The most important information on a skin care product is the ingredient listing. Because unfortunately, what you see on the front panel of a product—besides what it is, the amount, and the name of the manufacturers, packer, or distributor (all required by the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act)—is pure marketing. And all too often, it’s deceptive. Marketing terms used on product labels have consumer appeal and are intended to enhance sales, but there is little, if any, substantiation for many of them. (Watch out for the skin care products that contain toxic ingredients.)
Science has not yet discovered a single product or ingredient that can slow or even reverse the aging process. Sunscreen is the only scientifically proven skin-care product that can prevent premature signs of skin aging by protecting the skin from the sun’s damaging rays. The skincare industry thrives on the perfect storm: Profits to be made by skin-care manufacturers and “skincare experts,” a combination of a celebrity-obsessed culture with celebrity-endorsed products, media outlets profiting from manufacturers and advertisers, and an aging population that is desperate to believe the “anti-aging” claims promising everlasting youth. The term “anti-aging” promotes sales and boosts profits. It is probably the most brilliant and most effective marketing term in the skincare industry. Unfortunately, the term itself has no true medical value. These are the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.
Cruelty-free/ Not Tested on Animals
cookieandi/ShutterstockPulling at the heartstrings of animal lovers everywhere is the unrestricted use of marketing terms such as “cruelty-free” and “Not Tested On Animals” on skin-care products labels. Some manufacturers apply these claims to their finished skin-care products only, but may rely on raw material suppliers to perform animal testing to substantiate ingredient or product safety. Also, ingredients in the final product may not be “currently” tested on animals, but may have been in the past, also to substantiate ingredient safety. With no legal definition, it is the manufacturers’ discretion as to the meaning of the marketing terms. These vegan makeup brands may be closer to being truly cruelty-free.
The term “hypoallergenic” implies that the product has a smaller chance of causing an allergic reaction, or will not cause an allergic reaction at all. Unfortunately, there is no federal standard definition of this term. There is no single test that can guarantee that a particular product will not cause an allergic reaction for any given individual. Ironically, products labeled “hypoallergenic” often contain at least one ingredient, usually a preservative, that is known to cause skin reactions, especially in people who claim to have sensitive skin. (These are the skin care rules to follow if you have sensitive skin.) Manufacturers of skin care products are not required to substantiate the “hypoallergenic” claim on their products to the FDA. The term, therefore, has very little real meaning, yet it is a very effective marketing term frequently found on the front label of skin care products.
The term “non-comedogenic” simply implies that the manufacturer considers the product appropriate for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin, and that it is less likely to cause breakouts. A “comedo” is the medical term for a clogged pore, either a blackhead or a whitehead. So a product or ingredient that is marketed as “non-comedogenic” is supposedly one that does not cause the formation of clogged pores or acne breakouts. Unfortunately, once again, there is no federal standard, guideline, or testing protocol that a particular product can go through to guarantee the user a clear complexion. Here’s how to tell fact from fiction when it comes to large pores.
Arman Zhenikeyev/Shutterstock“Dermatologist-tested” means that at least one dermatologist tested the product on some part of a body, perhaps his or her own, for some period of time, or maybe, just once. The dermatologist(s) may have a financial interest in the product or even be the entity selling the product. He or she may not even have liked like product! There is no federal guideline or standard definition fofthis marketing term. Should you buy skin care products from your dermatologist?
The consumer is led to believe that a “nourishing” skin care product provides food or other substance necessary for growth to the skin. This is medical nonsense. Skin-care products are applied on the surface of skin and are in contact with the outer 15 to 20 cell layers. These superficial layers of skin are comprised of non-living, yet functional, dead cells. It is not medically possible to “nourish” dead tissue. Skin is “nourished” from its blood supply in the much lower layers of skin. As an organ, healthy skin parallels a healthy body. Healthy, nourished skin is a result of a nutritious diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy carbs, adequate sleep, exercise, and the avoidance of the stressors that science has shown to be harmful to good skin health, like smoking and ultraviolet light exposure. Here are more things your dermatologist won’t tell you—but you’ll definitely want to know.
Fayne L. Frey, MD, is a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in West Nyack, New York, and founder of the educational skin care website FryFace.