The world of beauty can be a confusing place. Makeup and skincare products are laden with complex words that are meant to help us understand what we’re putting on our faces and bodies. But what do they all mean?

This simple list will help you decode the most commonly featured words. Grab a hot drink and settle down somewhere cosy, this is a long one.

Hypo-allergenic

This means that the product presents a slightly reduced risk of causing allergic reactions in those that have allergies. However it doesn’t mean that it’s gentler on the skin or completely allergy-proof as it’s impossible to guarantee that a cosmetic product won’t cause an allergic reaction in all people. So essentially, it’s a marketing tool and not a scientific term at all. If you’re prone to allergic reactions, it’s always best to do a patch test before using a new product.

Non-comedogenic

This literally means that the product doesn’t contain ingredients that block pores. In dermatology, comedones refer to blackheads which are open comedones and whiteheads which are closed comedones. This term is particularly useful for those with oily or acne-prone skin. Whilst it isn’t a guarantee against spots, you can use it as a general guideline when selecting skincare products and base makeup such as primers, foundations and concealers.

Silicone-free

This one is pretty straight-forward in that it means your product doesn’t contain silicone. But why would you choose a silicone-free product anyway? You’ll find a number of silicone variations (the most common being dimethicone) in hair care products to make them feel silky. Silicone makes dry and damaged hair look and feel like it’s healthy by smoothing down the outer cuticles, thereby reducing frizz and split ends. It makes wet hair feel slippery and can protect it from the effects of humidity because of its hydrophobic coating. However, it’s not a natural ingredient and is basically a sealant against water and air. Eventually, the silicone will build up and weigh your hair down, making it limp, lifeless, and, with time, very dull. It prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft and becomes like a magnet for dirt and other ingredients.

cream swatch

Parabens

You’re sure to have read the term “paraben-free” whilst out shopping for your beauty goodies. But what exactly are they and are they really bad for your health? Parabens are a type of preservative, first introduced in the 1950s. They’re used to prolong shelf life in many beauty products by preventing the growth of bacteria and mould. The most commonly found are butylparabenmethylparaben and propylparaben. Whilst they are generally considered safe, parabens are believed by some to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen. In 2004, a British study found traces of five parabens in the breast tissue of 19 out of 20 women studied. The study didn’t prove that parabens can cause cancer but identified that the parabens were able to penetrate the skin and remain within tissue. Sadly, they’ve also been found in the bodies of marine animals, making them a potential risk for the environment too. For a full list of the safest preservatives to look out for, take a look at ECOCERT – a certification body for the development of standards in natural and organic cosmetics.

Sulphates/Sulfates

Sulfates are an added to cleansing products, they cause the foaming action commonly associated with soaps. The most common sulfate is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), found in most shampoos and conditioners. Used primarily as a foaming agent, a sulfate combines with water to emulsify grease, dispersing it into the water so that it can be washed away. Whilst the FDA has long stood by its claims that they are harmless, other studies have linked sulfates to to organ toxicity, skin irritation and various dangers to specific ecosystems. If you have particularly sensitive skin, sulfates may result in redness and irritation. If you dye your hair, sulfate-free shampoos can also help maintain your colour, which can be stripped by the added detergent.

Free radicals

Ok get ready for some science, beauty geeks. Pretty much everything is made of molecules, molecules are made of atoms and atoms are made of pairs of electrons. But when an atom is missing an electron, that’s when free radicals occur. They’re basically molecules with an unpaired electron, which makes them lonely and unstable. So why are they bad for us? Free radicals attach themselves to healthy cells, transforming them into free radicals. This domino effect of instability results in damaged tissues- aka wrinkles, hyper-pigmentation, loss of firmness and all the other horrible stuff that we don’t want showing on our faces.

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Antioxidants

You can’t talk about free radicals without mentioning antioxidants. These are sensible, stable cells with the ability to donate a calming electron to those crazy free radicals. Although your body naturally produces antioxidants, eating fresh fruits and veggies and using high quality skincare packed with ingredients like vitamins C and E, lycopene, niacinamides, resveratrol and coenzyme Q10 are vital in restoring the balance, supporting cell health and preventing damage, and in turn, premature ageing.

Cruelty-Free

These formulations have not been tested on animals at any point in the creation of the product. There are few markets around the world, namely China, that will only allow the selling of beauty products that have been tested on animals. And as China is a huge market, most of the big name beauty brands do comply with their regulations. Cruelty-free products will almost always feature the Leaping Bunny logo, alternatively you can check their website for a comprehensive list of cruelty-free brands. Keep in mind that a product can be cruelty-free without being vegan.

Vegan

A vegan product shouldn’t contain any ingredients derived from animals. This includes, but is not limited to, gelatin, collagen, honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine or cholesterol, as well as a few others. But as I mentioned, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the product hasn’t been tested on animals.

cruelty free

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