When you’re out shopping, whether it’s for food or clothes or skincare products, do you check the label? Do you read the ingredients, shelf life, and care instructions before making a decision about whether or not to purchase the item? I always do, and I always have, because my mom was really thorough about it and passed that on to me. Things like the sugar content in cereal or whether or not a sweater could be machine washed are pretty important information – you don’t want to feed your kids a boatload of sugar in the morning, and you don’t want to buy a sweater that’s a pain to clean.
The same, naturally, applies to what you put on your face. Seeing what’s in your product is always a good thing – crucial, even. If one product gives you a bad reaction, finding out what ingredient is the culprit will help you find an alternative that you tolerate. Likewise, if you’re among those who think talc and mineral oil are best left out of beauty products, or if you’re like me and turn your nose up at essential oils, knowing your way around an ingredient list can save you a lot of money and a lot of frustration. It can also be helpful in finding what you do like – perhaps you respond well to an ingredient, and want to find something with an even higher concentration. Or maybe you’ll do some research on niacinamide or resveratrol, and actively look for that ingredient in your products. If you’re concerned about animal cruelty or the environment, you can find out what ingredients are commonly tested on or derived from animals (like natural beeswax or carmine,) or ingredients that are proven to be harmful to the planet, like the microbeads that are hopefully on their way out.
It’s just a good habit that helps you make educated decisions about what you’re using, and will inevitably improve your skin as well. If you’re curious about a certain ingredient, the internet provides many sources of information with many points of view – and if you’re a super geek and have access to an academic database, you may even want to read published studies. I recently did this myself after the rumours of raspberry seed oil being a “natural” sunscreen, since most sites discussing it linked to unreliable sources. And here things can get really muddy – how do you weigh science against word-of-mouth or personal experience? How do you sift through rumours and hearsay to find nuggets of truth?
This is all fairly demanding, to be sure, and you should always have a healthy scepticism towards sources. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If a website is lauding an ingredient as a “miracle worker” to promote a product – regard with utmost suspicion. Likewise, a website run by a mysterious “doctor” giving health advice despite not having any formal training in that particular field – also not so trustworthy. While researching raspberry oil, I found advice by a doctor who turned out to be a chiropractor – not a dermatologist.
Beauty culture is full of alarmist claims and suspicious ingredients. It’s up to you as a consumer to find out what you want to use, and what you want to avoid, and I promise you will feel much more secure trying something new if you can read an ingredient list.
(I actually read the study that most of these raspberry oil advocates are referring to – one study from 15 years ago – and as expected, it’s nowhere near enough evidence to warrant using it as sunscreen. You can find it here. For something to be “proven” you need a little more than this. A lot more than this, actually.)