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How to Decipher Skincare ingredients
Skincare Ingredients

Whether it is a prescriptive moisturizer or an over-the-counter vitamin C serum, you are likely interested to know the ingredients in these products before you apply on yourself. The first thing you need to do is not to look at the product description or precaution – it’s the ingredient list.

Understanding the ingredient list is not something that comes naturally for everyone. In this article, Dr. Siew Tuck Wah, Medical Director of Radium Medical Aesthetics shares with us some basic tips to recognise some of the common ingredients in your skincare product.

Active vs inactive ingredients

In general, skincare ingredients can be segregated into active and inactive ingredients. Active ingredients are what gives the product its beneficial effects. In a skin lightening product, you will see ingredients such as vitamin C, arbutin, green tea extract etc. Whereas for anti-ageing products, you should see peptides in them.

In particular, Radium’s Ageless Night Repair Crème contains dipeptide diaminobutyroyl benzylamide diacetate, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7. It can be a mouthful to pronounce, but you just need to know that these are peptides, a form of amino acids which are the building blocks of certain proteins needed by the skin to induce skin repair and renewal.

Another example is Radium’s Ageless EGF Repair Serum. One of the ingredients found at the top 5 of the list is rh oligopeptide 1, a placental protein derived from animals. It is powerful as it directly stimulates the proliferation of epidermal cells. When added Ageless EGF Repair Serum, it encourages wound healing and promotes skin renewal.

Inactive ingredients can be a bit more daunting, but they generally fall into a few categories:

EMOLLIENTS They are usually used in ointments, creams and lotions. Many plant extracts and oils are emollients and they are good for the skin because they soothe, heal and soften the skin. Examples of emollients include borage seed oil, algae, almond oil, apricot kernel oil, argan oil, avocado oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil, linoleum acid, phosphatidylcholine, walnut oil, shea butter, scalene acetyl esters, glyceryl esters and ceramides.

HUMECTANTS These compounds attract water and form hydrogen bonds with water and draw water from the dermis into the skin. One clue is to look for the word “glyceryl”. If you find this word in your ingredient list, it probably has the property of hydrating your skin.

Examples of synthetic humectants are butylene glycol, urea, glycerin, sorbitol. Dicyanamide, sodium/ magnesium/ calcium/ potassium PCA, sodium lactate, and palmitoyl proline.

Examples of natural humectants are hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, honey, seaweed, bifida ferment

natural – HA, allow vera, AHA, honey, seaweed, bifida ferment lysate, avocado oil, squalene, vitamin B3, tripeptide -29, and phospholipids.

CHELATING AGENTS These compounds bind with metal ions or metallic compounds, preventing them from adhering to the skin or hair or causing contamination. They are not considered preservatives, they just help to kill microbes by starving them and disallowing them to grow.

Some common chelating agents are tetrasodium EDTA and tetrahydroxypropyl ethylenediamine.

EMULSIFIERS These agents keep the product together and prevent them from separating into their individual components. To give you a better idea on how to recognise them, they often have a number such as c11-15 pareth 7 , sorbet -230, tridecedeth – 12, and PEG – 75.

PRESERVATIVES This is self-explanatory. Preservatives are added to skincare products to allow your products to enjoy a longer shelf life. Examples of preservatives that are commonly added to skincare products are phytosphingosine, 1,2-hexanediol, butylparaben, ethylparaben benzoic acid , caprylyl glycol, and phenoxyethanol.

Try to avoid sodium sulphite if you have sensitive skin.

TEXTURE ENHANCER Often added to skincare products to tighten and minimise appearance of enlarged pores and rough bumps on the skin. It improves texture of products, giving the products a richer, more luxurious texture. Examples of texture enhancers are caprylic/ capric triglyceride, oleic acid, xylitol, acrylate, gum, castor oil, butylene glycol, and beeswax.

One popular texture enhancer is silicone. It leaves a silky texture on the skin, giving the face a smooth, matt appearance. A clue to whether a product contains silicone is to look out for words such as dimethicone, siloxane, and simethicone. An example is cyclopentasiloxane.

FRAGRANCES Adding fragrance to skincare products is not a necessity. Most of the time, adding fragrance to cosmetic products helps to hide the unpleasant aroma, especially if the ingredients are naturally derived.

As much as possible, try to avoid using products with added fragrances because they may irritate your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin. You can, however, consider products with added essential oils as these are natural and have lower chance of adverse reaction to your skin.

How do I know if a product is suitable for me?

Choose a product which targets your skin condition – whether you have acne-prone skin, pigmentation, dry skin, or ageing skin with wrinkles. These products will have suitable active ingredients that can address your skin concerns.

If you have sensitive skin, please be careful when using a new product as it may cause an allergic. You can start by testing out the product on a small inconspicuous patch of skin such as behind the ear. Also read the ingredients labels as ingredients such as fragrances can be irritating.

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