Is organic skincare really made of all natural ingredients? Do anti-ageing skincare products really work? We debunk some common misleading claims on skincare labels that might be tricking you into buying a product.
The last time that you picked up a new skincare product—was it because its ingredients would be beneficial to you, or because you were enticed by the nice packaging or certain buzzwords used in its advertisement? The skincare industry forms one of the fastest growing and biggest industries in the world, and aggressive marketing and advertising are driving factors for it. With new skincare trends coming up every month, be it the rising popularity of certain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide or retinols, or elaborate skincare routines with multiple-steps using many products, it seems like every skincare product has to offer something unique to stand out amidst the competition.
Skincare products have always promised to solve a certain problem that you might be having, such as dry skin, wrinkles or dark circles. But with the evolving scenario of skincare where all information is at your fingertips and influencers are giving you advice on what you should spend your money on, the language used for marketing has gotten smarter, and skincare labels make use of certain misleading claims to make you buy the product. But much like judging a book by its cover, some of these skincare buzzwords can be deceiving. Here is how you can look out for some of them.
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1. 100% Organic or All Natural
Organic, all natural or vegan products have seen a global rise in popularity in recent years. Organic skincare implies that the product is free of chemicals, and the ingredients used are mostly plant-based, and thus “safer” than chemical-laden skincare products. This is a marketing tactic known as greenwashing: studies published in the journal Sustainability shows that this is mostly a marketing trend. Unfortunately, there is no standardised regulation by the Indian CDSCO, or American FDA about what organic or natural could mean in skincare products. In fact, in India, unlike Europe or the USA, cosmetic companies are also under no legal obligation to provide consumers with information on the ingredients used in their products. Your plant-based moisturiser could have 3% of the plant extract it is advertising, and your favourite 99.9% aloe vera gel may not even have aloe vera as its main ingredient.
Often an accompaniment to the organic tag, “chemical-free” is a misleading claim that makes use of the fear surrounding chemicals in everything that we eat and use, a cultural phenomenon known as “chem-phobia”. But chemicals are not inherently harmful: even water is a chemical. Unless you are using coconut oil directly on your skin, all beauty products contain chemicals. This is because to preserve active ingredients (the ingredients that are meant to help your skin concern) or organic extracts, chemical preservatives are often needed. A product that is claiming otherwise is not being entirely truthful.
3. Anti-ageing or age-defying
We have all been subjected to the advertisements of anti-ageing skincare products with perfectly airbrushed, wrinkle-less models, and fallen for them. As you age, your body produces less collagen and elastin, the substances that enable the skin to maintain its smooth and plump appearance, which leads to the development of fine-lines, crows’ feet or wrinkles. A study published in 2018 titled Efficacy and Safety of an Anti-aging Technology concludes that while over-the-counter day creams and night creams meant for anti-ageing purposes can increase hydration and decrease water loss from skin, giving you an appearance of improved elasticity and reduced fine lines, it is not quite possible for them to reverse signs of ageing.
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4. Dermatologist Recommended
Those with sensitive skin or allergies might look for a seal of approval from a professional. But the term “dermatologist recommended” can be deceiving, as there is no legal definition of this term. It could be that a dermatologist was involved in a certain part of the formulation, or that they patch-tested the product during a study, or that they were paid to endorse this product. A study published in JAMA Dermatology in 2017 showed that there was no conclusive connection between a dermatologist and 178 popular products claiming such. Dermatologists are responsible for helping you figure out your skin care based on your skin concerns, and a generalised tag on a skincare label is far from that.
5. For All Skin Types
Skin type (normal, dry, oily, combination and sensitive) is the most important factor in determining what products will work for you. Studies published by The Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute show that skin type is essential in understanding what kind of products our skin would need. Dry skin will need more moisturising, oily skin will require non-comedogenic products, and sensitive skin will need gentle skincare. It is not possible for a one size fits all product to exist, because each skin type has its different needs.
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6. Instant Results
Your skincare product might give you a temporary boost of hydration, a glow caused by exfoliating, or firming effect that makes you believe in its instantaneous powers, but the truth is that these results are usually temporary. It is generally accepted that skin cells renew themselves every four weeks, although this duration varies depending on your age. Products that promise certain functions like fading dark spots or getting rid of pimples will usually take at least the duration of your skin cycle in order to show results.
We understand “hypoallergenic” to mean that it will not cause any irritation or allergic reactions on our skin. But this is another misleading claim, as there is no one type of sensitive skin. According to a study published in JAMA Dermatology in 2017, research on 178 of the most popular “hypoallergenic” products showed that only 12 percent of them were actually free of common allergens. For a product to be truly hypoallergenic, it would have to be tested on a huge number of people over a lengthy duration of time, but no companies are held to this standard as there is no legal regulation behind this term. Different ingredients can cause different reactions based on your skin sensitivities, and only a trial and error process will help you to figure out what works the best for you.
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