Are Your Beauty Products Lying to You?

The duo behind Chemist Confessions tell us everything we need to know.

Woman applying skin cream

Getty Images / PeopleImages

It was a dark, cold night when I saw it. A steaming bowl of laksa sat before me, and my boyfriend was chattering about his day as I quickly tapped through some Instagram stories. I was going through a friend’s story when I saw my worst nightmare: an ambiguously terrifying post about how the cult-loved Purito’s Centella Green Level Unscented Sun SPF 50+ PA++++ had been independently tested by two European labs, and the tests came back with a dismal SPF 20 protection. As I panic-DM’ed her while trying to eat my dinner with one hand, she directed me to the original post, which was from the ingredient analysis site INCIDecoder. As I read the study's details, apprehension swelled inside of me. I had gone out in broad daylight with that sunscreen before. I had suggested it to friends. I trusted numerous detailed reviews about it—how could such oversight like this have happened? Was it the lab or the brand that had been dishonest? Maybe the recent test was wrong, and the label was correct? And then, I had an even more unsettling thought: how much of my own skincare collection could be trusted to do its job?

If you think about it, every skincare lover puts their trust in something when purchasing products. Whether it’s based on a dermatologist's, beauty publication's, or influencer's recommendation, most consumers rely on their personally curated pool of sources to help them find the next product to try. But as the Purito incident has proven, these sources can be incorrect. So how are you supposed to fact-check your skincare? Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu from Chemist Confessions were kind enough to fill me in on everything we need to know.

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Look For Products With Transparent Percentages

“Probably the easiest thing you can do is buy skincare with transparent percentages," Fu and Lu say. "This ensures you’re getting an active at a high enough percentage to see results." Understanding what percentages of actives like retinol or AHA is a clutch technique to gauge how your skin might respond to a product. Unfortunately, there are still some ways to blur whatever a product claims to do, so be mindful as you read the ingredient list. For example, products may claim to be formulated with "20 percent glycolic acid", but when you browse the ingredient list, you realize that they use a "20 percent extract that contains glycolic acid," which can be misleading. 

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Check The Ingredient List

skincare ingredients

Getty Images / Ivan Bajic

The Chemist Confessions duo explain that ingredient lists are organized from highest percentage to lowest percentage until you hit the 1% concentration mark. "While you won’t be able to know exact percentages, this should give you a hint at where those mysterious, exotic skincare actives fall on the ingredient list,” they explain. So if you’re about to pay a boatload for some magical botanical extract and find it at the bottom of the list, maybe do a bit more research before making the purchase.

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Look For Consumer Perception And Clinical Studies

"One final major bonus is if the product comes with a consumer perception study or even better, a clinical study," the duo says. Consumer perception studies are tests where subjects take home a product for a designated period and then return to fill out an evaluation of their experience. Typical claims usually sound like "X% perceived to have smoother, brighter skin,” or "Y% agrees skin is more moisturized."

The better (but more expensive) route is a clinical study. This is where subjects use the product for a designated period but come in for an expert to grade their progress or take measurements of their wrinkles or fading pigmentation to track improvements. Typical clinical claims sound like, "After 4 weeks, there was an X% reduction in fine lines." Unfortunately, because these tests are so expensive, they’re not easy to conduct. So give brands major brownie points if their product is backed by clinical trials.

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