It can be tricky enough to decide what kind of skincare treatments you need to use on your face, let alone which brand you want to buy from, or which specific product you want to purchase. (Yes, we know we need a cleanser, but which of the fifty on the shelf should we get?)
Learning how to read a skincare ingredient label can be a huge help when deciding which product is right for you. Although there’s a lot of information to decipher, understanding exactly which ingredients you’re getting in your new product will help you make better purchasing decisions—and can eliminate that terrible feeling of investing in a new product only to realise that it doesn’t have any effect on your skin.
Check the front label of the product to find out exactly what kind of product you’re buying. Treatments labelled ‘moisturiser’ or ‘toner’ explain what role they play in your skincare regime, but not every product has such a simple name.
There are plenty of products out there with vague, confusing names that sound impressive but don’t explain their true purpose. “Hyperglow Shine Serum” and “Overnight Calming Masque” might sound fancy, but what do these products actually do?
We’re not saying that every product with a long and confusing name should be avoided, but it’s worth doing a little research about what effect these treatments are meant to have on your skin. Consult the brand’s website and look for reviews on social media to find out what the treatment is supposed to do, and if it actually works.
You can also go right to the source and find out for yourself whether the product will be effective, based on what it contains.
We know, trying to understand the ingredients list on the back of your skincare can make you feel like you need a degree in advanced chemistry. But it’s worth learning about a few key ingredients so you can make better, more informed choices about what you’re putting on your face.
There are thousands of ingredients that can be used in skincare, so we can’t list every one—but here are a few common ones that you’re likely to see, along with a short description of what they do. Some really popular ingredients go by their scientific name when listed, so keep an eye out!
This means that the ingredient that has the highest concentration in the product will be at the start of the list, and so on until the ingredient that has the lowest concentration is at the end.
If you’ve just gone to check your latest skincare purchase only to see that the ingredient you bought it for—say, retinol—is near the bottom of the list, don’t stress. Many ingredients can still be effective at smaller concentrations, and some may even be far too strong for the skin at higher concentrations!
Lastly, it’s important to remember that just like food, skincare can expire. Expired skincare can lose its colour and smell, and can begin to feel different than when you first bought it (a soft, smooth cream might go lumpy or watery over time, for example). Some products may also pose a risk if you continue using them when they’re expired—sunscreen, for example, won’t provide proper protection if it is past its expiry date13.
On most products, there will be a little graphic of a cream pot with a number inside of it. That number is the amount of months a product can be used for after opening, before it expires14. Make sure you take note of when you bought a product so you don’t accidentally continue using it after it expires.