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Do you read the ingredients of your skincare products? I love to, but I’m probably in the minority here. I want to share what I know so you can be better equipped to assess whether or not a product will do what it promises to do.

What you can tell from an ingredients list

Whether the product contains ingredients known to back up its claims: I’ll often scan the active ingredients when investigating a product. For example, if a product claims to “brighten” skin, I might expect to see vitamin C or niacinamide. If it’s for sensitive, compromised skin, I don’t like to see lots of fragrant plant oils like lavender or geranium. They’re not bad for everyone with sensitive skin, but they make me itchy.

The approximate amount of a specific ingredient: The dose makes the poison. Some ingredients, such as alcohol, get a bad rap but have their uses. Alcohol is a great penetration enhancer and largely evaporates before it sinks into your skin. It can be drying at high concentrations, so you wouldn’t want a hydrating product like a moisturiser to be 50% alcohol but 1%, for example, would be fine to help dissolve another ingredient. Use your common sense and best judgment.

The inclusion of allergens or ingredients you don’t like: Check for these, much as you would on an ingredient list for food.

Naming conventions

There are guidelines for how ingredients are listed on personal care products.

They must all be named according to the Inci (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients), an international standard that ensures ingredients are called the same thing worldwide. For example, the Inci name for green tea is Camellia sinensis leaf extract.

‘The dose makes the poison’: 50% alcohol might be drying, but 1% alcohol in a product may be effective as a solvent. Photograph: PR

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