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The Truth About Cosmetics

There’s no doubting the fact that most women will use cosmetics at least once in their lives. But what makes cosmetics so interesting is its different forms that have existed as far back as ancient Egypt when women adorned themselves with ochre as their rouge, and malachite to enhance their eyes.

Cosmetics are defined as products whose sole purpose is cosmetic, or more simply put, to produce a superficial improvement. The right cosmetic can certainly improve the appearance of the skin but how can you decide which is the best product for you? One way is to learn how to interpret the ingredients list.

Generally, the active ingredients are usually found among the first five items, with the others just added to keep the product stable or make it look, feel or smell nicer. Remember that just as product price does not correlate with a cosmetic product’s effectiveness, neither does an exotic or scientific sounding ingredient make a difference either.

How “special” are special ingredients?
How exactly do special ingredients work? Take amino acids for example. These are the building blocks of proteins which in turn, are the building blocks of our body. They are often added to cosmetics in order to “nourish” and rebuild the skin’s structure. The truth however, is they cannot penetrate the skin but remain on the surface and help the stratum corneum cells retain moisture and plump the skin up, making them good moisturizers.

A lot of cosmetic products also contain collagen, the structural protein that lends support to the dermis and the overlying skin. Degeneration of collagen in the dermis results in wrinkles and sagging skin. However, collagen is a large molecule and cannot penetrate the skin. The only way collagen can get into the dermis is when it’s injected. This is why doctors have to inject collagen into the dermis to smooth out wrinkles and scars. The collagen in creams merely plump up the stratum corneum and are, in fact, good moisturizers as well. The same goes for elastin, a protein that is already found in the dermis.

A great deal has been claimed about the beneficial effects of vitamins especially the so-called anti-oxidant vitamins A, C, and E. The anti-oxidant vitamins are supposed to sponge up free radicals—which are produced by a number of environmental factors such as UV rays, pollution and smoke—before they cause damage. Recently, a number of vitamin C formulations have been introduced in the market which are able to penetrate the skin but at the moment these are only available from doctors.

Vitamin A compounds such as retinol, retanyl palmitate and retanyl acetate are found in so-called “anti-wrinkle” creams and may give the impression that they reduce wrinkles. The fact is, they don’t. Most doctors believe that the concentrations are too low to be effective. The only effective form of vitamin A is tretinoin which has to be prescribed by a doctor.

Although vitamin E or tocopherol acetate is an anti-oxidant, there is no proof that it actually works. Very often vitamin E is added to cosmetics as an anti-oxidant to prevent the product from going rancid and not for its activity. This is one of those cosmetic ingredients that one will usually find towards the end of the list.

Where there are cosmetics containing vitamins, there are (more often than not) also minerals. Trace elements are essential for health so they too have been added to cosmetics to give the impression of some health benefits. Selenium and zinc have anti-oxidant properties and have been added to cosmetics, as well.

Aside from these, there are other secondary ingredients that one can find on the label of cosmetic packages. Due to the different skin types, cosmetic manufacturers will spend time and resources to formulate what they think is most suitable for a particular type, which results in shelves of products that lead to an irksome shopping experience for the consumer.

If keeping tabs of cosmetics and their different ingredients is too much of a hassle, one can concentrate instead on caring for the skin so that it won’t need to be covered by cosmetics.
Karla Gae Pascua
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