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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Local Article: Healthy Skin Care - Read the Small Print on the Label

Dec 01, 2012 07:00PM
Local Experts Offer Helpful Tips on Marketing Hype

by Linda Sechrist

Internet ads, high-gloss beauty magazines, attractive retail store shelves and late-night infomercials with high-profile celebrities explode with marketing jargon about skin care products that pledge to transform our faces from wrinkled older versions to those of youthful beauty queens. We are assaulted daily with photographic images of beautiful young models selling minute quantities of expensive creams, gels and liquids that promise face-altering results. But how can consumers know if there is really anything in the products they can count on? Although answers about ingredients in skin care vary, experts agree that it pays to be well informed about ingredient contents and the latest trends in marketing language before buying any skin or hair care product.

“It’s essential to approach skin care with the same we attitude that we now have toward our food - the less processed, the better. Skin care products that are all natural, unrefined, and minimally processed often provide the same - if not better - end results as the over-engineered and over-priced version. In many cases, consumers are paying for the brand and marketing of a few “exotic” ingredients, which generally add up to only about 1percent of the total ingredients,” says Brenda Foster, owner of Bubs and Scrubs. Foster makes handmade soap and natural body products from non-petroleum-based 100 percent vegetable oils, herbs and plant-derived exfoliates.

The science of skin care has advanced significantly in its knowledge of how the skin reacts to environmental factors, aging and topical products. However, much has not changed: misleading claims, poor formulations, products containing ingredients that may be harmful to skin, as well as products with prices that reflect the public’s yearning for a “miracle” cream.

The scalp is skin, too

“Ingredient-conscious consumers should also be wary of the contents in miracle products touted for beautiful hair and hair restoration. Read labels to look for the five most common toxins in hair products: sodium lauryl sulfate, Toluene-2,5-Diamine Sulfate, PEG-3Cocamide, aminomethyl propanol, and parabens,” says Shelby Fletcher, color specialist at Sycamore Salon, Newtown’s first organic salon. Owned and operated by Candis Krzaczyk, the salon only uses organically certified products that are PETA approved and free of parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol and other ingredients that have a potentially negative impact on people and the planet.

What’s on the label?

Higher priced products largely do not reflect better quality. To learn the truth about the products you purchase, it’s always wise to start with the label. Hypoallergenic or Good for Sensitive Skin Although products with these labels are supposed to be safe for those with sensitive skin, there are no standard testing restrictions or regulations for 15 qualifying any product to meet these claims. This caveat also applies to the terms dermatology tested, sensitivity tested, allergy tested, and nonirritating. Because there are no standard Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines (source:, products bearing such labels are not required to prove that they are better for the skin than products that don’t make these claims.

“My son and many of my clients have ‘sensitive skin’ or allergies. Using products that are free of sulfates, fragrances, and color are good choices,” advises Candy St Martine-Pack, a Certified Aromatherapist and owner of Green Street Luxuries, which specializes in handmade natural skin care products and services.


This term is used for products that generally don’t contain alcohols that are akin to grain alcohol—denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol and SD alcohol. These are very drying and irritate the skin.

Other types of alcohols, such as cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol and lanolin alcohol, are used in products labeled alcohol-free because they do not have the same effect on the skin and because they are essential as emollients, emulsifiers or thickening agents. Ingredients at the beginning of the list on a label are used in higher concentrations. If one of the drying alcohols is near the beginning, there is a greater possibility of irritation.


The FDA does not regulate this term. Even when labeled fragrance-free, many products contain minute amounts of fragrant plant extracts used to mask offensive odors from other ingredients. Fragrance-free simply means the product does not exude a noticeable aroma. “The term fragrance is considered artificial and chemical-based, whereas the scents from natural plants used to make essential oils are considered beneficial in healing and for many skin issues,” clarifies St Martine-Pack.

Noncomedogenic and Nonacnegenic

According to Paula Begoun, author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, these terms are not regulated by the FDA or any other regulatory board, which means that they have no legal meaning. While mixtures of ingredients are more problematic than any single ingredient, there is no sure way to pinpoint exactly which combinations are troublesome. Choose products with the least number of ingredients and leave products on the shelf, which don’t disclose “trademark” ingredients.

Patented Secrets and Patented Ingredients

There is no such thing as a patented secret. In order to apply for and receive a patent, a manufacturer must specify, in writing, the complete contents and the intended use of a product. A patent is granted when a company can show that a formula or ingredient is in some way unique; the patent then legally defines who can use, sell or make a claim about a specific formula or ingredient (source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Patents do not define the efficacy of any product. When these terms appear on a label, the manufacturer is using a marketing ploy.


This unregulated term refers to a product that purportedly combines the benefits of a cosmetic and a pharmaceutical and implies that these products are more effective than regular cosmetics. Skin care companies whose products are primarily sold or endorsed by dermatologists use the term extensively and can be used freely by anyone in the skin care industry. Most cosmeceuticals with antioxidants, skin lightening ingredients and exfoliants can benefit skin. But less expensive cosmetics contain these “anti-aging” ingredients, too. Learn about these ingredients and how they affect the biological function of the skin before trying them.

All Natural

The FDA has attempted to designate official guidelines and definitions for the word “natural,” but it has yet to be regulated. Companies are free to use the term to mean just about anything although more often than not, it doesn’t mean much at all.

Organic: There are exact standards and national regulations published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that specify what is meant by the organic label on food—no pesticides or chemicals were used to grow it. However, no such regulations exist for cosmetics.

As we choose skin care products and treatments, we are faced with tremendous amounts of information, some of it useful, and some of it marketing hype. Evaluate and compare the product information offered by various manufacturers, as well as their marketing messages. And most importantly, read the labels.

Resources, December 2012

  • Bubs and Scrubs, Doylestown, 267-935- 9199, [email protected].
  • Green Street Luxuries, 617 W. Main St., Lansdale, 267-879-1554; 101 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, 267-879-1554.
  • Sycamore Salon, 9 S. Sycamore St., Newtown, 215-550-6001.

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