When it comes to choosing beauty products, what's most important to you? How it looks, what it does or, what its ingredients are? Sometimes beauty industry jargon can be confusing, masking a product's true ingredients and effectiveness.
What better way of knowing which product is right for you than really narrowing down what's inside of it? That's where ingredient checkers come in. These handy websites and apps break down the marketing lingo and list all the ingredients that are actually inside your beauty products, making you a more conscious consumer.
We spoke with board-certified NYC dermatologists Dendy Engelman, MD, and Kenneth Howe, MD along with master esthetician Heather Nicole on the importance of checking your beauty labels, and it inspired us to do some deep digging. "Today’s beauty consumer is more concerned than ever before about what, exactly, is in the products they’re putting on their skin. The days of blind compliance—when a person just used whatever the “experts” told them to use—are long over," says Howe. "So to understand what’s in a product, the bottom line is the ingredient label."
Keep scrolling for the best websites that will help you check the ingredients in your favorite products.
Think Dirty App
With over 1.1 million products listed, the Think Dirty app helps you to understand how "clean" ingredients really are. It is so important to understand your ingredients, according to Engleman. "The reason this is so important is because a significant percentage of what is applied to the skin can get absorbed into the bloodstream. So, we must know what we are putting on our skin for health and safety reasons," she notes. "The truth is many cosmetic products do not require FDA approvals. So what we are left with are thousands of companies and people putting inaccurate or exaggerated information on their products and sites. For example, a product may contain an ingredient that is widely marketed but contains such a small concentration of the active that it actually doesn’t offer any benefits."
Unlike other ingredient databases, Think Dirty focuses exclusively on the chemical content of the products in question. All you need to do is scan the product barcode and Think Dirty will give you easy-to-understand info on the product—including its ingredients and cleaner options that are available.
Analysis of IT Cosmetics CC Cream.
It might not be the prettiest website, but CosDNA has a great database of popular beauty products. Search for the one product you want and you'll find a list of its every ingredient. CosDNA rates each ingredient for function, UV, acne irritant, and safety. The value of these is listed from zero to five—the lower, the better (i.e., the less chance that irritation or acne will occur from using it). The safety index is then listed from one to nine, with the lower number meaning the ingredient is considered to be a low hazard. It's also worth noting that there are so few "perfect" products out there, so there's often an element of compromise.
Analysis of IT Cosmetics CC Cream.
Skincarisma is a super-easy-to-use website that not only lists a product's ingredients but also breaks them down into what they're actually doing for your skin, plus the suitability for each skin type. It then tells you if the product contains parabens, alcohol, and sulfates. Keep in mind, it's always a good idea to take into consideration who has sourced the information and remember that for every research paper stating that an ingredient is harmful, there's probably another three stating it's completely safe. Unlike other ingredient checkers, Skincarisma also has a section where you can paste the ingredients, meaning they don't necessarily need to have the product in their library for you to analyze it. So handy.
Environmental Working Group
EWG analysis of COOLA sunless tan.
EWG's Skin Deep database currently contains information and online hazard assessments for over 74,000 products. Staff scientists compare the ingredients on product labels and websites to information in nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases. EWG gives a low, moderate or high score on concerns like a product's overall toxicity and its ability to cause cancer, developmental or reproductive harm. Whilst this can be somewhat terrifying (i.e., if you find a high score on cancer for your favorite mascara), it's worth bearing in mind the amount of that ingredient that's actually in the product as opposed to what is needed to reach such toxic levels. EWG is also a good tool to find information on a company or brand's stance on animal testing.
Another app that uses barcodes to quickly scan and analyze products is CodeCheck. It provides transparency regarding the ingredients in everyday beauty products and also some foods. Not only does the app rate possible effects on your health, but it also gives information about how a product's ingredients and packaging affect the environment. Keep in mind, as much as all of these apps and websites are useful when it comes to checking ingredients, citing as many sources as possible is always important. "Don’t be afraid to take your time and thoroughly go over a product and weigh your options. At a base level, you should avoid ingredients like propylene glycol, butylene glycol, petroleum, plastics, parabens, and fd&c color pigments," says Nicole.
By reading the barcode of any beauty product, CosmEthics helps consumers make educated choices. For every product scan that triggers some type of personal alert, such as an allergen alert or toxic alert, the user is provided which an alternative option. Another interesting feature is that the user is actually the one who determines the safeness of their own products by setting their own standards that the app adheres to.
"Make sure you read the complete ingredient list not just the active ingredient list, this is another marketing trick that can be deceiving," says Nicole.
Initially created by Paula Begoun of Paula's Choice, Beautypedia is a website that cuts through the hype of products in order to offer insights on ingredients. The results are compiled by research teams that share scientific research to objectively review skincare and makeup formulations. Paula's Choice Ingredient Dictionary is also useful if you want a rundown of what an ingredient is, what it does, and whether or not it's harmful or irritating to the skin. "FDA regulations stipulate that ingredients be listed on the label by order of 'predominance,'" says Howe. "That means the ingredients present in the highest concentration come first, with the rest following in descending order. So if you’re sensitive (but not allergic) to a certain chemical, and it’s one of the first ingredients listed, it’s better you avoid that product. If, on the other hand, the offending ingredient is one of the last items listed, it might be OK on your skin."
Detox Me app
Detox Me is a lifestyle app that helps guide consumers to make healthier purchases in many different areas of their lives. The app is not limited to beauty products but expands into cleaning supplies, clothing, food, and more. You're able to scan barcodes, decipher ingredient labels, and choose better alternatives all from your phone. "The ingredient with the highest concentration in the product is the first one mentioned on the label (you'll notice the first ingredient mentioned is usually water), and the other ingredients continue by order of descending concentration," says Engelman. "It can take some time, but consider researching the other ingredients on the label and familiarize yourself with them. Don’t forget to look at what is not included, this will help you easily narrow down a brand that is dedicated to transparency and using non-toxic products."
SkinSafe is another app where you are able to evaluate your beauty products in order to make the best decision. Due to their comprehensive skin product ingredient database, you’re able to keep your skin free from irritants, and allergens. You're also able to make purchases directly through the app.
"Take your products to the derm! I have patients that bring in their skincare regimen and together we decide what products are best suited for them. Education and communication is the most important. Once they understand what to look for then patients can navigate cosmetic products so much easier," says Engleman.
An "inci" is the professional term for the item listed on the back of the ingredient list. These are the scientific terms that are hard to identify. For example, Hyaluronic Acid isn't always listed as Hyaluronic Acid. Sometimes it can be Sodium Hyaluronate and so forth. Decode the inci's on your beauty label using INCIDecoder. You can search for an inci and the website will give you all of the information you need on the ingredient. You can also search by product. "But the main difficulty in reading labels is the blizzard of chemical names. You basically have to Google each one to identify its function. After a while, you’ll know a lot of the main players (fragrances, preservatives, emulsifiers etc) but at first, it can be pretty daunting. You’ll have to be determined," says Howe.