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What’s in Your Top Cosmetic Products?

The next time you are out at the beauty aisle for cosmetic products, you may want to know just what ingredients are in them so you can choose the best option.  

Suppose you want to find out why you haven't been able to get the results you want from your cosmetic products. Then you may want to check the ingredients in them. Knowing what's in your cosmetics can empower you to make choices that align with your skin needs, health concerns, and personal values.

There are many different types of cosmetics on the market. The ingredients list is on the back of the product, usually in small print at the bottom or side of the packaging. All have their advantages and disadvantages.

1. Shampoos, Soaps, and Cleansers

Shampoo and soap are every day, often-fragranced cosmetic products that clean the skin. They have surfactants (surface-active agents). Surfactants are molecules with fat-soluble and water-soluble parts, otherwise known as "lipophilic" and "hydrophilic".

The soap or shampoo's lipophilic component adheres to oil and dirt. While the hydrophilic component aids in releasing trapped particles in the skin so they can be washed away. Laundry detergents function similarly, with harsher ingredients that increase their effectiveness when used on rigid materials. As a result, using these detergents on your skin or hair can irritate you.

∎ Sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate)

Sulfates are commonly found in cleansers and shampoos for their ability to create a lathering effect. Some people find sulfates drying to their skin and hair, and they may irritate in higher concentrations or individuals with sensitive skin.

∎ Parabens (Methylparaben, Propylparaben)

Parabens are widely used preservatives in cosmetic products, preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi. However, they've been subject to scrutiny due to concerns about potential links to breast cancer and hormone disruption. The FDA continues to evaluate these claims and maintains that parabens are safe for cosmetics at low levels.

2. Lipsticks

Lipsticks are also hydrophilic. Wax combined with castor oil, beeswax, and water is used in lipstick products. The mixture creates a viscous, water-soluble substance easily maneuvered on lips. The lipophilic ingredients in lipstick cause it to stick to your lips, even when they are wet.

Other lipsticks will have a dye that reacts to amino acids on the top layer of the skin. This makes the product appear blue or green in the container and change to red when applied to the lips. Because of its lipophilic properties, lipstick won’t dissolve on the lips when exposed to saliva or liquid from drinks.

3. Moisturizers

Dry skin is caused by a lack of water on the top layer of the skin. This happens when dead skin cells occur faster than the living cells can absorb moisture in the skin. When the skin becomes dry and scaly, moisturizers can help. Humectant moisturizers can assist by preventing further water loss, known as occlusion.

Occlusive moisturizers form a waterproof layer over the skin to reduce moisture and allow the body's natural rehydration process to occur. It prevents water loss by adding hydrophilic property-boosting substances to the skin. Such as alpha-hydroxy acids or glycerin that add moisture to the top layer of skin.

∎ Fragrance

This term can encompass hundreds of ingredients that create a product's scent. However, companies aren't required to disclose the individual components of their fragrances for proprietary reasons. Some individuals may experience allergic reactions or skin irritation from fragranced products.

∎ Silicones (Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane)

Silicones are used in various products, from primers to moisturizers, for their ability to create a smooth application. They can fill in fine lines and wrinkles, giving a "blurred" appearance, and can also repel water, making products more long-lasting.

∎ Mineral Oil

Derived from petroleum, mineral oil is used for its moisturizing properties. While generally considered safe, it has been critiqued for being a non-renewable resource and for its potential to clog pores in individuals with oily skin.

4. Hair Sprays and Nail Polish

Hair sprays and nail polishes are everyday cosmetic products used daily by many people. However, they contain a variety of chemicals to perform their specific functions.

Hair Sprays are designed to hold hair in place and often contain polymers and solvents. Hair sprays also contain fuels that help spread the product out of the can, including hydrocarbons and compressed gases. Some hair sprays might contain ingredients like silicone for shine and fragrances for a pleasant scent.

Nail Polishes are designed to add color and shine to nails and last an extended period without chipping. They typically contain film formers, resins, and plasticizers.

∎ Polymers and Solvents

Polymers provide the holding power and can include ingredients like polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Solvents, like alcohol, keep the polymers in a solution until they are sprayed, after which they quickly evaporate. 

Film formers, like nitrocellulose, create a smooth surface on the nail. Resins (such as tosylamide-formaldehyde resin) contribute to the product's adhesion to the nail and durability. Plasticizers, like camphor, give the polish flexibility and help prevent it from cracking.

Nail polishes also contain solvents, like ethyl acetate or butyl acetate, which keep the class in a liquid state in the bottle and allow it to dry quickly on the nail. Other ingredients can include pigments for color and, in some cases, UV filters to prevent discoloration from sun exposure.

∎ Phthalates (Dibutyl Phthalate, Diethyl Phthalate)

Phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics in cosmetics, and they can be found in products such as nail polish and hair spray. Some phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption, but more research is needed to understand their health impacts fully.

5. Make Informed Choices

Knowing what's in your cosmetics can empower you to make choices that align with your skin needs, health concerns, and personal values. While this blog post has touched on a few common ingredients, it's important to remember that every individual's skin reacts differently to different products and ingredients. Always pay attention to how your skin responds to a product, and don't hesitate to seek professional advice if you have concerns. Your skin is unique, and understanding it is the first step towards nurturing and caring for it in the best way possible.

Here are some tips for making informed choices about your cosmetics:

  • Read Labels Carefully: Understanding what's in your cosmetics is key. Look out for any ingredients you might be allergic or sensitive to.
  • Do Your Research: Some ingredients may have different names. Use resources like the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database to learn more about ingredients.
  • Patch Test: Before using a product all over your face or body, do a patch test to see if you have any adverse reactions.
  • Consult Professionals: If unsure about a product or its ingredients, consult a dermatologist or skincare professional.

These are just a few common ingredients; every individual's skin reacts differently to different products and components. Always pay attention to how your skin responds to a product, and don't hesitate to seek professional advice if you have concerns.

Final Thoughts

Your skin is unique, and understanding it is the first step towards nurturing and caring for it in the best way possible. The best way to find out what is in your favorite product is to read the ingredients list. It cannot be easy to read, so it's best to bring a magnifying glass when shopping for cosmetics. See if it works for you. That way, you can select the right product to help you reach the best version of yourself.

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