As someone who immediately passes any board game instructions to the player next to me to decipher, I completely understand why that exhaustive list on the back of your skincare packaging can be so overwhelming.
However, learning to understand what all those long, ‘science-y’ words mean can save you money in the real world and no, I’m not talking that multi-coloured Monopoly money.
As a beauty editor, I’m shocked at the number of times I’ve seen a hyaluronic acid serum on the shelf only to turn it round and find its namesake ingredient way down at the bottom of the list (more on what this means later). This is exactly why I’d never discriminate between a drugstore and a luxury product.
I know that as soon as I bring out the chemical names you’re going to switch off, so I’m going to break this down into snippets that are as digestible as a loaf of Warburtons. But remember, attempting to process this information or even better, bookmarking it, will save you money and stop you getting ripped off.
Where to find the ingredients list
I told you. Easily digestible content.
Every skincare product legally has to have an ingredients list, which you might have also heard referred to as an ‘Inci list’. If you can’t find it on the back of the bottle/tub, check the packaging as some brands will only have it listed on the outer cardboard or hidden away under a peelable sticker.
Similarly, luxury brands have a habit of printing them off on a little fancy pamphlet inside the box. If that is the case, head to the brand’s website where the list should also be printed.
Remember this one rule
Inci lists are written in order of percentage. The first ingredient is the highest percentage in the formula, and the last ingredient will have the lowest percentage. So, if you’re buying a niacinamide serum and don’t see ‘niacinamide’ until the second to last ingredient, chances are this isn’t one to *add to basket*.
Water, water everywhere
9/10 times, ‘aqua’ (aka good ole H20), will be the number one ingredient on most skincare lists. This isn’t a rip off or a scam; it’s the base which all these good-for-skin chemicals are mixed into. Remember, this isn’t a packet of ham; high water content is okay here.
Get to know your ingredient basics
Essentially, you need to bookmark Eliza’s A-Z of key skincare ingredients that we have very helpfully written for you here.
Remember, if you’re buying a glycolic acid serum, look for its ranking on the inci list. If it’s not in the first quarter of the list, I recommend finding another one.
However, it could also have other great exfoliating acids like lactic and mandelic, which you won’t necessarily know unless you read the label and know your ingredients.
Cones aren’t just for ice cream
A good rule of thumb is that anything ending in a ‘cone’ i.e dimethicone is a silicone. Silicones give products a silky, smooth texture (think Benefit Porefessional), but if you’re anything like me and even the thought of putting that on your face makes you shudder, be wary of ‘cone’ filled formulas.
Not all alcohol is bad
You may know that alcohol in skincare is bad for your skin as it’s extremely drying, however if you see ‘cetyl alcohol’ high up on the list, don’t be hasty.
This is actually a different form (a fatty one) that is used to help combine the other ingredients in a moisturising emulsion. However, treat all other alcohols with caution; you’ll particularly notice these high up on any aerosol products.
If in doubt, get a second opinion
Ingredient names get tricky when it comes to vitamin C, which comes in different forms, each with different names (i.e. Ascorbic acid) or hyaluronic acid, which also can be referred to as sodium hyaluronate.
If in doubt, use the website INCIDecoder where you can upload a picture of the list, or copy and paste, and it will explain what each and every thing does.
Just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Skincare is a science, and all these ingredients are chemicals, even water.
Now, go, make haste. Those beauty halls are waiting for you and your newfound knowledge.