How to Navigate the World of Skin Care Ingredients

Ever feel overwhelmed by options in the skin care isle? We sat down with dermatologist Dr. Nazanin Saedi to find out how to choose the right skin care products (and avoid the wrong ones).

If you feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out which skin care ingredients to avoid, or which ones to give a try — you’re not alone.

Even for doctors who are surrounded by different skincare products and research all day, these labels can be hard to navigate.

“To be totally honest, it’s hard for us, too,” said Dr. Nazanin Saedi, a dermatologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “Being a dermatologist doesn’t necessarily mean we know what every single ingredient out there is. It can be overwhelming — not only the number of products available, but also the different ingredients.”

Here are some guidelines for choosing a skincare product that’s right for you.

Know Your Skin
One of the first steps is to know what type of skin you have, as most products are developed with a certain problem area in mind. Some common types include oily, dry, sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Dr. Nazanin Saedi

When choosing a new skincare product, most skin types will benefit from items that contain ceramides or hyaluronic acid.

“Ceramides are a normal part of the skin that maintain the skin barrier. In winter months, our barrier gets compromised, so adding ceramides helps protect and reheal that barrier,” Dr. Saedi says. “Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance found in between collagen bundles—which give your skin its tough, yet elastic property—that attracts water, so it helps hydrate the skin. It’s relatively common in skincare products, and can be helpful.”

In general, I recommend that people use products that don’t have fragrances in them,” said Dr. Saedi. “Especially those with sensitive skin, eczema or other skin conditions.” The ingredients used to formulate fragrances can cause irritation in some skin types.

If you have a known allergy to certain ingredients, it’s important to keep an eye on the label. Even if an allergen isn’t the primary ingredient, it may appear in the product.

When Trying New Products
After selecting a new product, it’s important to follow the application instructions on the packaging.

“One of the biggest dangers of not following instructions is a localized allergic reaction or irritation,” Dr. Saedi says. “Some of us have a tendency to overdo it when using skincare products.”

For example, patients may select an acne spot treatment, and instead of using the small, recommended amount, they will use too much and cause added irritation.

“Part of it is using common sense,” Dr. Saedi says. “With facial scrubs, a lot of them can cause more harm than good if you use them excessively. A soft scrub to exfoliate once a week is fine, but by overusing harsh scrubs, you’re actually causing more irritation.”

Getting Started
If you’re trying something new to keep healthy skin glowing, it’s safe to choose products based on your prior experience.

However, if you’re embarking on a new skincare regimen to treat a new or worsening skin condition, you should consult with a dermatologist before getting started. These changes could be the result of an undiagnosed condition or require medical assistance.

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