Lost in translation

TRACEY STRANGE
Last updated 05:00 23/03/2014
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OVERWHELMED: Skin care is now a time-consuming, multi-step process that leaves us with the sense we're not doing enough to keep ourselves looking good.

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Beauty is big business, and nothing illustrates the point better than $250+ price-points for a pot of the latest, hottest, cutting-edge wonderworker.

And while we're bombarded with information about ingredient advances (plus the reasons why we should buy the aforementioned pots), it can sometimes feel as though it would take a science degree - and the allocation of a few spare weekends - to understand what it all means.

In addition, getting ready in the morning used to be as simple as cleanse-tone-moisturise. But now it's a time-consuming, multi-step process that leaves us with the sense we're not doing enough to keep our skin looking good.

Then there are the buzzwords; those catchy phrases that are meant to mean something but, somehow, you're never quite sure what. Terms like 'cosmeceutical', 'non-comedogenic' and 'dermatologist-approved' all sound familiar - not to mention official - but they can be misleading.

Here's what we mean:

FIRMING

You assume it means: Makes the skin taut.

Really means: There currently isn't an objective way to measure firmness. Claims that a product has been shown to make the skin tighter are likely to be based on consumer perception only.

Look for: Products that plump the skin. Humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin help the complexion retain water, making it temporarily look and feel tighter. Only cosmetic surgery offers a permanent solution to sagging jowls.

NATURAL

You assume it means: Contains ingredients only found in nature.

Really means: It can mean 100-per cent natural but can also mean whatever someone wants it to mean.

Look for: For the consumer, the term natural' can be downright confusing. Some products that claim to be natural, aren't. They may contain natural ingredients, but it's a small percentage. Others have a much higher percentage of natural ingredients but do include small amounts of chemical preservatives to keep them stable. And let's not even get started on the debate surrounding organics.

The best you can do is educate yourself, read labels and, if you're avidly interested in protecting the planet, look out for products made from sustainable ingredients. While things are improving, going natural is actually not as easy as it sounds.

FOR MATURE SKIN

You assume it means: Skincare specially formulated for older women.

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Really means: Products best suited to dry skins.

Look for: Well-formulated, antioxidantrich serums and creams that tally with your skincare issues. "Age is not a skin type," cautions cosmetics watchdog Paula Begoun. "Mature skin isn't automatically dry skin, any more than acne-prone skin is for teens. Women of all ages can struggle with oily skin, breakouts, redness, sensitivity and so on."

DERMATOLOGIST APPROVED

You assume it means: It's officially approved, and therefore better.

Really means: Not very much at all in some instances. Did the dermatologist develop the formula him/herself, or just glance at it?

Many brands, like Neutrogena and Clinique, have a solid heritage of working alongside dermatologists, but not all. And, even so, an "official" stamp doesn't necessarily mean the product will be right for your skin.

Look for: Skincare that contains proven skin-benefiting ingredients, such as certain antioxidants, antiinflammatories, cell-communicators and broad-spectrum sunscreens.

UNSCENTED

You assume it means: No fragrance.

Really means: No perceptible odour. It may contain fragrances to conceal its natural scent. Fragrance-free is probably a better term, although even that isn't always accurate.

Look for: If you are allergic to fragrances, try and test the product on your inner wrist before buying. If there's no reaction by the next day, it shouldn't cause you any problems.

HYPOALLERGENIC

You assume it means: Products that are safe for sensitive skin.

What it really means: Once again, not that much. Some companies do perform skinpatch tests, but the extent of these varies widely.

Look for: It's rare to find across-the counter products containing ingredients that cause skin damage. What can happen, however, is insidious: lowgrade irritation, heightened sensitivity, dryness - all of which can accelerate the natural ageing process.

Generally, if your skin is sensitive, it could pay to eliminate all synthetic colours, fragrances and preservatives from your skincare. Another aspect to consider is whether you are using too many products: a skin whitener to fade sunspots, a fake tan to add colour, a day cream, a night cream, a toner, a wrinkle treatment...

Product overload can be the cause of irritated, itchy and/or blotchy skin. If this sounds like you, simplify your skin regime (cleanse and moisturise only) for three weeks. If there's no change, see a good dermatologist.

COSMECEUTICAL/SUPERCEUTICALS

You assume they mean: Products that are clinically proven to benefit the skin at that all-important cellular level.

What they really mean: Just what constitutes a cosmeceutical or superceutical is up for debate. The terms have become a catch-all for anything from over-the-counter products to the creams you can only get with a doctor's script.

Look for: Once again, it comes down to research. Just because a product is labelled a 'cosmeceutical' doesn't automatically mean it's better - or worse - than one that isn't. If it contains proven ingredients, comes in an airtight container and doesn't break the bank, chances are it's not bad value.

- Sunday Magazine

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