Consumer choice is a tremendous thing. It’s always important to know what you’re buying, especially when it’s something that could affect your health like skin care products. That’s why I’m in full support of the growing movement toward more honest and clearer labeling so that when shopping for skin care products, we can truly see what we’re putting on our skin.
There’s one tricky part, though: labels have become so flooded with terms like “anti-this” and “that-free,” to the point that the average person has little to no idea of what these terms mean or why they matter. Today, let’s take a step in the right direction. I’ve defined some of the most common terms in natural and health-conscious skin care to help you make the right informed decisions.
Cruelty-Free – If a product is cruelty-free, it means that the manufacturer hasn’t tested the product or its ingredients on animals. This is less of a health choice and more of an ethical choice for consumers who want to support animals’ rights. It’s important to note that anyone can technically label their products as “cruelty-free,” but if you want the real deal, look for products that have the seal of an independent certifying organization. Choose Cruelty Free and PETA are the most common organizations you’ll see.
Dye-free – Obviously a dye-free product doesn’t include dyes, but why does that matter? While there are suspected and potential links between some dye chemicals and increased cancer risks, the jury is still out on this one. What we do know, though, is that dyes are common skin irritants, so if you have sensitive skin, it’s best to steer clear.
Fragrance-free – Fragrances are another common culprit for skin irritation. Not only do they tend to be chemical-heavy, but the ingredients in fragrances are considered to be trade secrets in the US. That means that manufacturers don’t need to list the ingredients in their fragrances on the product’s label, so you don’t know what you’re getting.
Hydroquinone-free – Hydroquinone is a skin brightening agent, so it’s common in skin care products that aim to reduce age spots and dark spots. Like many other products on this list, though, hydroquinone can irritate and inflame your skin, especially if you have dry skin. In addition, hydroquinone doesn’t always work well on naturally dark skin and in fact can make brown spots worse in these cases. If you have sensitive, dry, or dark skin, it may be best to choose a hydroquinone-free skin brightener.
Hypoallergenic – This is a common term across many industries, but it’s often misunderstood. It doesn’t tell you that a product cannot cause an allergic reaction. After all, this would be impossible to guarantee because you can be allergic to absolutely anything. Hypoallergenic products just contain few if any common allergens so they’re less likely to cause reactions. That’s especially helpful if you’ve had allergic reactions but aren’t sure what you’re allergic to.
Paraben-free – Parabens are preservatives often used in skin care and other personal care products. Unfortunately, parabens can be hormone disruptors, meaning that they disrupt your natural hormonal balance. Specifically, parabens may mimic estrogen in your body, which can trigger chain reactions that throw off many different hormones. This is why you’re seeing more and more talk about paraben-free products.
Phthalate-free – Phthalates are compounds used in all kinds of products to strike a specific consistency, strength, or texture. Like parabens, though, they may cause hormone disruption which can affect several aspects of your health.
Reef safe – Most sunscreens use a combination of chemicals to form a protective layer that blocks UV radiation. The problem is that some of these chemicals, when they inevitably reach the ocean, can harm the corals that make up coral reefs. This can lead to a variety of environmental problems, so more people are opting for reef-safe sunscreens that don’t contain these chemicals.
Soy-free – Soy is a fairly common food allergen, but if you are allergic to dietary soy, your skin may also react to soy on your skin. For this reason, many people with soy allergies prefer soy-free skin care products so they can steer clear of reactions whenever possible.
Gluten-free – Gluten-free skin care products come from the same thought process as soy-free products. Some people have a natural sensitivity to gluten, and it may not be limited to your digestion. Gluten-free skin care products could help you minimize your skin irritation.
Sulfate-free – Sulfates are chemicals that are particularly common in soap-like products, from facial cleansers to shampoos. They cause the product to foam and lather. There are possible links to serious health risks that are still being studied, though. Sulfates can also irritate your skin, so many people with sensitive skin prefer to go sulfate-free to be on the safe side.
Vegan – As with vegan foods, vegan skin care products don’t contain any animal materials or animal products, nor were those items used in manufacturing the products. Much like cruelty-free and reef-safe products, choosing vegan skin care is more of a choice based on ethics rather than one based on skin health.
Shopping Smart with the Right Terminology
When you’re shopping for anything that could affect your health, from food to skin care, the first advice you’ll hear is to always read the label. Reading the label does little if you don’t understand any of the words you read, though, or how they affect your product. Thanks to this little mini glossary, you can make more informed and purposeful choices about your skin care. Shop smart, folks!