Let’s talk ingredients. Everyone put on your labcoats and goggles. We’re going to try science!
First, some basics. Let’s go over some terms you may see on packaging and what they do (or don’t) mean:
Natural- I know. People like natural products. They sound safe and earthy, right? Don’t be fooled. Many things are natural that aren’t safe, and many things that are safe that aren’t natural. Natural could be something nice like aloe, something nasty like arsenic, or something that isn’t really different from the conventional version.
Organic- this means the ingredients were produced without synthetic growth enhancement. In skin care, this is often a synonym for natural. I know someone is going to argue that I’m wrong, but I don’t think organic skin care is worth spending extra money.
Chemical- people are afraid of chemicals. It’s pretty stupid really. Everything is made of chemicals. Knowing what chemicals are and do is important. For example, you’d be in real trouble if instead of h2o you drank a chilled glass of h2so4!
Okay? Good. Let’s talk about some ingredients with good science behind them! I’ve oversimplified some of the descriptions for brevity.
Retinoids- this is just about the best stuff out there! You can get prescription creams like retin-a, or over the counter versions.
Alias: retinoic acid, retinol, tretinoin, retinyl palmitate, vitamin A
Peptides- peptides are componds that tell cells to behave certain ways. Different peptides do different things. Some increase collagen, some relax muscles, some make hair and eyelashes grow! You can find plenty of information online about which peptides do what.
Alpha and beta hydroxy acids- these vary in strength from removing entire layers of skin (performed by a derm) to gentle enough to use twice a day.
Alias: glycolic acid, salicylic acid, acetic acid, ascorbic acid, trichloroacetic acid
Hydroquinone- this substance bleaches melanin from the skin. Despite rumors to the contrary, it is safe and effective. Many “replacements” such as alpha arbutin are converted to hydroquinone in the skin, so you may as well go with the real thing.
Antioxidants- oxidation is what causes rust in metal. In skin it does similar damage, but it isn’t as obvious. Antioxidants help stop, or even reverse, this damage. There are lots of good ones, but I’m partial to white or green tea, and vitamin c.
Look for those things when shopping for skin care.
For hair, it’s important to remember that hair is dead. Your scalp needs care and nutrients, but most nutrients can’t be absorbed by the hair. Biotin, keratin, and oils are good for the hair. Other than that, look for lower sulfate products because they’re gentler.
That give you a good start. Next week I’ll share some advice I have trouble following!