Skin Rules by Dr Jaishree Sharad

Dr Jaishree Sharad

“Excerpted from Skin Rules by Dr Jaishree Sharad with permission from Penguin”.

Once you know what the labels on these products mean, you will be able to buy your basic skincare products easily and not end up wasting money on those that don’t suit you. I shall help you get familiar with some common terms and labels. 

Normal skin, oily skin, dry skin, combination skin, sensitive skin: This has been described already and it only means the product is apt for the skin type mentioned on the label.

This means the manufacturer claims that there are less chances of an allergy with this product. However, this does not mean that the product is sure not to cause any rashes or allergies.

Non-comedogenic: A comedone is a whitehead or a blackhead in medical jargon. Non-comedogenic indicates that the product does not cause comedones. People with oily or acne-prone skin could use this product. However, it does not completely stop acne from occurring. US FDA does not define any ingredient as non-comedogenic or hypoallergenic. And there aren’t any standardized tests to determine whether a product is really hypoallergenic or non- comedogenic. But referring to these labels will at least give you some direction. 

Date of manufacturing and date of expiry: This doesn’t need explanation but please do not be stingy and use products way past their expiry date just because you spent a bomb on them. Check the date of manufacturing and the date of expiry. If the date of expiry is close and you think you won’t be able to finish using the cream, do not buy it. Once a product crosses the date of expiry, its quality begins to deteriorate. 

PAO: This stands for ‘period after opening’. Some skincare products and cosmetics carry a PAO symbol (a number followed by an M and an open jar icon). The PAO tells you when the product needs to be thrown away once opened. For example, a ‘6M’ would mean you should discard the product six months after you  have opened it. Again, this is not 100 per cent reliable. but it is better to follow it. 

Fragrance-free: Manufacturers are allowed to call their products fragrance-free if the ingredients are not included only for the sake of emitting an aroma. However, some fragrant ingredients are used as preservatives or just to give a cosmetic effect to the product and the product can still be called fragrance-free.

Preservative-free: Do not go by this term. A preservative is used to protect just about any product from mould and bacteria. Any product with water in it has to have a preservative as well, otherwise it is sure to decay. Do not be afraid of preservatives. There are many natural preservatives such as vitamins, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, oregano, salts, silver citrate, potassium sorbate and essential oils that can be used safely in products. Products with natural preservatives can last for up to a year. Synthetic preservatives such as isothiazolones, urea derivatives, halogen-organic actives and EDTA are safer than parabens.

Paraben-free: Parabens have been the most common preservatives in any product since the 1950s due to their excellent antibacterial and antifungal properties. However, it was found that parabens mimic the hormone oestrogen by binding to oestrogen receptors. It was thus hypothesized that the use of paraben-based products could cause early puberty, breast cancer and low fertility in males. It has since been proven that for parabens to have effects similar to oestrogen, the dose of the preservative has to be 25000 times more than what is currently used in a preservative. And the link between parabens and breast cancer has also been discredited due to insufficient scientific evidence. Nonetheless, the concentration of propylparaben and butylparaben is limited to 0.4–0.14 per cent in products manufactured in Europe. It has also been banned in diaper products. US FDA has claimed that the current low amounts used as preservatives are safe. There is no cumulative effect of parabens used over a period of time. The percentage used is so small that it gets washed away with cleansing. However, some people are allergic to parabens and develop rashes when using paraben-based moisturizers or anti-ageing creams. There are other preservatives which are safer than parabens and one can opt for these if the skin is allergic or sensitive to them. 

Dermatologist-approved: This does not mean it is FDA- approved. The approval of any one dermatologist, who may even be working for the manufacturing company, is enough to label the product as ‘dermatologist- approved’. So do not go by it.

Clinically tested: No doubt most of the branded products undergo a lot of research. However, there are no regulations as to how the trials are done. We don’t know whether all the ingredients are tested or just one or two active ingredients. Consumers should not be misled by this term.