When researching skincare ingredients, there are unbiased resources and biased resources of information. I want to help you decide what’s relevant and what isn’t quickly. A quick breakdown of the two follows:
- Marketing copy – These are product descriptions and blurbs, print ads and TV commercials. Beauty companies are under no obligation to give you the hard facts. The purpose of a marketing ad is to focus on the positive and/or to downplay the negative. I don’t pay attention to product descriptions – ever. The point is to sell you the product, and the information is obviously biased. Lots of emphasis is placed on flowery writing and painting a great picture of a product. Telling you that a certain clay or mud is from some remote forest in Brazil says absolutely nothing, but it’s a pretty picture, right?
- Ingredient suppliers – Again, the point of a supplier is to sell you a product. They’re not as biased as beauty companies and sometimes they’ll pay for their own research and publish the information on their website, or you can request a data sheet. But again, the outcome of their testing can be manipulated easily by a cosmetic scientist or the person who is presenting the information on their website.
- Brand-owned cosmetic dictionaries & glossaries – There’s a trend where beauty brands are publishing their own ingredient dictionary on their websites. You’ll see this often among the organic, all natural brands that engage in “green-washed” marketing ads. They know their audience and know ingredients are important to their customers. They have complete control over the information presented to you and in my own experience, I can tell you that they can be misleading. Be aware that the emphasis is usually placed on what an ingredient does internally. I can tell you that “ingredient X” contains lots of Vitamin C, and while it may be true, it rarely translates to skincare benefits.
- Scientific journals, reference publications & patents – Some are better than others, but for the most part, they’re unbiased sources of information. The important thing is to isolate the double blind, randomized studies, which are the gold standard. Often times, there isn’t one. Studying cosmetic ingredients to help your wrinkles isn’t as important as say, studying new cancer drugs. It also costs money and getting a grant to study the effects of a new ingredient for skincare applications isn’t easy – which is why you’ll often see companies with money heading that initiative (L’Oreal, for example).
- Reference books – There are a few that are considered the “gold standard” in the beauty industry. However, there are two caveats to be aware of: they go out of date quickly and unless otherwise noted, the focus is often on internal/nutritional effects of ingredients.
- INCI & industry pros – I’m always reading up on the latest blog posts from cosmetic scientists. There are a handful out there with their own blogs/websites and I suggest you google and find someone to follow. I will say though, that doctors, estheticians and plastic surgeons are great too, but they are often misled by research, are being sponsored by a drug or brand or push their own products. I won’t write them off for that but it’s an obvious sign to me that they’re not focused on the factual data out there.
The best advice I can give you is to consider the motivation of the source. Here are the questions I ask myself when researching the information I use on this website:
Are they trying to sell something?
What method of study are they referencing? What kind of trial? Was there a placebo? What is the ingredient being compared to?
Were the findings published in a peer-reviewed journal? Can anyone read and review it or is it private?
What year was this information published? Is there new info out there?
Does this information refer to internal/systemic/nutritional applications as opposed to skincare and cosmetic?
So what sources do you use? Please share! I’m always on the lookout for something new to read and follow.