The ingredient list every beauty junkie should read

The A to Z of ingredients used in skincare can make or break your beauty routine. Editor Trudi Brewer reveals a list that every woman should read.

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When selecting new skincare it alway pays to read the label. Here's a guide to the most important ingredients to correct, calm and care for your skin.

Alpha Hydroxy (AHAs)

These include glycol acid and salicylic acid and both promise to add radiance, smooth lines and, most impressively, fade dark spots. The reason they're essential to ageing erasing is that they help all the other anti-ageing ingredients penetrate faster and work more effectively. 


Beyond the well-known vitamin C, green tea, pomegranate, CoffeeBerry and idebenone, today there are a plethora of fruits and vegetable, such as chai and kale that are offering promising results in skincare. Their job is to turn harmful free radicals (molecules that form in the body when you’re exposed to UV rays and other environmental assaults) into harmless compounds, so make sure your skincare is brimming with these.  


Colorants in cosmetics are usually strictly regulated by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration). However if you're prone to sensitivity, it might be worth avoiding FD&C yellow colorants, that still show up in cosmetics from time to time.


There is no disputing the fact that formaldehyde is a carcinogen, but most issues come from breathing in the fumes (think dodgy Brazilian hair straightening treatments in small salons with limited ventilation). Other than cheap $2 shop nail lacquers, the FDA and CIR (Cosmetic Ingredients Review) say the tiny levels found in some nail-hardeners are safe for the vast majority of consumers. 


A skin-lightening agent, it is also controversial Known as an age eraser, it's ideal for correcting skin clarity through lightening, it works to refine mottled, pigmented skin, by blocking the enzyme that triggers melanin production, which causes brown spots, deep under the skin’s surface. This needs to be prescribed by a doctor, as it's no longer present in over-the-counter products, and high doses (more than 4 per cent) are not recommended long term. For mild pigmentation consider botanical brighteners such as arbutin, liquorice extract or kojic acid as an alternative. 


The biggest misconception around lead was the minimal traces found in lipstick. The FDA jumped into action and found that they are well within non-toxic levels. Lead is no longer used in cosmetic manufacturing. So, if you were ever concerned about traces in powders and creams, don't be, the amounts are too small to worry about. 


Mercury has impressive antibacterial properties that will help to prevent eye infections, which is why very small amounts can be found in some eyeliners and mascaras. But to err on the side of caution, the FDA have outlawed it in any cosmetic product.

Mineral Oil

This ingredient gets a bad rap for being a top offender in pore-clogging. However today’s cosmetic-grade mineral oil is extra fine, non-irritating and won’t clog pores. It is brilliant for adding a fine occlusive layer over skin as a barrier to the environment, keeping moisture in and baddies out. 


Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) used to be commonly found in nail lacquer for its ability to make nail polish flexible and resistant to chipping. It was banned in some countries and most reputable nail polish manufactures stopped using it years ago, however it has since been found by the FDA to be safe.

Propylene glycol

This is widely used as a humectant (a substance that draws water to the skin) and at the very worst, may cause some skin irritation. The FDA found that some levels used in cosmetic skincare products are well with the safe range, but we would advice a patch test, just in case you have a reaction. 


A derivative of vitamin A, retinol is the gold standard in anti-ageing products and is known by experts as the cure-all for treating fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, open pores, sunspots, crepiness and even sagging skin. It cleverly speeds up cell turnover and sweeps away dead cells that clog pores and sit on the skin’s surface, causing dullness. All the while it works beneath the surface of the skin to boost collagen and elastin, and speed up circulation by increasing blood-vessel formation. It’s the one ingredient that will give skin radiance and clarity within months.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

The lathering agent used in shampoo and toothpaste, SLS is one chemical you can easily eliminate, to help save the health of our oceans, as this is one ingredient that ends up going down the drain. Most reputable hair companies now use natural sulfates derived from coconut extract. However contrary to popular belief, it is not carcinogenic.