Probably better than anyone, desi women know just how vast and complex the beauty landscape can be, especially with the rapidly changing trends in skincare. The next time you end up not buying a worthy product on sale just because you don’t understand what it does or how to use it, refer to this skincare glossary to make a well-informed decision.

Our beauty partner and expert, Paula’s Choice Skincare, is here to help you navigate through the ingredients list on your skincare products.

A Comprehensive Guide To 9 Popular Skincare Terms For Indian Women

1. Retinol

Retinol is the technical name for vitamin A and has over 50 years of research proving it to be one of the best skincare ingredients for improving a variety of concerns including wrinkles, loss of firmness, discolourations, clogged pores, and skin texture. While retinol is often talked about in terms of its amazing anti-ageing benefits, it was first recognised for reducing breakouts, shrinking pores, and improving oily skin. For all these reasons, retinol is considered a multi-tasking superhero ingredient for almost everyone.

2. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a fascinating ingredient with research showing it has significant hydrating and line-plumping properties. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in skin but due to sun damage, pollution, or if you have a compromised skin barrier your skin can’t make enough hyaluronic acid to maintain adequate moisture levels. By applying hyaluronic acid you are supplying skin with one of the more important ingredients it needs for achieving optimal and skin-saving hydration. Along with the hydration, hyaluronic acid is also a very good antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties.

3. Essential Oils

The term essential oils has no defined meaning. It was created years ago as a marketing term to describe plant oils that emit potent aromatic fragrances. While essential oils do have wafting aromas and are touted as cures for many skin problems, research shows they cause far more problems than they solve. Essential oils are damaging to the skin due to the volatile fragrant compounds they contain. When applied topically, these compounds may trigger a reaction that causes inflammation, and all inflammation is bad for skin regardless of the source.

Essential oils are damaging to the skin due to the volatile fragrant compounds they contain. When applied topically, these compounds may trigger a reaction that causes inflammation.

Inflammation from essential oils leads to a disrupted skin’s barrier which increases dehydration and an uneven skin tone, depletes vital substances in skin that are needed for hydration, and causes collagen and elastin to breakdown. This is true, even if you can’t see or feel the irritation taking place from applying essential oils or any other irritating skin ingredients. Fragrance-free oils that replenish and nourish skin and cause no inflammation are best! Examples include jojoba, argan, sunflower, flaxseed, grapeseed, marula, canola, and rosehip oils, just to name a few.

4. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) & Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

A lot of people think exfoliating skin is all about using scrubs or cleansing brushes. It turns out that both are poor options for exfoliation because they are limited in their reach. Even the best scrubs and cleansing brushes (meaning they are gentle and don’t tear at skin) can clean only the very surface of skin. Cleansing isn’t the same as exfoliating, plus the source of the problem is below the surface, beyond where scrubs and cleansing brushes can go.

What can reach those built-up layers without disturbing or tearing at the surface of skin are well-formulated AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid, which is only salicylic acid) leave-on exfoliants. Scrubs and cleansing brushes can’t do a fraction of what AHAs and BHA can do. AHAs and BHA not only gently exfoliate skin, but also increase hydration (yes, leave-on exfoliants are brilliant at increasing hydration), fades skin discolourations, evens skin tone, unclogs pores, reduces breakouts, as well as reinforces, strengthens, and softens skin.

Scrubs and cleansing brushes can’t do a fraction of what AHAs and BHA can do. AHAs and BHA not only gently exfoliate skin but also increase hydration.

AHAs tend to be better for someone with normal to dry skin and BHA for someone with combination to oily skin, however depending on how your skin reacts you can experiment to see which one works best for you.

5. Non-comedogenic

This is a term used to convey the idea that a specific skincare product won’t clog pores but it is a meaningless claim and ends up being little more than a marketing gimmick. The major reason why this is a bogus concept is because there are no accepted testing methods or ingredient restrictions for determining if a product really is non-comedogenic.

Many cosmetic regulatory boards around the world have stated clearly that there are no standards or definitions that regulate the term non-comedogenic. Because you can’t rely on the term non-comedogenic to tell you anything about whether a product won’t clog pores; the general rule to follow is the thicker the product’s consistency the more likely it is to clog pores. The thinner or more fluid and liquid the product’s consistency is, the less likely it is to clog pores.

6. Sulfate-free

Is a term that indicates a shampoo or cleanser doesn’t contain a sulfate-based cleansing ingredient. There are several different types of sulfates found in the world of skincare and hair care such as sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate. Like all cleansing agents, sulfates are very good at their job and they beautifully clean hair and skin. And just like any cleansing ingredient, if it is left on the skin it can be drying or cause irritation.

Study after study and cosmetic regulatory boards around the world have shown the sulfates are not toxic in any way. This myth about sulfates being a problem was publicised by so-called “natural” cosmetic companies

The reason sulfate-free is used on some hair care and skin care products is due to the persistent but completely unfounded myth that they cause cancer. Study after study and cosmetic regulatory boards around the world have shown the sulfates are not toxic in any way. This myth about sulfates being a problem was publicised by so-called “natural” cosmetic companies because a byproduct in the manufacturing of sulfates is a compound called 1,4 dioxane which has been shown to be a carcinogen. However, the amount of this byproduct is so minuscule, it would be like a grain of sand in the ocean.

7. Paraben-free

Parabens are a type of preservative that was once very popular in skincare products. Their popularity was due to the fact that not only are they found naturally in many plants including raspberries, but they were also found to be the most gentle and effective preservatives used in cosmetics. Then in 2004, a study mentioned that parabens were estrogen disruptors and were found in the body. That statement was enough to scare people and the result was many companies stopped using parabens. However, the fact that parabens are found in the body is from food and not cosmetics. Research has shown that when parabens are applied to the skin, they break down and are no longer parabens. They become para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) and are not detectable in the body as parabens.     

8. Antioxidants

Whether you eat antioxidants or put them on your skin, there is abundant research proving they are vital to your health. In essence, antioxidants are molecules that reduce free radical damage caused by sun damage and pollution. Free radical damage is a major cause of skin destruction including collagen and elastin breakdown, abnormal skin cell production, uneven skin tone, redness, and premature ageing of the skin. The skin has its own vast array of antioxidants but because of cumulative sun and pollution damage, these amazing substances are depleted so applying them topically can be incredibly helpful.

9. Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a clear, odourless oil derived from petroleum which comes from the earth and is very natural. Despite this, mineral oil’s association to the petroleum industry is the reason it has been vilified in media around the world for years despite there being no research showing it to be a problem for skin in any way. If anything, the exact opposite is true: Research has consistently shown mineral oil is exceptionally beneficial for healing skin and superior to other hydrating ingredients without any risk of causing irritation or a sensitised reaction. Even pure water isn’t that gentle for all skin types!

The myth about mineral oil began because in its raw form it contains benzene among other impurities, which aren’t good things for the skin. But what’s rarely mentioned in scary stories about mineral oil is that there are two types: industrial and cosmetic/pharmaceutical-grade. Before mineral oils are ever used in any cosmetics or topical medications, they must be highly refined and purified. This process is closely regulated and assayed by strict regulations governing many countries, including those in the European Union and the United States Pharmacopeia.

In many ways this purification process for mineral oils is no different than the way plants are “purified” before being added to a product. When any plant is harvested, the pesticides (even organic plants have traces of pesticides from the surrounding environment and natural pesticides aren’t good for skin either), bugs, dirt, toxins in the soil, and other unwanted substances have to be washed away and decontaminated before any part of the plant can be used as a skincare ingredient.

Do send us any more queries you may have about skincare ingredients. You can leave them in the comments below, or DM us on Instagram and we will have them answered by an expert.

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