Makeup brands, products and marketing has changed dramatically in recent years. When I trained I was taught that if a patient was concerned about makeup and sensitivities too simply recommend Almay and Neutrogena for drug store brands and Clinique for department store brands. This advice not only is outdated but just completely unhelpful to my patients. I have had to familiarize myself with the aisles upon aisles of products, brand niches, and multitasking products.
I break down makeup brands into 2 categories:
- Skin care brands that focus on a routine such as cleansing, hydrating, aging and acne prevention, sun blocks. Makeup in these lines complements the overall routine- less focus on wide ranges of color palettes, more focus on camouflaging the occasional blemish and complementing a natural look with an occasional color pop.
- Brands that focus on unique color palettes and combinations. This one includes the wide range of contours, eyeshadows, concealers, eyebrows, blushes, etc. These brands can provide products somewhat transformative overall look. By playing with contours and hues, a dramatic effect can be seen. This would include skin care brands with focus on makeup that evens out the appearance of fine lines and discoloration. (A recent study in Korea showed that makeup gives the impression of a more youthful appearance when products focus on evening out skin tone and discoloration.) Also, as a sidenote, I tend to recommend considering the makeup removers by these brands if you use their makeup. Their removers are probably better formulated to dissolve their ingredients. Some of these pigments can be intense and some can even stain the skin for a little while.
Understanding what each product does and “buzz words” on packages can help avoid making decisions on products that deliver more than you wanted! The most common words I ask patients to be mindful of are things in the category of age defying, ageless, rejuvenating, anti-aging, blemish corrector, etc. These products are good products but often contain not just makeup/pigments, they also contain added ingredients to help the product multitask. If you were not seeking these results, these ingredients often working by exfoliating or peeling the skin for anti aging or anti acne or by swelling the skin temporarily to minimize the appearance of wrinkles. The most common issue that I see when it comes to not understanding labels and packaging is the phrase “spot corrector”. This phrase to some patients translates to “healing”, while to others can mean “bleaching”, and to others can mean “eraser”. I often see elderly patients that will use these to help “heal” in an area on their skin that is having trouble healing and they cannot understand why the area is getting worse!
Which ingredients could pose a potential problem
The most common one people talk about here are the parabens. Parabens are found in lots of beauty products as preservatives. They are also in the category of potentially ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’. In other words, the chemical structure of parabens is very similar to estrogen. The worry is that with a similar structure it could mimic the effects of estrogen. It is not clear how much this can impact our risk of breast cancer or if it could take someone with breast cancer and make it more aggressive. We do know that most of the population has been exposed to lots of paraben in so many personal care products. We do know that our bodies can get rid of it pretty quickly. We just do not know how much is required to cause trouble and how much lingers in our bodies. We do know that more and more companies are using this ingredient less and its not unreasonable to consider daily use products without it. Makeup products used in small quantities and occasionally are less of an issue. If you have a family history of breast cancer or have concerns, then try to look for daily products such as moisturizers, cleansers, and hair products that are paraben free.
I love multitasking products especially when it comes to sunblock. However, I do think it's important to look at the ingredient labels to see what is used to achieve the SPF listed on the label. I prefer Zinc and/or Titanium for sunblock as they are effective and safe. This past summer the ingredients Oxybenzone and Octinoxate got a lot of press when Hawaii issued a ban on their use. The concern was that these ingredients have been shown to be toxic to coral. Several other chemical sunscreens are also thought to be endocrine disrupters as well. When it comes to sunblock, if you can find a multitasking tinted moisturizer or concealer that uses the zinc and/or titanium then this is a great idea. If not, then just use a sunblock you like first and apply then apply other products you like on top.
Nickel is found in lots of eyeshadows and mascaras. It is also a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis. If you have had issues with costume jewelry or metal clasps on pants, then look for nickel free products to minimize your chances of really uncomfortable rashes on your eyelids!
Perfumes and fragrances are often added to a lot of a cosmetic products. They can be a common source of irritation or allergies for many people. This can be frustrating because the products we use to moisturize or treat our skin can sometimes be the same product causing trouble. The biggest issue I run into when patch or allergy testing patients for products is a misunderstanding of some terms. To truly find a product without fragrance look for the words “fragrance free”. The word “unscented” does not necessarily mean there is no fragrance. Unscented just means there is not a noticeable scent. There could actually be scent or fragrance added to mask the scent of the ingredients. Products listed as “fragrance free” may actually have a noticeable smell but its only because fragrance was not added to mask the scent of the other ingredients. You can see how frustrating this can be to navigate for consumers!
Phthalates is often listed by organic or green companies as another ingredient they actively avoid. Phthalates are usually added to products to make them more flexible such as with plastics. They are found in lots of personal care products and are on the list of chemicals thought to be an endocrine disruptor. There are inconclusive studies with possible connections to everything from allergies, male infertility and ADHD and autism. These epidemiology studies are difficult to analyze as we are talking about connecting a common ingredient with relatively common disorders. Its so difficult to say if there is an actual connection without a true mechanism.
Makeup ingredients that have skin-enhancing benefits
Hyaluronic acid tops the list for serums because it is very effective at drawing moisture to it. It’s a little confusing to some people because they worry that it might be irritating because of the word ‘acid’. It is also a bit misleading because many people think that Hyaluronic acid ON the skin will provide the same effect as injected INto the skin as we do with fillers. This is not the case. Hyaluronic acid applied on the skin does not fill under the skin. It actually draws moisture to it and hydrates the skin at the surface so effectively it can give the appearance of minimizing fine lines and wrinkles. In spite of these common misconceptions it’s a wonderful dry skin product. It is ideally used in conjunction with a moisturizer on top of it. The main reason for this is because if the skin is excessively dry, the Hyaluronic acid will still ‘seek’ moisture to pull into it. It may paradoxically dry your skin further if it doesn’t find it!! Remember to apply a moisturizer on top so it can pull this extra hydration in from the product.
Antioxidants are important for our skin to neutralize the damaging effects of the environment on our skin. Vitamin C in particular has an added benefit in that it specifically can prevent discoloration from occurring on the skin by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme that leads to pigment production. Antioxidants also work as anti inflammatories to reduce the redness and inflammation associated with acne.
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is an important anti-oxidant for the skin. An anti-oxidant is something that protects cells from damage. There is some experimental evidence that suggest that Vitamin E may prevent tumors from developing and protect our skin from UV damage. By protecting our skin from redness and swelling and other effects from sunburns, it may protect against cell damage that can lead to skin cancer and wrinkles.
Vitamin E applied topically can penetrate the skin effectively since it is a fat soluble product. When it penetrates the skin it can make the superficial skin layers more hydrated to prevent dry skin that can lead to eczema. It has also been used to manage scars and burns given its ability to help soothe the skin.
Although use of vitamin E is widespread and generally considered to be safe, there are actually very limited studies on vitamin E as an ingredient. However, the studies available do show it to be a promising ingredient to look for but not necessarily more effective than other products that have the same benefits.
Rosehip oil has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. It’s one of few botanical compounds that has been studied and shown to have efficacy in wound healing and as an anti inflammatory. In a study on its effects in wound healing it was shown to accelerate and promote wound healing and improve the appearance of scars. It has essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants. The fatty acids likely give it its hydrating qualities to improve the appearance of fine lines. I find that when it comes to botanicals they are touted for a lot of uses- wrinkles, dark spots, dark circles etc. Rosehip oil does have strong anti inflammatory properties to likely improve the appearance of the skin and help with hydration. I could not find studies to support its effect in treating discoloration of the skin.
Argan oil is also an antioxidanct that has proven clinical benefits for wound repair and repairs the skin’s barrier function.
Coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer with anti inflammatory effects. It’s a great option for hydration of the skin.
SPF (titanium dioxide/zinc)
Consider Zinc and Titanium as a physical block applied to your skin to protect it from damaging UV rays. These are a favorite when it comes to ingredients in makeup because every little bit of protection helps anywhere we can get it! The other role this plays is in preventing scarring from acne or discoloration from melisma. Not only can UV cause skin cancer, it can also increase our risk of scarring, discoloration and premature aging.