Your go-to reference guide for all things FP beauty…
Figuring out what beauty products to use on your unique skin can be hard enough without trying to decode a label or ingredient deck. To make your life a little easier, we pulled together some of the most common (and most misunderstood) terms you may come across in your green beauty quest, along with a bit of explanation as to what the heck they are and why you should (or shouldn’t) be smearing them all over your skin.
Scary name, powerhouse ingredient family. The main function of acids in skincare is as a chemical exfoliant that dissolves away the top layer of skin cells to reveal fresh, new, glowy skin underneath. Though some are harsher than others, most natural products that contain acid have low enough levels of the stuff that you won’t end up with a red, raw face. And acids are gentler than scrubs (physical exfoliants) because they don’t damage the skin or create small tears in the surface. Some of the more common acids to look for are alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) like glycolic acid and lactic acid, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid and citric acid.
A multipurpose blend of botanicals, oils and butters meant to soften, soothe, heal and even act as a makeup remover. Balms are semi-solid in the jar but melt smoothly with the natural heat from your body, making them nice and slippery and easy to apply without tugging at your skin. For makeup removing purposes, balm are great for double cleansing as they don’t require water/lathering and therefore won’t dry out your skin.
An uber-popular ingredient, especially in products for acne-prone or oily skin, clay works to absorb excess oil, unclog pores and generally suck anything unwanted out of your body. There are several types of clay — bentonite, rhassoul, kaolin — and it’s typically found in face masks, bath soaks and dry shampoo.
A fancy way of saying “moisturizer,” an emollient is a product that makes the top layers of skin soft and pliable by reducing water loss. They act as humectants, enhancing skin’s capacity to hold onto water, and as barriers so that moisture doesn’t sneak away. Look for plant and mineral oils, shea and cocoa butters, and fatty acids on an ingredient list.
A catch-all ‘ingredient’ for any ingredients that add a scent to a product, fragrance is definitely something to avoid if you can. Because there’s almost no regulation around the definition of ‘fragrance,’ manufacturers can hide a lot of harmful, hormone-disrupting chemicals under the term without having to list them out on an ingredient deck. The anonymous chemical blends can also cause skin irritation because: chemicals. If you can’t bring yourself to give up scented products, opt for ones that smell because they include natural, plant-based essential oils and clearly state the ingredient behind the smell.
Not just something to avoid if you’re celiac or have a gluten allergy! Trace amounts of the stuff can be found in some beauty products and, while the proteins are too large to really absorb through the skin, there’s always the risk of licking your lips while wearing a lipstick that contains gluten or poking yourself in the eye with a glutenous mascara wand.
Another fancy word, this time for a substance that helps skin hold onto moisture by attracting moisture in the air and then holding onto that water for dear life for the sake of your skin’s health. Aloe vera and hyaluronic acid are both natural humectants.
Lightweight so it won’t clog pores and plant-based so it’s good for you, jojoba oil is one of the easiest, most effective ways to treat dry skin without making it greasy thanks to its fatty acids and the fact that it’s similar in structure to the skin’s sebum.
Best friend of dry, chapped skin, lanolin is found on the wool of sheep (it’s what keeps their coat dry and protected against the elements) and mimics the molecular structure of human skin lipids, so your skin soaks it up without a problem. It can also hold up to 400% of its weight in moisture so it’s a super humectant.
A favorite of green beauty junkies everywhere, manuka honey comes from the pollinated manuka bush of New Zealand. As with all honey, manuka is naturally antimicrobial (good for acneic skin) but it also boasts nearly four time the nutritional content of other honeys. Eat it, slather it on your face, use it as a hair mask — it’s packed with skin-friendly vitamin B, amino acids, iron, magnesium and zinc.
A designation that means virtually nothing as there’s no regulation when it comes to this kind of claim. Companies who claim their products are “natural” are likely just jumping on the marketing bandwagon and may have a couple of natural ingredients thrown into the mix. Take a close look at the ingredient list: if the ones you recognize as from nature are few and far between or buried at the bottom beneath dozens of others that came from a lab, it’s not natural in the sense you’re looking for.
A designation that actually does mean something as “organic” status is regulated by the USDA. This means all or most of the ingredients in the product are organic, having been grown and processed under a strict code of guidelines.
In short, parabens are a group of preservatives that keep products shelf-stable, lengthening their lifespan. They’re often criticized for containing a dangerous amount of estrogen, thereby messing with hormone levels, but the research has been inconclusive.
Also known as vitamin A (it’s the entire molecule), retinoids are best known for their anti-aging properties by enhancing collagen production, thereby smoothing skin and evening out pigmentation. Be patient, though: it takes around 12 weeks for the effects of retinoids to be noticeable.
A group of cleansing agents, this is the stuff that makes things foamy (soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent). The most well-known version, sodium laureth sulfate, can be terribly drying and irritating if left on the skin too long. Studies have shown SLS (and other sulfates) are typically safe to use regularly, but be wary if you have super-sensitive skin or an inflammatory condition like dermatitis or eczema.
You know citrus fruits are packed with the stuff, but vitamin C is also one of the most skin-friendly ingredients you can incorporate into your routine. It fights aging, brightens and smooths skin, and is a potent all-around antioxidant. Just remember that vitamin C is very sensitive to light and air, so pick products with opaque packaging (like dark violet Miron or amber glass) or air-restrictive pumps to keep everything stable.
When you think of an old timey lifeguard, this is the white stuff on their noses to protect against sunburn. The mineral is a natural, physical sunscreen (meaning it sits on top of the skin as opposed to sinking in like a chemical sunscreen), and protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
Photo by Jana Kirn.