Skincare Labels: Read with Caution

At a recent 2-day hiking trip, my room mate was amazed to see my barely-there toiletries pouch. She shook her head in bewilderment, alternating her sight between my pouch and hers.

I shared with her that, having survived a decade-long battle with acne, I observed that the fewer things I apply on my face, the more my skin clear up.  Of course, I also adhered to nutritional advice and a healthier lifestyle. As I browsed through her skin care collection, I began to recall how I used to be attracted to the promising skin care products. Back then, the familiar labels such as hypo-allergic, dermatologist tested, and natural, sounded assuring enough for me to try them out. Unfortunately, most of the outcomes have left much to be desired.

Thinking back, I should have been more diligent in understanding the labels  on the product, rather than subscribing to the promises right away. This post would be like a homework, albeit long overdue, to look into the finer details of the frequent shoutouts on skincare products.

1. The Ingredient List 

“Ingredients are listed in descending order, starting with the largest amount in the product (usually water). If a product touts a particular ingredient (for example honey) and the latter is stated near the end of the list, then not much of that ingredient is present.

2. Hypoallergenic

I used to be blown away by the mention of this term on skincare products. This is due to the fact that my skin gets irritated easily by new products. So, seeing this term gives me a fair bit of assurance. It was not until recently that I learnt that it generally means that the product may produce few allergic reactions compared to other cosmetic products. Most dermatologists find that this has little significance. Marketers, on the hand, bank on this derma-friendly term to promote their cosmetic products. So, even those of us with normal skin may be led to think that these products will be gentler to their skin.

3. Dermatologist-tested.

The term “dermatologist-tested” simply means that the product was reviewed by a dermatologist, a doctor who specialises in treating the skin, hair, and nails. Sometimes, it could be done is such a way that is same as how we would do a simple patch test for ourselves. In short, dermatologist tested does not mean dermatologist endorsed. Your own dermatologist would have a better understanding of your skin condition, and it would be more ideal to consult him or her in this aspect.

4.  Fragrance free or scent free

For those of us with sensitive skin and a low tolerance for fragrance, avoiding fragrances in products is not that straight forward.  Some products contain fragrance not to create a scent, but to mask a strong odour in the formula, and are nonetheless labelled “unscented”, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. “Fragrance-free,” can also mean that no extra fragrances are added to change the product’s naturally occurring aroma. However, some fragrant (and potentially irritating, but otherwise safe) ingredients might be in the original formula already and they can be potentially irritating but otherwise safe.

5. Natural

It’s fairly easy to be drawn to the term “natural”. Most consumers instinctively associate natural being good for the skin. To a certain extent, an all-natural ingredient could genuinely benefit your skin. However, in the world of commerce, the manufacturer may mix a natural ingredient with other harmful preservatives and still market it as an all-natural product. So the discerning user in you should look beyond the word natural.

Skincare is the biggest segment in the beauty industry with its global sales expected to cross $130 billion by 2019. This lucrative market is largely shaped by the ever changing customer demands.  Driven to innovate and market towards these demands, corporations rely on persuasive approaches to reach out to their target consumers. Even with regulatory guidelines, most corporations have been able to work around the scope on product packing towards their business advantage. Therefore, it is up to us, the end user, to constantly adopt a discerning approach towards the use of skin care products.


Abdullah, Ahmed. Simple Skincare, Beautiful Skin: A Back-to-Basics Approach. Greenleaf Book Group. 2012.

Neumann, Nadia. GlowThe Nutritional Approach to Naturally Gorgeous Skin. Page Street Publishing. 2017

US Food and Drug Admimistration “Hypoallergenic Cosmetics” Updated Page March 23 2014. Accessed September 09 017

Share Care. “What is a dermatologist-tested or -approved skin care product?” Accessed September 09 2017

Forbes. Some Of The Key Trends That Will Drive Sales In The Skincare Segment In 2017  Updated February 2 2017. Accessed September 09 2017.

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