What’s in a Name? Not as Much as What’s in the List of Ingredients

I shall be so bold as to claim that for most of us the tryst with skincare began accidentally, or rather, somewhat awkwardly. Whether it began whilst rummaging through the curious looking bits and bobs along our parents’ sinks or on their dressing tables or was sparked by a suspect advertisement, it is not far reaching to say that we dived in headfirst but utterly clueless. We did of course (and do still) know of remedies that our grandparents would not let us unlearn, but there was something grossly inviting about brilliantly coloured, chemical-laden face soaps, masks, creams and the like. Far too young to use a face wash though I was, I marvelled at how it dried my skin – no, I do not celebrate that now – and thereafter used it every day of my life, morning and night. It is hot and humid where I live and so I would wreak havoc on even the slightest trace of oil on my face. With no heed paid to routine or any idea of the harm I was doing my skin, I would wash and wash and wash my face.

Through school it seemed that every person my age would do the same. College and its accompaniments – stress, little to no sleep, coffee, coffee and coffee – changed my relationship with my skin. I was forced to make acne’s acquaintance and so was inducted to the world of the ten-step skincare routine, the world of oil cleansers, foam cleansers, exfoliators, toners, essences, treatments, sheet masks, eye creams, moisturisers and sunscreens; expensive and exhausting but exciting nonetheless. ‘Ato ghosha-ghosi koro na’ (meant here: let your face be), I would hear from my family. Everybody had a remedy to offer – a dermatologist’s number, essential oils, dietary changes. I will concede that nothing worked immediately.  I do not presume to add to the discourse on acne-treatment. However, I will say this: it is important to have information. When informed, you have the power of choice. Read, read and read. More specifically, read ingredient lists.

Whether a product will do your skin wonders or harm is ultimately decided by what it is made of. For instance, had I known to look for sulphates – sodium laureth sulphates, alkylbenzene sulphonate, sodium cocoyl sarcosinate – and known their effects, I might have won a more decisive victory against acne. Sulphates are essentially detergents with which most cleansers are made. Yes, they do (very effectively) separate dirt and oil from the skin. However, in doing so, they also strip the skin of vital, healthy oils and leave it dangerously dry and imbalanced. If you pay close attention, you will find that, if dry, your skin will actually produce more oil so as to compensate for the imbalance and so continue to break out. Additionally, it is wise to be mindful of whether products in your possession consist of artificial fragrances, dyes and parabens. Parabens – methylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens – are in more things than imaginable. They are cosmetic preservatives. Although the effects of parabens are still contested, it is known that they are easily absorbed and so can pass through the body and potentially disrupt hormones. Even products that claim to be natural but do not make mention of the preservatives they use (there do exist organic preservatives) are, in all likelihood, made with parabens. While on the subject, it must be said that a product may market itself as being made of a particular natural ingredient but the extent to which it is actually used, if at all, is revealed only in the (minutely lettered, hardly discernible) list of ingredients. Also, certain natural ingredients may not agree with your skin, especially if you are prone to allergic reactions, which is why, again, it is imperative to know your ingredients and know your skin.

All else aside, skincare is personal; what you do or do not do with your skin is your prerogative. However, if you know all that there is to a product, you can choose to either use it or not with unabashed confidence.

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