When you pick up beauty products in the beauty aisle and start reading the label, the long list of ingredients and the other claims on the package can make you feel like you need a science degree to make any sense of it. Here are some guidelines to help you make more informed choices when it comes to your makeup and skin care.

Skin care tip: Pay attention to the order of ingredients

“As with food labelling, manufacturers of beauty products are required to list ingredients in descending order of concentration,” says Bill Baker, founder of Consonant Skincare, a Canadian
natural skin care line. This means the first ingredient is of the highest concentration in the product and the ones at the end of the list are in the lowest concentration.

With this in mind, check where the “star” ingredient is on the ingredient list. If the
wrinkle-fighting ingredient the product is based on is toward the end of the list, you may want to put it right back on the shelf. “If it is one of the final three or four ingredients, the concentration could be as low as one-tenth of one percent. At this level, you are unlikely to get any meaningful benefit from at all,” says Baker.

Skin care tip: Check the active ingredients

Ever notice that active ingredients are highlighted separately from the ingredient list of beauty products? They’re always listed on their own, along with what percentage of the total concentration it composes. “Active ingredients tend to be more powerful, and are often tied to therapeutic claims, which must be substantiated,” explains Baker. (A product you may have noticed the active ingredients on is sunscreen, to name one such product). “In practical terms, since ‘actives’ tend to be more potent, and in high concentrations may be harmful, the percentage is disclosed so consumers can make informed decisions about how much of it they are exposing themselves to.”

Do you know what ingredients to look for in beauty products? Find out on the next page …
Skin care tip: Making sense of the ingredients

While Health Canada regulates the labelling on beauty product, the beauty industry is self-governing, so consumers can’t trust that the government has evaluated individual products for safety, says Baker. “In fact, while manufacturers are obligated to notify Health Canada of new products and their formulations, they don’t have to do so until after those products have started selling in stores. That means consumers are using products before they have been evaluated by the government for regulatory compliance,” he says.

So it’s up to you as the consumer to get educated. You can talk to your dermatologist, for starters. Also, you may want to visit the Environmental Working Group website. “While they have retired the program, their
database can still be accessed and it’s an excellent resource that rates virtually every cosmetics ingredient and beauty product in terms of its safety, on a scale from 0 (very safe) to 10 (highly toxic),” says Baker.

He also suggests checking the recently launched
Just Beautiful campaign from Environmental Defence (a Canadian environmental action organization) to get a better understanding of the issues surrounding cosmetics regulations and the need for stricter laws.

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