The lowdown on beauty buzzwords

KATHLEEN LEE JOE
Last updated 07:30 05/08/2014
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ALL IN THE PREP: Unlike Rosie, most of us don't have professionals on hand to help navigate the complicated world of beauty products.

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You try to avoid foods with preservatives, flavour enhancers and other nasty E-numbers, but how about your beauty products? When it comes to reading labels on eye creams and makeup, things get very complex indeed.

As well as pseudoscientific gibberish like 'fibrology' (ergh) and 'advanced patented technology' (ick) thrown in by unscrupulous marketers, you'll find a laundry list of ingredients written on the package, most of which are completely indecipherable to anyone who hasn't got a degree in chemistry.

As it's smart to be informed about what goes on your body as much as what goes in it, we've done a bit of research into some key buzzwords - from seemingly simple words like 'brightening' and 'smoothing' to more hot-button ones like 'peptides' and 'cruelty free'.

'Organic' and 'Natural'

Though comforting for consumers, the presence of 'organic' or 'natural' on a label doesn't necessarily mean good or high quality - mercury is 100 per cent natural, but that doesn't mean you'd want to slap it on your face by way of a smoky eye.

When it says 'natural', it means the ingredients are derived from nature - whether it be a plant, animal or mineral - as opposed to being produced synthetically. However, it can be applied to any natural ingredient regardless of how it was grown or treated (and that process could involve a vast array of not-so-natural chemicals).

As 'organic' has been overused and gone unregulated to the point of meaninglessness, it's wise to look out for 'certified organic' instead. This means the ingredients have met specific requirements to do with their origin, production and farming processes. Choose products with the Australian Certified Organic 'bud' logo, which means 95 per cent of ingredients within it are certified organic.

'Whitening', 'Lightening' and 'Brightening'

Big in Japan and Korea for years, whiteners, lighteners and brighteners have only recently caught on in Australia.  The terms 'whitening' and 'lightening' are basically interchangeable and refer to products that aim to reduce pigmentation, targeting age spots, post-acne scarring, pregnancy mask and dark spots. 'Brightening' isn't as specific and usually refers to products that promise an all-over glow or radiance to the skin.

A lot of these complexion clarifiers don't actually bleach your skin. The main ingredient in Kiehl's 'whitening' range, for example, is Vitamin C. As well as Vitamin C, choose products with kojic acid (derived from mushrooms), niacinamide (a major component of Vitamin B3), arbutin (a hydroquinone derivative), alpha-hydroxy acids, and retinol.

Despite the claims written on their labels, lighteners and brighteners are by no means miracle workers. While dyspigmentation and acne spots tend to respond well to over-the-counter creams, age spots, sunspots and freckles may only budge with a laser treatment.

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'Anti-Ageing' and 'Anti-Wrinkle'

There are a number of beauty manufacturers tapping into our cultural fear of ageing and releasing creams that promise to make our faces plump and shiny, much like a baby seal. But how do we make sense of the jargon they use?

While 'anti-ageing' takes a broad approach, targeting anything and everything from crow's feet and brown spots to broken capillaries, lacklustre skin and furrows in our brows (what are those seven signs again?), anti-wrinkle is much more specific. Anti-wrinkle products typically host collagen-boosting active ingredients or filling ingredients to specially target the wrinkle. Got a few stray lines around the eyes? Choose anti-wrinkle. Woke up looking like a prune? Anti-ageing may be the way to go.

'Cruelty-Free', 'Animal-Friendly' and 'Vegan'

Be ethically minded when shopping for beauty products and know the difference between these three labels. As Refinery29 sums it up, "Cruelty-free means that the individual ingredients and the finished products have not been tested on animals, whereas animal-friendly is more of a euphemism for vegan products, where no animal by-products are used." If you're unsure about their cruelty-free credentials, it's best to email the company directly and ask.

Given their cruelty-free categorisation, vegan/animal-friendly products may sound like the best option, but remember that honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine and other common animal-derived ingredients may have been replaced with chemical alternatives to create the end product.

'Lifting' and 'Firming'

At-home creams that tout themselves as liquid facelifts may be tempting, but be wary of beauty BS. Cosmetic products aren't able to lift the skin per se, but there are ingredients that'll firm it by contraction. Want a firmer visage? Try products with moisture-trapping emollients and humectants.  AHAs work to stimulate the production of elastin and collagen in the skin, ultimately creating a firming effect. Even caffeine, a diuretic, dehydrates and firms the skin when applied topically.

'Exfoliators' and 'Peels'

There's more than one way to slough off dead skin from your face. When your complexion's looking a bit lacklustre, you've got two options to choose from - mechanical exfoliation (St. Ives Apricot Scrub is always a trusty go-to) or chemical exfoliation known as 'peels'.

The latter involves chemically dissolving dead skin cells with a peel, an enzyme, or other chemical formulation. And while this may bring to mind images of rubbed-raw skin reminiscent of beef Carpaccio, a gentle solution made with alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids can actually be more effective and much less irritating than a conventional face wash because there's no scrubbing or abrasive action.

- Daily Life

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