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How can I translate the ingredients list on a skin-care product?

Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Dermatology
Ingredients in a skin-care product work in the same way as ingredients in a food recipe. For example, in baking, butter richens up a cookie recipe (believe it or not, avocado could even be used as a healthier fat substitute) in the same way that shea butter or fatty acids enrich a face cream. Cornstarch acts as a thickener and binder in cooking, just as an emulsifier such as stearic acid or cetyl alcohol in a cosmetic makes the texture smoother and holds oil and water together. All the various ingredients, whether in a cake or in a cleanser, must combine to create a harmonious whole.

The idea may be the same, but recipe ingredients are a lot easier to understand than the confusing chemical jargon on a product label (maybe because, with a recipe, we actually have to go out, buy the stuff, and put it all together in the kitchen ourselves). With big companies and chemists cooking up our skin care products, we need to be fairly well versed on what's included in the formula. Most product ingredients have a primary function, but quite often a single ingredient multitasks like crazy. For instance, cetyl and cetearyl alcohol are waxy, solid emollients that act as thickeners and emulsifiers in a product, and they moisturize the skin as a by-product. Stearic acid works as an emulsifier, but it's also a moisturizing and cleansing agent. Most ingredients not only benefit the skin in some way but also perform one or more big jobs that keep the product's delivery system intact.
Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.