Experts Decode Skincare Labels So You Can Cut Through The Jargon

If you've ever read the label on a bottle of moisturiser or face wash you've likely come across a lot of tricky-to-understand terms and ingredients.

The science-y jargon -- words like 'non-comedogenic' and 'paraben-free' for example -- is almost like another language, isn't it?

That's kind of the point, Biologi founder and industry chemist Ross Macdougald told 10 daily.

When it comes to skincare, he said, brands have become experts at selling us that ever-elusive "hope in a bottle" -- regardless of what the product can and can't do.

How do they get away with this, you ask?

"Frustratingly, there are no regulations in Australia for the cosmetics industry whatsoever -- unless a brand class their products as therapeutic then the Therapeutic Goods Association will get involved," Macdougald said.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Image: Getty.

In fact, a licence isn't required to start manufacturing cosmetics in Austalia -- nor are you required to submit your products to any governing body for safety assessments or approval before releasing them into the market.

"This means that products can be labelled in misleading ways to trick the consumer into thinking that they are better, safer or more effective than other products," dermatologist Dr Eleni Yiasemides told 10 daily.

Many brands deliberately exclude certain ingredients -- typically synthetic emulsifiers and preservatives -- from the list printed on their packaging. Using different names and banner terms are other ways brands 'disguise' their ingredients.

According to Macdougald, this can continue unchecked -- until someone calls the brand out for making a false claim, that is.

"Marketers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to make you want to buy a product -- and they do a great job at it. Don’t believe everything you read and if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is," he said.

Macdougald and Dr Yiasemides helped us decode some of the most common words and phrases skincare brands use on their products -- so you'll have a better understanding of exactly what you're slathering on your face and body.

What it says: 'natural'

What it means: according to Macdougald 'natural' is often misused and in some cases means that only a small percentage of a product is natural.

'Naturally derived' products contain natural ingredients that have been put through a chemical process -- the end result is an unnatural form of the natural ingredient

In Dr Yiasemides' opinion, the word 'natural' on a product is "meaningless."

According to her, not all 'natural' products are safe and non-toxic -- "I tell my patients not to be fooled by these kinds of labels," she said.

'Natural' doesn't always mean natural. Image: Getty.

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What it says: dermatologist-approved

What it means: this typically means that a dermatologist -- a skin doctor -- has been commissioned and often paid to approve of the product and nothing more than that.

It doesn't mean that any standardised testing has gone on, nor does it mean that the product actually works, Macdougald told 10 daily.

The same goes for ‘dermatologist tested’ -- it simply means that a product was reviewed by a dermatologist but there is no proof that any other testing went into it.

What it says: fragrance

What it means: if you see the words 'fragrance' or 'parfum' on a bottle it's basically a code word for a mixture of chemical components, Macdougald said.

People who know that they are sensitive or allergic to fragrances should look for products labelled 'fragrance-free' such as the Dermeze MoistureMatch range said Dr Yiasemides.

What it says: alcohol

What it means: alcohol -- such as ethanol -- acts to dry skin out which you want to avoid, Macdougald said. There are, however, some alcohols that are beneficial to the skin such as Vitamin A and Vitamin E.

What it says: Vitamin A, C, B3

What it means: Vitamin A, also known as retinoids is one of the best anti-ageing ingredients known, according to Dr Yiasemides. It's pretty powerful and can cause irritation and sensitivity to the sun so it should be applied at night and under an SPF in the morning.

Another great antioxidant is Vitamin C which helps skin fight oxidative stress that can cause wrinkles, redness and dark spots. It's usually available in serum form and can be applied in the AM or at PM.

Nicotinamide -- otherwise known as Vitamin B3 -- hydrates and helps prevent skin cancer development, Dr Yiasemides said.

What it says: SPF

What it means: sun protection factor or SPF is, according to Dr Yiasemides, the best way that we can protect our skin from the signs of ageing and skin cancer development.

Wearing an SPF-containing product daily everywhere your skin is exposed to the sun -- particularly on your face -- is one of the simplest and most affordable ways of keeping skin looking fresh and young.

Always read the fine print. Image: Getty.

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What it says: parabens

What it means: these are synthetic preservatives that have been linked to things like cancer, hormone disruption, DNA damage and increased skin ageing, Macdougald explained.

To be on the safe side, try to avoid anything ending with the word paraben, such as ingredients like methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and isobutylparaben.

What it says: hypoallergenic

What it means: if you suffer from skin diseases such as eczema. or have highly sensitive skin, then the hypoallergenic products are for you, said Dr Yiasemides.

But -- and it's a big but -- the word 'hypoallergenic' isn't a legally binding term so there aren't any guarantees that the product won't cause irritation, Macdougald explained.

What it says: non-comedogenic

What it means: this science-y sounding word basically means 'oil-free' -- that is, the product doesn't contain ingredients that are known to clog up pores and therefore is great for people with acne-prone skin or rosacea.

What it says: soap-free

What it means: harsh soaps can strip skin of its natural moisture and impact the barrier of the skin, Dr Yiasemides told 10 daily. Over-cleansed skin -- particularly in children -- is at risk of developing diseases, so soap-free washes are a great alternative.

What it says: AHA

What it means: alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs exfoliate skin and encourage new cellular growth making it appear smoother and more luminous, Dr Yiasemides said. AHAs are also anti-ageing and they help nix pimples.

Products with AHAs are a-okay to use morning and night.

Feature image: Getty.