All About Ingredients

As you may have noticed, every one of our product reviews contains a full list of ingredients. Pause for a moment to consider how much time that takes us, how it taxes our typing and spelling skills, and how it degrades our vision to scrutinize those tiny labels printed in non-contrastive colors (La Prairie is the absolute worst!). But that's OK. We're here for you. We punish ourselves in this manner not simply because we're codependent messes desperately trying to earn someone's - anyone's - affection, but also because we know that understanding ingredients is one of the keys to knowing whether a product is likely to be worth the money charged for it. It will also allow you to see at a glance whether the product in question contains ingredients that might cause you to (a) break out with zits the size of an SUV, (b) become red and irritated or (c) experience spontaneous past life regression. Indeed, we consider this knowledge so important that we ourselves never buy a product without first perusing its ingredient list. Stores that give you direct access to the packaging, like Sephora and drugstores, make this quite simple. But in traditional department store displays, where the products are removed from their packaging, can be challenging. Or not, as the case may be. If you're at a department store, by all means sample the testers on the counter. However, before you buy just sweetly ask the salesperson to see the box. They will initially look at you like cattle staring at a new gate, because no one ever asks them to do that. Just persist until you get the package in hand. Then read and heed.

Here's one tip that is worth remembering. If you are looking at a very high-priced cream, lotion or whatever, and its ingredient list consists entirely of things like "stearyl alcohol" and "glyceryl stearate" or "butylene glycol", think twice about the price you are paying. Because all of these ingredients are utterly basic industrial ingredients that are found in any and all skin care products. There's nothing wrong with them, and there may be nothing wrong with the product in question. But if you're being asked to fork over $50 or more for something that contains only such ingredients, then you are being ripped off. It's like being charged $5 for a cup of Folgers. Recall that the order of the ingredient list indicates the amount, roughly, of each ingredient. So even if there is one or two interesting ingredients in the list, if they're at the end of the list, that means the product contains about a molecule each. There are some skin care lines that are, to us, notorious for this scam. Chief among them is that dreadful Issima line from Guerlain.

But we digress. On this page we've organized all the links we know of that usefully summarize and discuss ingredients. We've annotated each link to give you more info. Please take the time to peruse these and become familiar with the basic ingredients. This knowledge will make you fierce and fearsome consumers of skin care products - just like us.

Botanical Extracts:
Many products contain botanical extracts, but list them giving their Latin names (and we don't mean Ricardo). The CFTA (Cosmetic, Fragrance and Toiletry Association - an industry group) web site contains a comprehensive listing of the latin names of botanical ingredients with their English equivalents. You can find it here:

Other Ingredients:
Once you know that cymbopogon schoenanthus is lemon grass, you might begin to wonder what all those other ingredients are. Here are some site links that explain them for you:

This page gives a very good general overview of ingredient laws and practices, and provides (at the bottom of the page) a poorly-formatted but nevertheless useful list of common additives and their purpose. It breaks them down by functional category, which makes it easier to understand. Go here:

BASF, the German chemical conglomerate, maintains a great page on their ingredients web site that lists a host of ingredients and their uses. One of the best:

take me home, bud!