Thursday, 14 March 2013

8 Biggest Beauty Jargon Terms Explained (editorial)

It's confusing... © 2008 arte_ram
I know that some of the terms used in the beauty industry can be confusing; they're notorious for making up words or boasting about patents and formulas and are often full of promises peppered with scientific sounding terminology. There's quite a bit of marketing jargon that really doesn't mean anything at all and is designed to merely sound impressive, but on the other hand some terms are useful if you appreciate their true meanings. I hope this little guide will help you to identify and clarify some of the jargon and clear the way for more confident, enlightened beauty product shopping.

Technically this means a product won't block your pores and cause blemishes. However, any claims made that a non-comedogenic/non-occlusive product can reduce acne is unproven. More to the point, these terms may sound impressive, but they are not determined by scientific guidelines, so be sceptical. It's almost comical that a product containing mineral oils can be described as non-comedogenic/non-occlusive. The biggest pore blockers in the industry are petrolatum and paraffinium liquidum, which are, of course, mineral oils!

Dermatologically Tested
This term is not exclusive to cosmetics, it's also found on laundry detergent packaging and implies that a product is 'approved' or 'certified' by a dermatologist. This is not exactly the case, however. For starters there is no stock test for cosmetics (or laundry detergents) and therefore standards vary massively between manufacturers. The tests themselves are rarely explained – if at all – and tend to be deceptively vague. WHICH? (a British consumer group) contacted Accantia, Beiersdorf, The Body Shop, Boots, Clarins, Johnson & Johnson, Lever Fabergé, L'Oréal, Procter & Gamble and Revlon about their testing procedures and the responses were effectively a whitewash. Clarins and Revlon refused to provide any information whatsoever! So in summary do not take 'dermatologically tested' as some kind of guarantee of non-irritation or skin suitability.  Until some kind of industry-wide standard is drawn up, it's utterly meaningless.

Related and linked to dermatologically tested, this term dates back to 1953, and suggests a product is theoretically a low allergen product. There is no official guideline on how to classify a hypoallergenic product, so standards vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. There are even some common irritation trigger ingredients included in so-called hypoallergenic products, as it's impossible to exclude every potential source of allergens. Your best bet if you suffer from certain conditions is to cut down on the number of products you use, and make sure whatever cosmetics you are using avoid all the well known triggers which can be found at Ingredients You Might Like to Avoid, Part 1.  Also, don't assume a natural product won't cause irritation, as some essential oils - such as tea tree - can cause a reaction because they're so potent.

There is no single, worldwide standard for organic skincare, either. There are at least four, and they're not in the slightest bit harmonised. Unlike organic food, there is no government regulation over the naturalness of organic cosmetics, or even the term itself, so it's a bit of a mine field. Products that are certified organic will adhere to a minimum percentage of organic content, but this varies. For EcoCert (France) it can be as low as 10% but for Soil Assocation (U.K.), Natrue (Europe) and USDA (U.S.A.) it has to be at least 70%. As a general rule, all certified organic products won't be tested on animals or contain ingredients derived from an animal unless retrieved without harm (e.g. honey and beeswax), but will avoid GM ingredients and take into consideration how ingredients are grown and harvested.  Finally they should be packaged in environmentally friendly containers. So buying organic is still a worthwhile practice, but be aware of the differing standards.

Like the term organic, there is no regulation over the use of 'natural' labels on cosmetics packaging. It's used on all sorts of artificial products, and can potentially be quite the con. Most people don't research their ingredients so take the term 'natural' at face value. You really shouldn't. EcoCert and Natrue do certify natural products (as well as organic), but again standards vary from 50% natural with the former to 100% natural with the latter. Sometimes laboratory-made 'nature identical' substances will be used when natural substances cannot be recovered from nature using reasonable technical effort. The only solution is to read the ingredients listings and familiarise yourself with the terms. And that's no mean feat.

Sun protection factor. A measurement of protection provided by products containing sunscreen – be it a natural sun-block (usually titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) or a chemical formula that changes the ultra violet light so it's less damaging. The higher the number the more UV light is required to cause sun damage. It is not, as commonly thought, a multiplication of hours you can spend in the sun. Bear in mind that in laboratory tests sun protection factor is measured with a far larger quantity of product than is typically used by people in real life situations, meaning you're getting less protection than you realise. As important as the sun is for vitamin D production, it's always best to stay out of the sun in hot climates or during the summer in seasonal countries between the hours of 11 and 3 when the sun is at its most damaging, and wear sunscreen protection all year round on any exposed skin, taking care to reapply regularly and after swimming or sweating.  For reference UVA is linked with ageing, and UVB is associated with burning.

This comes down to individual perceptions, really. What may be considered a luxury product by one person, may not by another. It's often said that famous designers are the sole purveyors of luxury goods, but I disagree. A properly premium product doesn't have to be from a famous brand, it can just be a particularly high quality product that has an air of exclusivity about it. Something that doesn't just work well, but feels good and looks great. A premium product is a pleasure to use. And taking all these factors into consideration a premium product is likely to be a bit more expensive.

We're not talking cheap for cheap's sake. A low priced product that is also low quality is just nasty and that's poor value. At Beauty Insignia we classify a good value product as one that performs well for the price. This is relative, of course: a face serum is likely to be more expensive than a face wash, but it's how well it performs relative to similar products that helps us classify a product as good value or not.


  1. What about pH balanced? That one sounds like pure bunk to me.

  2. Haha, I'll have to include that in the next post! As far as I know, it's based on the principle that products that closely match your skin's own pH balance will irritate less, but I'll do more research to see if it's worthwhile, and get back to you!