Do You Know What's Really in Your Skincare Products?

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I remember years ago when consumers first began to become incredibly conscious about what was in their skin care products, and when the combined realization occurred that ingredients are listed in order from highest amount, all the way down to what's used in a smaller amount in the product.

This enhanced awareness was great, as it also pushed companies to put safer and higher quality ingredients into their products, however, it also came with a lot of push-back, as consumers (including myself) couldn't understand why "water" was predominantly the first ingredient in many products.

It lead to a spreading rhetoric that skin care products with "water" as its first ingredient were merely watered down and ineffective, and it didn't help that the primary ingredients listed in the title of the product would often be further down the line.

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Why is "Water" the First Ingredient in My Skin care Products?

Especially when it comes to creating creams and lotions, it is of high importance to have water in the product. In most cases--and as you may have been able to observe--water tends to be the first ingredient. This is due to the property of emulsion.

As the popular saying goes, "oil and water don't mix," and this is also the case when it comes to formulating skin care ingredients.

In order to cause oil blends, nourishing ingredients, chemical exfoliants, and even synthetics to combine, formulators must use "emulsifiers," which can be solid ingredients that melt down with the presence of oil, allowing the mixture to become solid or creamy when added to water and cooled down, or solid ingredients that cause the mixture to maintain a gel or semi-liquid consistency.

However, due to the needs that these emulsifiers have, it tends to be crucial to have large amounts of water or nourishing liquid ingredients in order to properly bind everything together.

a picture explaining how skincare products are formulated

Why are the "Key Ingredients" Listed so Far Down the Line?

Knowing that the ingredients list on products is organized from highest amount contained in the product to the lowest amount contained in the product, you may be wondering why the key ingredients of products may be listed further down the line. Read on to find out four reasons why your key ingredients are appearing lower than you may like them to!

  • Potency of Ingredients
    • The reason that this tends to be the case, is that the key ingredients tend to be the most potent of the bunch, meaning that you don't require as much as them in order to make an impact on the skin. If the ingredient in question is incredibly rich and nourishing, it may be best to have a smaller quantity represented in the product.
  • Cost Efficient Products
    •  There's also the case of cost efficiency. Many key ingredients can be quite expensive, and depending on the retailer that you are getting skin care products from, they may choose to use smaller portions of expensive ingredients to keep a $20 product from becoming a product that must become more expensive in order to make a profit.

  • The Less, The Better
    • Having too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, especially when it comes to skin care. Take for instance, chemical exfoliators or even synthetic hydrators. Ingredients like these sometimes only need to be 1% of the entire product's volume in order to have results. In some cases, pushing the ingredient past its limits and pushing more into the product than intended can cause the skin to become inflamed or sensitized when applied. 
  • Having Stable Products
    • Stabilization is especially important from the formulator's point of view. When it comes to Hyaluronic Acid, having more than 2% can cause the product to become so thick that it may not properly mix or it may not properly be able to be utilized as intended. Depending on the molecular weight of the product, it can break if too much is added, which will lead to improper emulsification.
image helping users understand why and how skincare ingredients are formulated

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