It's important to know that skin care products generally contain two types of ingredients: functional and active. Functional ingredients bind the formulation together and ensure that it stays fresh. They deliver specific ingredients where they need to go and keep everything stable. Active ingredients are things that actually change your skin and go deep into the dermis to perform their work. These are what deliver on the promises of the product.
Here are five questions to ask (and answer) before any natural skin care purchase:
1. Is the "active" ingredient stable?
This is really important, because many of the most powerful ingredients are highly unstable, especially when exposed to light. Make sure that the product uses a stable form of that ingredient — the company will be happy to elaborate if so. It's also a good sign if the product is packaged in an opaque container, because most active ingredients begin to degrade when exposed to light, and some, such as vitamin C, oxidize when exposed to light. Oxidation means that something loses its efficacy and can form free radicals.
2. Is the "active" ingredient fresh?
This question bleeds into the stability question, but I added it as a separate point because I always try to buy from companies that make products in small batches or microbrew their formulations. This obviously means that a widely available drugstore brand may not be able to offer the proactive efficacy of a smaller, "boutique" brand. Make sure there is a clear expiration date on every product you buy.
3. What is the concentration of the "active" ingredient?
You need to make sure that there's enough of the active ingredient in your skin care to make a difference. This is hard to find out. The only ingredients for which an actual percentage is mentioned are retinol, AHAs, and vitamin C. For other ingredients that you are interested in, at least check how far up the ingredient list they are. If they are near the end, as we've noted, the product only contains minimal amounts. Don't get hung up on given percentage numbers, because they are often only marketing tools rather than exact measurements.
4. Is the formulation "chirally correct"?
You will soon hear more and more about "chirally correct" ingredients. Although the phrase is often used to market a product, there is valid science behind such claims. It means that an ingredient's molecule must be able to fit into its target receptor in your skin to be effective and for its side effects to be minimized. It's very hard to figure out whether or not an ingredient is "chirally correct" from an ingredient label, but many forward-thinking companies can offer you a lot of information on their websites about how they formulate in this way.
5. Is the product from a "good" company or brand?
You need to do your research here. I like to buy from companies that have good sustainable, ethical, and scientific practices. I like to purchase from companies who put my health first.
Excerpted from Gorgeous for Good: A Simple 30-Day Program for Lasting Beauty — Inside and Out by Sophie Uliano. It is published by Hay House. Order the book — it's available now!
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