As long as we have manufacturers trying to catch our attention-and the attention of our wallets-we’re going to have words shouting at us from product labels. We’ve talked about the importance of reading the ingredient deck, but what about the other claims cosmetic companies make?
To help you get more familiar with cosmetic lingo, here are a few common phrases you’ll find on the front-or back-of your favorite personal-care products, and what they mean.
pH-balanced. What is pH, anyway? Scientifically, pH is the measure of the amount of hydrogen ions in a solution. In fact, pH is an abbreviation for “potential hydrogen,” often expressed as “parts hydrogen,” with a scale ranging from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral.
Anything below 7 gets more and more acidic, while anything above 7 has more alkalinity (alkaline). As you go up and down the scale, each number represents a tenfold change. Milk, for instance, has a pH of 6-ten times more acidic than water, which is neutral at 7.
Humans are sensitive to pH. Our blood plasma has a pH of 7.2 to 7.45. A blood pH of just 6.9 can induce coma and death! So how does this affect hair and skin? Acidic solutions harden and contract the hair shaft, while alkalis expand and soften. Skin has a pH level of about 5.5-slightly acidic. A cleanser that’s similar or a bit more alkaline can break down dirt and oil. However if it’s too high-bar soap has a pH level of 9–12, for instance-it will strip away too much and dry your skin. Though most all skin-care products today are pH-balanced for use on the skin, some-like harsh acne products-are not. When you’re going through chemo or have sensitive skin, it’s a plus to see “pH-balanced” on your skincare products.
Dermatologist tested. This means the product was tested on the skin of human volunteers to see if it would cause any irritations. Although it’s great to test for irritation, this doesn’t make a product safe. There are many products on the market that carry this claim and still have a hefty cocktail of chemicals inside. Just because there was no irritation during the testing (and companies aren’t required to reveal the results, so who knows?), doesn’t mean the product won’t cause other potentially dangerous health effects. We encourage you to read the labels to make sure you have safe and pure ingredients.
Hypo-allergenic. Originally, this term meant that the product was gentler on the skin (or hair) than a similar product. Usually potential irritants like fragrances, alcohols, and coloring agents are left out, to lower the risk of creating an allergic reaction. However, it doesn’t mean the product is allergy-proof. Again, there are no industry standards, so the term can mean whatever the cosmetic company wants it to mean. To be safe, read the ingredient deck.
Lanolin-free. Lanolin has longed been used as an effective moisturizer, but because it comes from sheep’s wool, it can cause allergies in many people. Depending on how it is refined, it can also contain impurities or additives-even pesticides-that can be harmful to skin. (Some theorize that it is the impurities that cause many allergic reactions.) Cosmetic-grade lanolin can still contain impurities, so for those who may be allergic, “lanolin-free” on the label can be helpful. However, medical-grade lanolin (or highly refined) is much safer, and very moisturizing to skin.
Have you found misleading claims on products? Let us know!
Photo courtesy emilym via Flickr.com.