Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Beauty Myths No.16 - Active vs 'Inactive' Ingredient


What used to relate purely to ingredients that qualify as drugs, is now used as a marketing tool industry-wide and to say that the terms 'active' and 'inactive' are overused and abused by marketing departments everywhere is an understatement.

Active ingredients - traditionally, when used in products considered drugs i.e. SPF products - are 'any component of a drug product intended to provide therapeutic and pharmacological activity in direct effect to a diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans.' 
Depending on your country, retinoids, acids, sunscreens like oxybenzone and avobenzone are all considered 'active'.
They are considered active enough to change the structure of the skin. Take prescription strength retinoids. In a product like that, the vitamin A will be classed as the drug and therefore 'active' and the rest of the ingredients are 'inactive' because they make up the formula/emulsify/are the delivery system and do not actually change the structure of skin at all. A lot of ingredients considered truly 'active' will have a maximum % that they are allowed to be used at in any formula.

Inactive ingredients - officially, are 'any component of a drug product other than the active ingredients.'

However, we are now seeing the words 'active' and 'inactive' bounded about everywhere as the general rule, not the exception to be used only in the case of drugs.

A brand will say 'active' ingredients are peptides, vitamin c, seaweed, whale sperm, witch's warts...pick something. What they actually mean when they say this is 'what we are charging you the big bucks for'.
Inactive ingredients are all too often completely glossed over, ignored or relegated to the very smallest font on the pack and except in the rarest of circumstances, essentially mean 'the bulk of the product' i.e. water/carrier oils etc.

The potential problems arise when unknowing customers purchase something assuming that 'inactive' means 'has no effect on the skin'. Just because something doesn't change the structure of the skin ('active') does not mean that something does not affect the skin. 

Alcohol, fragrance and silicones, for example, are all 'inactive' ingredients, yet the ones I am asked about the most from readers. You can bet that a high level of alcohol in a product will be 'active' on your skin in some way.

If a bacon sandwich was skincare, the bacon would be labelled on the pack as the 'active' ingredient, but the bread would certainly be an active ingredient to someone with a gluten intolerance or a wheat allergy.

Ignore the marketing hype, read the ingredients label. That's where you see what is likely to be an 'inactive' ingredient that could actually be something 'active' for you to look out for.

Some brands have started using bold type for their 'active' ingredients in their inci lists in order to make them stand out. Clever, but not if you know what you are looking at. 

Tomorrow: how to read an ingredients label.




26 comments:

  1. Very cleaver and misleading these companies using this form of listing product ingredients!!! It is not at hard to understand why many people are confused as to what ingredients are okay and which are not!!! Thank you for all you do!!!

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  2. Very cleaver and misleading these companies using this form of listing product ingredients!!! It is not at hard to understand why many people are confused as to what ingredients are okay and which are not!!! Thank you for all you do!!!

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  3. The ingredient lists used to confuse me so much, it took time and patience to finally understand what it really says on the label.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

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  4. I like the bacon sandwich analogy! haha. I think it's so easy for the average person to get caught up in what companies claim products will do for their skin. I know I didn't know a lot about ingredients before I found your blog and I used to strip my oily skin with alcohol laden products all the time, use super harsh scrubs and skip moisturiser (no wonder it was angry). Thank you for putting the information out there-my skin is so much happier for it :-)

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  5. Great article! I've only seen the active/inactive ingredient distinction in US only though.

    http://againstandforward.blogspot.com

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  6. I do love you Mrs Hirons...your knowledge and sharing make me want to hug you. Thank you.

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  7. This is fab. I'm still learning about the ingredients and tbh, feel I still have a long way to go, so looking forward to tomorrow's blog! ;)

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  8. Hi Caroline! Thanks soo much for your blog.. I just found it recently while looking for info on how to get back into taking proper care of my face. I'm 32 and don't really have wrinkles yet but I do have tiny little flesh colored bumps covering my forehead, mild acne around my chin, and redness around my nose. Currently I use cetaphil daily cleanser (which I hope to switch out soon for Emma Hardie's cleansing balm)... I just ordered a sample of Paula's Choice Resist 9 for the forehead bumps and acne (and am having nice results thus far). But I also read here that a "toner" is quite helpful, and Pixi's Glow Tonic sounds like a product I'd like -- my first question is... Resist 9 uses salicylic acid and Glow Tonic uses glycolic acid, can these be used in combo? Second question.. I currently use pure Shea butter as a moisturizer, is this recommended, and if not, what would you recommend? Id prefer something I can use morning and night as I'm on low budget and don't want to overwhelm myself with too many new products or I may slip back into not taking proper care of my skin. Thanks so much for any info, your time is greatly appreciated!!

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    1. Hopefully Caroline will be able to respond, but I don't think the Shea Butter is doing your skin type any favors. Your best investment is probably to find something else to use as a moisturizer. Look at her article on things to look for/things to avoid here: http://www.carolinehirons.com/2015/04/quick-grab-what-to-look-out-for.html

      Look back at her posts from February of this year. She did a series of budget recommendations and hopefully you will find a moisturizer that is available where you live that will fit your budget.

      One last tip -- make sure you add SPF to your morning routine and look at the Double Cleanse posts to make sure you take it off properly. (Links are in the right column; scroll down.)

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    2. You should also look at the videos Caroline made with Dr Sam Bunting. There is a lot of info there re acne as well as product recommendations.

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    3. Thank you all for your suggestions.. I've wondered about the shea butter but havent had bad results, just havent had good ones either.. I will absolutely look into the recommended pages and check out the videos - you are really a great group of people, thanks again!

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  9. If you are prone to little bumps/clogged pores you might want to stay away from Shea butter.

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  10. Loved this post! Can't wait for tomorrows also. I am slowly getting the hang of reading and understanding the labels, there are quite a few ingredients I can spot and know that they are favourable or unfavourable. But I still have a long ways to go yet! I can probably understand about 10-15% of any ingredients list and the rest is just gobbeldey gook.
    The Beauty Bloss

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  11. Dear Amanda, i think in theme about acne ( which you can find here on Carolines blog) she recomends not to use shea butter moisturiser! And there are plenty good tips ;)

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  12. Many thanks to Caroline, with very useful information. I look forward to tomorrow's post about how to read the list of ingredients.

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  13. Many thanks to Caroline, with very useful information. I look forward to tomorrow's post about how to read the list of ingredients.

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  14. Thanks Caroline for this very useful article. It's so important to learn to read through the PR crap and to understand what one should avoid (also in the context of one's own skin).
    Already looking forward to tomorrow's post!

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  15. This is so frustrating! I emailed a company a few months ago to find out their ingredients as only 'actives' where listed, they refused to give it! Lost Customer!

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  16. Thanks Caroline, can't wait for tomorrow!

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  17. Thanks dor helping us out! I first found your blog looking for information on P50. Ever since I've trying to catch up with all you have already posted and changed my la prairie super expensive routine. I'm finishing the last bottles And trying samples to choose new creams that do work- for the price i payed I should have a joker smile but didn't notice massive changes.. The one I would stick to would be the hidrating serum but it's too expensive. Already dropped the mycelar water and went on double cleanse even though i don't wear much make-up - but the day spf is always there! Soooo thank you for all the remote help!

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  18. 'Active' ingredients - favourite bugbear! The so-called active ingredients are sometimes just claim ingredients. All these plant extracts that have no shown benefits. I don't mind them but I'm not going to pay extra for them.

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  19. Every single post I learn something new and interesting!!

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  20. Hello Caroline! I know I am a bit late with this comment, but how do you like the Oskia Beauty Boost? Anything you would recommend for us 50+? I read a bit about it and it looks lovely!!!!

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  21. I love the way you break down the marketing bullsh*t and explain everything so clearly! This is one of my big gripes too and I'm glad I'm not the only one :) xx

    Ellen Rozalia | www.ellenrozalia.com

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  22. Dear Caroline , I have been reading your blog for a while now and my skincare has so much changed and improved since then. Really like to thank you for your effort and your work. I also became a constant ingredients checker, there will be know product in my basket before I checked whats in it (not that I understand or know all of the ingredients listed, but at least I am looking for some keywords). Anyways apart from reading blogs I always still try to hear what my face/ body likes and what seems good for it. I don't know why, I don't want and can't stand mineral oil in my FACE, even though many people ( I am from germany, so many german bloggers rave about the use of mineral oil) say it is good and save. But I rellay noticed that my bodies skin is different and that my really dry skin got improved when I use body lotions containg mineral oil. Does that make any sense!? Do you think mineral oil for the body can be beneficial? Is bodies and face skin that differen?

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