Skin Care Shopping Survival Guide: How to Decode the Label

July 15, 2016
Jessica Khorsandi
By: Jessica Khorsandi | by L'Oréal
Skin Care Shopping Survival Guide: How to Decode the Label

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Translating skin care jargon found on product labels can sometimes feel like taking a course in a foreign language. It’s tricky, to say the least. What does it all mean? To help decode common words plastered on ingredients list and labels, we recruited board-certified dermatologist, and expert, Dr. Dendy Engelman. Read on for her definitions.


According to Engelman, hypoallergenic means the product is probably unlikely to incite an allergic reaction. However, it’s not foolproof. If you have sensitive skin, scan the ingredients list for common irritants that could still be in the formula.


“This means the formulation is designed to not block pores,” says Engelman. All skin types should keep an eye out for this one, especially if you suffer from acne, since clogged pores are one of the biggest culprits of breakouts.


If you see this on a product label, it means the formula is neutral—neither acidic or alkaline, according to Engelman. Why should you care? Great question! Our skin has an optimal pH of 5.5, just slightly acidic, using pH-balanced products may help avoid fluctuating pH levels on our skin.


Paraben-free—the name gives it away—means that the product is free of parabens. What are parabens, you say? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines parabens as one of “the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic products.” They also explain that typically more than one paraben is used in product, in combination with other types of preservatives to provide preservation against microbial growth.


“This means the product was tested by an ophthalmologist and is probably unlikely to irritate the eyes and its surrounding area.” It’s reassuring for sure, however—due to varying skin types, needs and concerns as mentioned above—there’s no guarantee it’ll live up to that promise. 

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