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Ingredient Labels Explained

By: Robert Manzo
Posted: May 28, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Before & After

Before: After weeks of cleansing with a waxy cleanser, there is no visible occlusion. After: Under UV light imaging, a heavy occlusive layer is visible.

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2. Thicker does not mean better. Consumers are trained to think that the thicker the lotion/cream, the more effective it will be. Not true. Often, a night and a day cream is recommended in a skin care regimen. Look at the list of ingredients; many times they are very similar, except for the viscosity, or thickness of the product. Use your professional judgment by reading and understanding the ingredient listing to help decide whether a product is needed by your clients.

3. There are tricks used that can fool you when reading an ingredient list. One of the most common is the use of aloe, aloe concentrates and aloe gels. It is important to know when assessing how much aloe is in a formula whether it is being reported on a label as a solid. Some manufacturers report aloe gel as the first ingredient because they use an aloe gel in high concentrations, but the actual aloe content is much lower. If you have questions, call the supplier and ask how much aloe solid is in the formula.


Generally, serums are used to deliver active ingredients to skin in higher concentrations in order to generate a specific skin response. Typical serums address skin-specific issues, such as hyperpigmentation, lines and wrinkles, sagging skin, texture, tone, pore size, acne, redness and irritation.

Understanding ingredient listings in serums is often difficult. Active ingredient names can take the form of Latin names for botanically sourced compounds, and more generic INCI names may be used, such as yeast extract, which can mean a multitude of biologically active ingredients. Quite long chemical names are often found.

Understanding the dose of active ingredients is also difficult by trying to interpret ingredient listings. If a particularly active ingredient is very biologically active, it may be dosed in the formula in part-per-million levels and be very low in the ingredient listing, but still be quite effective. Examples of these are epigenetic factors, epidermal growth factors and vascular growth factors.

Serum realities

The Skin Care Ingredient Handbook is so much more than an ingredient dictionary. You will learn about cellular functions and skin aging; skin care trends for ethnic skin, scalp and hair products, BB creams, suncreens; active versus functional ingredients, natural, organic, and synthetic ingredients; OTC drugs; INCI names, antioxidants and DNA and how to read labels. Did we mention the newest ingredients are listed?

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