What is your skin truly exposed to?


Your skin is exposed to a wide range of harmful pollutants each day – ranging from ultraviolet rays to a million microbes assailing the air you breathe. Trying to mitigate some of this damage, you exfoliate your skin, dab on a healthy amount of moisturizer, and hope for the best. Sometimes the product does its magic, and other times it makes the situation even worse.

With a countless number of skincare products on offer, you rarely know what to choose, and if one product fails, there are always a hundred more to try.

Read on as we explore what it is you are putting on your skin, and what you can and cannot expect from your skincare routine, which seems to include more and more products with each passing season.

Mirror mirror on the wall…

Like Snow White’s stepmother, you probably often have long conversations with your vanity. You inspect a wrinkle here and there, try to cover up any redness, and sigh whenever a new spot appears.

The reason you do this lurks in the advertising jungle – women today are conditioned by marketing to look like a covergirl on their way to the supermarket. As we place more and more value in appearances, beauty standards become less and less attainable, and most women are forever trapped in the vicious circle of consumerism.   

However, we can’t all afford the high-end brands, and we often haunt sales and discounts, buy products on eBay, and don’t bother to check the ingredients of whatever it is we smear over our faces. If you can find “Urban Decay” Naked 8 palettes on Chinese wholesales sites, can you ever be sure the product you are buying is the real thing, do you even need the real thing, and what can the beauty industry truly do for you, except make you feel inadequate?

Things that brew in poison cauldrons

Product labels often sound like pure gibberish – part Latin, part boulderdash, and unless you read up on the subject, you will not understand one word of it.

Some of the ingredients that are found in most products, and which can be either slightly or extremely harmful, are:

  • Parabens – used as preservatives, have been linked to possible carcinogenicity
  • Phthalates – promote the absorption of product into the skin, also potential carcinogens
  • Petrochemicals
  • Cosmetic fragrances
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate – can cause skin irritation and dryness

The FDA requires manufacturers to list product ingredients based on quantity, so the higher it appears, the more of it there is in the jar. Make sure you read the label before you throw a product into your cart, and try to steer away from all of the above. You can find a more detailed list of harmful ingredients here.

How to recognize a rotten apple

Apart from staying very far away from products with a high concentration of harmful ingredients, you need to learn how to distinguish between the real deal and a knockoff. This is especially true if you are shopping online! The surest way to know what you are buying is to shop at authorized stores only. Don’t believe online discounts that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

When you do purchase a product, check the packaging – counterfeiters have become extremely well versed in what they do, and there are often only miniscule differences between an original and a fake. Read the label in search of grammar errors. High-end brands are faked the most, and you can most often spot these by the low quality of their packaging. This is especially true for make-up.  

While you may believe you are saving money if you buy a fake, the truth is you are exposing yourself to a world of harm. Counterfeit products have been found to contain mercury, lead, and even arsenic and cyanide.  

All that glitters…

Having said all this, there is one more point that needs to be made – there is no silver bullet for beauty. No amount of even the most expensive cream or elixir will change who you are. By using the right product for your skin type, you can keep your skin healthy, which is all you can truly ask for, in the long run. Wrinkles, lines, discoloration and other signs of aging are all perfectly normal, and you will never be able to avoid them. Not even a knife can keep you forever young.

Where does that leave me?

Along with all the rubbish on the market, you can find high quality products both in high street shops and in drugstores.

Organic products are one of the best things you can treat your skin to – they do tend to be more expensive, but if you wish to splurge, something free of artificial ingredients will go a long way.

Cruelty free products are another way to go. There are numerous companies which have made it their mission to prevent animal testing, and you can find a list or cruelty free beauty manufacturers here.

Apart from that, ingredients you should be looking for on any label, and which can help your skin glow, are:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) – can help with enlarged pores and fine lines. If you use a product containing this ingredient, you should always apply sunscreen in the morning, in order to prevent skin damage caused by sun exposure.
  • Retinol – derived from vitamin A, and is tiny enough to penetrate the deeper layers of your skin. It promotes skin softness, tone and color, and can help battle fine lines.
  • Hyaluronic acid – occurs in your body naturally, as a lubricant of connective tissues. Is often referred to as the “fountain of youth”, and can help in slowing down the process of skin aging.

Before you fall in with the next fad, try to read as many skincare reviews as you can find. Learn what customers are saying about a brand, and never trust advertisers blindly. Remember the importance of eating right, sleeping right and moving right. If you treat your body with care, it will pay you back in kind.

Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition, and has spent two years working as a personal trainer. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to conquer the blogosphere. You can read more of her posts at Ripped.me