Four Golden Rules for Beautiful Skin

Rule Number 3 |

  1. Less is more
  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
  3. Ingredients are the only thing that matter
  4. Always look for product reviews

Rule No. 3: Ingredients are the only things that matter

Aside from being gentle with your skin and skipping unnecessary products, it's also important to understand what exactly you are putting on your skin because ingredients in all skin care products can make or break it. Therefore, ingredients are the only things that matter.

This is something everyone needs to know. Tell your friends, your parents, heck, tell my Aunt Greg! Before you put any product on your skin, you must look at its ingredients. Don’t let brand names, fancy bottles, organic or natural labels, and/or expensive price tags trick you into thinking that these products are somehow better. It all depends on product ingredients.

Here’s why:

  1. Ingredients help you figure out what you're buying and putting on your skin (so you can prevent irritation and breakouts before you use the product).

  2. Ingredients also teach you what things your skin doesn't like.

Every skin care product has an ingredient list somewhere on bottle or packaging. Sometimes they are hard to find because they could be hidden under stickers or folded up as packet inserts. Note that products from different countries may or may not include complete ingredient lists.

Ingredient List Basics

Once you find the list of ingredients for a product, a product has the most amount of an ingredient at the top of this list and the least amount of an ingredient at the bottom of this list. Aqua or water is usually the first ingredient (glycerin is also close to the top) and fragrance and various parabens, or preservatives, are often listed last. Generally, the fewer ingredients in a skin care product, the better.

Let’s say you're buying an anti-aging treatment. By examining the ingredient list, you can tell which ingredient is providing the anti-aging benefits and how much of it is in the product. The ingredient list will also tell you if that particular anti-aging product will be too drying or irritating. For example, large amounts of alcohol can dry out your skin, while menthol can make it sting. (For an explanation of what certain ingredients do for your skin, check here.)

It’s actually kind of funny because a lot of times there will be products marketed as a “Q10 moisturizer” but when you look at the ingredient list, Q10 is way at the bottom. That means there’s barely any active ingredient in the product but the product label makes it seem like the moisturizer is chock full of Q10. Very clever marketing technique by skin care companies!

They figure that no one really checks the ingredient list, but you can prove them wrong by doing so each time you buy a new product. Although, keep in mind that too much of an active ingredient isn’t good either. Too much of it can be overly irritating and that may be why some active ingredients are at the middle of the ingredient list instead of at the very top.

Ingredients help you figure out what your skin doesn’t like

Besides knowing what you’re buying and putting on your skin, looking at product ingredients can help you isolate the things that disagree with your skin.

Products are often labeled with “for sensitive skin” or “for acne prone skin." However, an ingredient check is the safest way to know if these products are actually suitable for those skin types. In my experience, I try to stay away from products meant for acne-prone skin (especially cleansers) because they are usually terribly drying and stripping. Those who have sensitive skin, on the other hand, can look for products without fragrance, alcohol, and dyes (like yellow 5).

Product ingredients are also ranked according to their comedogenicity and irritancy. If an ingredient has a high comedogenicity number, that means it’ll be more likely to clog your pores and cause breakouts. (Many websites supply these lists for free). However, a zero on the scale doesn’t guarantee zero breakouts or irritation because everyone’s skin is different.

It also depends on how long the product is left on your skin. For example, moisturizers vs. cleansers. If there was a product with an irritating ingredient, the ingredient would be less problematic in cleansers than moisturizers because cleansers are not left on your skin for very long. Another thing is, even if there is a product with a mid-to-high comedogenicity number, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will irritate your skin because it could be in the product at very low concentrations or your skin could simply tolerate it just fine.

So, consult ingredients because they are extra help and information. However, like determining a good skin care routine, there are no set rules for how ingredients will react with your particular skin.

Will this break me out?

How many times have you asked yourself that question when you’re about to buy a new moisturizer or cleanser? Believe it or not, being aware of certain ingredients will help you answer that question because it allows you to pinpoint the things that irritate or break out your skin.

For example, let’s say you use Product A and break out from it. You switch to Product B and it also breaks you out. Checking the ingredients, you find that both of them have corn starch as a common ingredient listed at the very top. So, it’s very likely that corn starch is the culprit. See how this works? Through a comparison of different products, you can figure out what ingredients your skin doesn’t like and avoid using products with those ingredients in the future.

However, this is not an exact science. Rather, it's an approximation to help you get an idea of agreeable and disagreeable ingredients. Keep in mind that this will only work if you add new products to your routine one at a time. If you start using lots of new things at once and experience irritation, you won’t know which one caused it. But if you add in products slowly, you’ll be able to more accurately isolate the ingredient you are sensitive to.

Looking at ingredient lists will help you figure out what you’re putting on your skin and what things your skin doesn’t like. That way, you can choose the best possible product for your skin type and save yourself some time and money.

Last updated: October 9, 2012

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Rule #4: Always look for product reviews