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The concept of free from skincare lists has become more and more popular in recent years as consumers seek out better, cleaner skincare. This is certainly great progress, driven, once again, by consumer demand for better, safer, cleaner ingredients. However, it could be argued that “free from” lists are often free from one very vital ingredient: transparency.
How can it be, that in an industry that takes our most delicate and exposed organ, the skin, and adds the word ‘care,’ that we have to declare to the world that we don’t include toxic ingredients, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and other nasty ingredients? Shouldn’t skin ‘care’ mean there is basic minimum implied standards that do not require a disclaimer stating which of the myriad of problematic ingredients are not included? Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and this is the state of the skincare market today, but thankfully it is changing, albeit slowly.
As it turns out, declaring a “free from” list could equally be interpreted as, “But may contain any of the other categories of potentially harmful ingredients not listed in this disclaimer.” It would probably be more honest and consistent if the disclaimers identified the potentially harmful ingredient products did contain. This is certainly what is expected of the drug industry. We have all seen those adverts for mild over the counter painkillers or flu remedies that spend the first ten seconds of the ad showing a woman running through long grass in a field through a hazy lens with the strong sunlight intermittently hijacking the screen, showing the joy and freedom you will have by taking this wonder medicine. Then, just as you’re half way out of your sofa chair on your way to the pharmacy, even although you don’t even have the flu, that voice comes in, speaking so fast only your subconscious mind can understand what’s being said, declaring that in extreme circumstances you may die from asphyxiation from taking this drug, or your hair may fall out, or you may experience mood swings so bad you’ll cause grievous bodily harm to your grandparents or your daughter’s kitten.
Surely the solution is to just not include any potentially harmful ingredients, period? It is certainly possible to do so. Not cherry picking DHEA, silicones, “parabens,” toxic ingredients (a ridiculous claim as all ingredients, including water, are toxic at a certain level) or other categories that fall into the broader category of “potentially harmful.”
We firmly believe the future in skincare is about bringing the ‘care’ back to skincare and only using ingredients that directly impact the wellbeing of the skin, in concentrations that are known to positively impact the skin, with as few ingredients as possible at the highest concentrations available. We don’t believe that having 25-99 ingredients in a one-ounce bottle is an effective way to care for skin. So many of these ingredients are simply included to add color, fragrance, thicken, shimmer, or change the texture of a product, which have zero positive impact on the skin. So at best they will take up space in the bottle that can otherwise be used for higher concentrations of effective ingredients, and at worst they just increase the risk of irritation by nature of the sheer numbers of ingredients having to co-exist.
We believe all the pretty colors, fragrance, shimmers and textures, belong in makeup and perfume, and all the other ingredients added to bulk up products are just the result of cheap formulation practices. What else can it be?
Perhaps the industry will shift so significantly that one day people will remember “those days” when skincare companies used to market which of the categories of harmful ingredients products didn’t include, in the same way, we now recall those days when people used to be able to smoke in restaurants and on buses. It probably seems insane to those young enough to never have eaten in a smoke-filled restaurant that this was ever the case. One day it may hopefully be insane that any product ever contained carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, or many highly diluted ingredients that sound good to include in a skincare product.
While consumers wait for that day to come, it’s up to everyone to be more vigilant and conscious of ingredient labels. Not the three ingredients being marketed on the front, but the small print on the back. If anyone can make change happen, it is consumers, in numbers, speaking out and demanding higher standards and more transparency.
So what do you think? Should there be more emphasis on what ingredients products do contain rather than what they do not. Should it be law to disclose all ingredients on any website that a product is sold on and not just in the small print on external packaging? We’d love to hear from you with your thoughts and comments.
Written By Fraser Hill, Founder, and CEO, Skinega Inc.
Fraser is the Founder and CEO of Skinega, Inc. He grew up and was educated in Scotland before going on to forge an 18-year career in executive consulting and research, living and working in London, Hong Kong, Poland, Canada, and in the US, working for companies including J.P. Morgan, as well as starting Consulting firms in Canada in 2008, and London in 2012. With his background in research and technology, Fraser embarked on a consumer-driven journey to seek out cleaner, vegan, more effective luxury skincare. He sought a “free from” list that went beyond just harmful ingredients to include ingredients that serve no purpose to skin’s wellbeing like synthetic thickeners, colors, fragrance, and other texture modifiers. His search was unsuccessful, so Skinega was developed over a two-year period, then formally established in 2017.