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Some skincare ingredients aren’t very good for your skin, and ingredient labels can be confusing. Here is your simplified guide on what to look for, what to avoid and ingredients that sound complex but are actually good for the skin.
Ingredients are listed from highest concentration to lowest. If your active ingredients are near the top, you probably have a potent, effective product.
If your actives are listed near the bottom, double check the ingredients at the top, as there might be a lot of unnecessary fillers.
To save you time deciphering the ingredients, most labels will have a “no nasties” section where they list what isn’t in the product. Below are ingredients you probably want to avoid (and some better alternatives).
Ingredients that end in cane or cone such as dimethicone, are almost always silicone based.
Silicone based emollients are inexpensive and they feel nice, so they’re often used as a filler or a skin conditioning agent. The problem is that they occlude the pores and cause congestion or breakouts. They also tend to have larger-sized molecules, so they can interfere with absorption of your active ingredients.
Not all emollients are bad, though. Natural, silicone-free emollients can benefit the skin. Macadamia Seed Oil, for example, have the same lipid structure as our skin, so they absorb well and help the skin stay soft and moisturised without occluding the pores. It’s the silicone that can make some emollients problematic.
These may be labelled as Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs), Mineral Oils, Paraffin or Benzene. They may be used as a thickener, a moisture carrying agent or a filler. They’re produced from petroleum, yes, the same petroleum fossil fuel that is pumped from the ground to make electricity and gasoline.
If an ingredient has propyl in its name, it may have been derived from petroleum, but not in every case.
These are easy to spot as they’ll often have paraben in the ingredient name. For example; methylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens.
Parabens are both a preservative and an item of controversy. They are one of very few ingredient groups that can enter the bloodstream through your skin. There is evidence to suggest that parabens, particularly in combination with other chemicals, may contribute to breast cancer development. However, the research community is somewhat divided on whether there is a direct link.
RejuvAus founder Dr Garry Cussell recommends steering clear of parabens. All RejuvAus products are paraben, silicone and petroleum free.
Sulfates are a class of surfactant found in cleansers. Surfactants suspend dirt, oil and debris so it can be easily washed away.
Sulfates can be irritating, drying or sensitising to the skin.
Common sulfates include; Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).
A safer, less irritating and sulfate-free surfactant is Decyl Glucoside, which is plant derived and often used in baby shampoo or cleansers for sensitive skin. It’s gentler, more natural, and it biodegrades faster, so it’s not likely to leave residue or dry the skin out.
These are often labelled as just fragrance or parfum without including the ingredients in the artificial fragrance, many of which can be irritating to the skin.
Natural fragrances are often made from essential oils, which can be very strong in their pure forms, but safe when formulated in low concentrations. Lavender and Litsea oils, for example, can actually be anti-inflammatory when formulated properly.
A lot of synthetic, irritating or occlusive ingredients have long chemical names, but that doesn’t mean that every ingredient with a long chemical-sounding name is bad. Many clean, beneficial skincare ingredients have long names, too.
sh Oligopeptide-1, Tetrapeptide-30, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide.
These names might sound concerning, but they shouldn’t be. They’re all forms of collagen peptides, which are basically proteins that help nourish your collagen fibres and support collagen regeneration to keep your skin looking youthful.
Retinaldehyde and Retinyl Palmitate are just different forms of Vitamin A (Retinol). In fact, they have the longest names, but the lowest irritation of all Vitamin As.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, and most ingredients with ascorbyl in the name are just different forms of Vitamin C.
Panthenol is Vitamin B5, Niacinamide is Vitamin B3, Tocopherol is another term for Vitamin E.
All of these vitamins have numerous benefits for your skin.
The ingredients label on your skincare will probably have the Latin names for plant-based ingredients, such as Calendula Officinalis (marigold). It may sound less natural, but the reason is that regulations in certain countries require Latin names to be used.
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