such as Olea europaea (olive oil). If you’re seeing super-long ingredient names that you can’t pronounce, there is a good chance they’re chemicals and linked to health issues.
The expiry jar
Beauty products should have an expiration date, just like the food we buy. If a product has an unbelievable shelf-life, just imagine what chemicals are in it to make them last that long. If you look closely on most beauty products you will see a symbol that looks like a little floating jar with an open lid, and a number with the letter “M” on it. Ever wondered what that’s for? Well the number lets you know how long the product is good after opening (six months, 12 months, etc).
Say no to fragrances
The word you need to watch for is phthalates, which are often simply labelled as “fragrance.” These are mostly gelling agents in a number of products but are also used to extend the life of a scent. They may not be entirely safe according to Breastcancerfund.org and can interfere with hormone function. A fragrance-free product is probably your best way forward, unless a product specifically lists what it uses as fragrance. Products that uses plant oils and essences to give them their smell-good factor are perfectly safe.
Do Your Research
There are loads of websites and apps that contain the information you want about the make-up products you’re thinking of buying. Lastly, don’t be fooled by marketing tricks. Just because a product may say that it has been ‘dermatologist tested,’ that’s not the same as saying ‘dermatologist approved.’
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