BLT Mom Presents: How To Read Skincare Ingredients Lists

By Susie

  • Just like with food, it makes sense to look for cleaner and healthier ingredients in your skincare products
  • But ingredients list can be so overwhelming to understand!
  • Susie applies her BLT (busy-lazy-tired) Mom approach and shares a few tips to make this easier

Once I had kids, I became more mindful or what they were eating and what I was putting on their body. I tried to buy organic food when I could, researched diaper, lotion, shampoo, and toothpaste brands.

At some point I read an article that bread only needs five ingredients which was appealing to me, but when I looked at the organic one I was buying, it was still a lengthy list. That sent me down the rabbit hole of trying to understand the ingredient lists on food.

To this day I still need to look at my notes to remember what is what – enriched, bleached, whole grain vs whole wheat – it’s a lot to get through but I consider this a helpful exercise and time well-spent for the health of my family.

I started to think that I was spending a lot of time investing in what my kids were using but didn’t apply the same thinking to myself. I was hearing more and more about “clean beauty” but at first, I assumed it wouldn’t be as effective as what my acne prone skin needed.

As I started to get better about having a solid routine, I swapped out my products for cleaner versions and my skin continued to improve. I realized having a good routine and habits was the base and the product was just there to augment. If so, it made sense to look for cleaner and healthier ingredients, just like with food.

So, I went down the rabbit hole again trying to understand skincare ingredients this time. Again just like with food it was perplexing at first, but I learned a few key things to look for:       

  • Names of ingredients can be deceptive – they all sound like chemicals to me. I learned there’s a lot of online resources that you can type the name in and quickly see how it rates on a toxicity scale or if it’s good for you (Try this if you need a resource). For example, Ascorbic Acid is another name for Vitamin C and Butyrospermum Parkii is an overly complicated name for simple shea butter. Don’t be scared by the names, it’s easy to educate yourself with a simple good search of what it really is.
  • Ingredients are listed from highest concentration to the lowest concentration. As a rule of thumb, I look at the first 5-6 so I know what the product is mostly made up of. For example, I love product with Vitamin C – it has done wonders to brighten my skin and create a smoother texture. So when I see a product that claims to have it, I want to see ingredients like Ascorbic Acid or 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid within the first few ingredients so I know it’s effective.
  • In terms of the ingredients themselves, the list can be unnecessarily long. That’s why I love the minimalist approach Soffli takes with just 15 or less proven ingredients. In general though, if you’re dealing with another overwhelming ingredients list that spans into the 40s or 50s, at least know what to avoid:
    • Drying alcohol – it strips and dries the skin and can be very irritating.
    • fragrance/parfum – within the U.S., fragrance as an ingredient can be used to encompass hundreds of other ingredients so if you see it on a label you really have no idea what’s in it. What is especially disturbing to me is my daughter informed me some fragrance has whale poop in it. Not only can fragrance be irritating to the skin, I don’t want to risk putting whale poop on my face. Hard pass.
    • Parabens and phthalates – they’ve have been linked to hormonal disruption.
    • Ethanolamines ( DEA/TEA/MEA) or mineral oils – they may be contaminated with chemicals which are linked to cancer.

    Ingredients are complicated – it’s not as easy as right or wrong and different skin types need different things. As a busy, lazy tired mom dealing with a gazillion problems a day, my philosophy has become, if an ingredient doesn’t need to be in a product then it shouldn’t be there.

    Just like my 5-ingredient bread example, less is more when it comes to skincare ingredients. Not only do I know my skin doesn’t need a ton of stuff, a shorter ingredients list saves me so much time and effort when I’m actually trying to understand it for the health of my skin!