Nearly every beauty or skin-care product has a myriad of ingredients that are impossible to pronounce and leave us wondering what it is they actually do. Thankfully, we caught up with Dr. Neal Schultz, Manhattan dermatologist, founder of DermTV.com, and clinical professor at Mount Sinai, who shed light on some of the most commonly used ingredients in skin care. We discovered ingredients to avoid and ones that we should look out for if we want an effective product.
First thing’s first: What should we actually avoid? Each day it seems a new skin-care or cosmetic ingredient is put on the most wanted list, and not in a good way. Dr. Schultz shares two ingredients you really should be aware of in your products for two very important reasons.
Bergamot Oil – Bergamot is a plant that produces a type of citrus oil used for medicinal purposes and in foods for flavor, and it can even be inhaled as aromatherapy to ease anxiety. However, it’s also a common ingredient in many perfumes and creams that can yield a harmful side effect. “Oil of bergamot, commonly found in perfumes, is a very potent photosensitizer,” explains Dr. Schultz. “[This] means if you put it on skin, which is then exposed to the sun without sunscreen, you get a nasty, uncomfortable rash resembling poison ivy.”
Retinol – Often touted as the anti-aging miracle ingredient, retinol is a topical form of Vitamin A. While perfectly safe for many of us, those who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant should avoid it at all costs. “When [retinol] is absorbed into the skin it is transformed into tretinoin (Retin-A), which can cause birth defects,” says Dr. Schultz.
What’s the Deal with Paraben-Free?
Perhaps the most vilified ingredients in cosmetics and skin-care products are parabens. Parabens are preservatives that, when used in skin-care products, prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus. Seems harmless enough, right? Maybe not: Parabens have been known to mimic estrogen, a female hormone said to play a role in the development of breast cancer tumors. However, Dr. Schultz believes there isn’t enough concrete evidence to support the need to use paraben-free skin-care and beauty products.
“There’s been a lot written about the alleged dangers of parabens in skin-care products, and I’m happy to tell you that I don’t believe they’re dangerous,” Dr. Schultz says. “The FDA has looked at the subject three times in the past 20 years, and each time, and as recently as five years ago, they’ve concluded that parabens in cosmetic skin-care products are not dangerous to consumers.”
Dr. Schultz continues by urging us to look at the facts. “Parabens really are preservatives, and as a matter of fact, they’re the most common preservative used in cosmetic skin-care products. There are three types: methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben.” These ingredients help protect us from germs that would otherwise grow in our products and infect us. As well?, the controversy with estrogen may, in fact, be exaggerated. “Parabens have very weak, small estrogenic activity, and we do know the estrogen activity can be related to certain breast tumors. The reality, though, is that the estrogenic effect of parabens is between 10,000-fold and 100,000-fold less than natural estrogens like Estrogel, and when parabens are put in skin-care products, they’re on a very small concentration somewhere between a hundredth of one percent and three-tenths of a percent,” explains Dr. Schultz. This means that there are such small amounts of parabens in our skin-care products that if any are absorbed into the skin, the estrogen activity is “incredibly weak.”
Here is a list of ingredients that have been banned by the FDA.
The Skinny on Silicones: Harmful or Helpful?
If you look at any hair conditioner, lotion, or foundation in your beauty arsenal, chances are it’s going to have dimethicone listed as an ingredient. This silicone-based polymer is used often due to its ability to make hair shiny, keep skin smooth, and help other ingredients spread easily over the skin or hair. There has been much debate over the safety factor of silicones in products, but we’re here to bust that rumor. “I’m happy to tell you that silicone is very safe, it’s inert, it doesn’t react with anything, it doesn’t react with your skin even if you’re pregnant,” explains Dr. Schultz. “The whole point here is that the silicone in your makeup is not part of your makeup; it’s not part of the pigment that stays on your skin. The silicone is in the form of something called cyclomethacone, and cyclomethacone is volatile; it means it evaporates, so it forms a very easy spreading vehicle to distribute the pigments of the makeup very evenly on your skin, and then it just evaporates leaving no residue.” If you happen to have a dimethicone (or silicone) allergy, then it’s best to stay away from products that contain them. If you’re sans allergy, you’re good to go!
Ingredient Cheat Sheet
Ever wish you had a list of what to look out for in beauty and skin-care products to ensure their effectiveness? Look no further! Dr. Schultz says to keep your eyes peeled for the following ingredients in these five most-often-purchased products:
In firming creams look for: palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7, syn-coll, syn-tacks, acetyl hexapeptide-3 (argireline), low molecular weight hyaluronic, and ceramides.
In eye creams look for: avena sativa (oat) kernel extract, lavender oil, glycolic acid, haloxyl, dermaxyl, regu-age, glycerin, dimethicone, Japanese green tea leaf extract, willowherb, Arnica Montana flower extract, chamomile flower extract, burdock root extract, and hydrolyzed collagen.
In facial moisturizers look for: hyaluronic acid, marine micropatch, propylene glycol, orange fruit extract, glycerin, pentavitin, ceramides, lavender oil, vitamin C, lactic acid, polyglutamic acid, lactic acid, vitamin E, green tea extract, and dimethicone.
In hyperpigmentation creams look for: whitonyl, achromaxyl, dermostatyl, arbutin, glycolic acid, kojic acid, phytic acid, and kombucha.
When shopping for makeup products try to stay with mineral makeups containing mica, silica, titanium dioxide, and talc.
Fun Fact: The FDA requires companies to list their ingredients in order of concentration by weight, meaning the first ingredient is the most highly concentrated. If that first ingredient is water, chances are your product is mostly water. This is usually followed by emulsifiers in order to keep the water and the oils mixed together, preservatives to keep the product from spoiling, fragrance, and then your active ingredients.
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