Welcome to to Beauty School 101! I’m your teacher, Ms. Fraser. This course will cover the absolute basics of the beauty world (one must cleanse before they can mask, after all) to give you the tools you need to have a successful beauty haul.

Today’s lecture is about ingredients. Without ingredient knowledge, you could be doing awful things to your skin like mixing honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg to make an acne mask (and literally burning your skin in the process). We’ll dive into some basic ingredients to look for, along with what they specifically help, and finish with some ingredients that might not be so great for you.

Ready? Oh, and no, there won’t be a pop quiz after this…OR WILL THERE?!

Jojoba oil: this wonderful oil is actually a wax ester. Pronounced “ho-HO-bah,” this lightweight gem shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s almost identical in consistency to skin’s natural sebum, which means your skin will actually absorb and use the oil efficiently. For dryer skin types, using a jojoba oil serum is a great way to get in extra hydration before using a more heavy duty moisturizer. For sensitive and oily skin types, ensure your moisturizer has some jojoba to keep skin hydrated and acne at bay. Yes, oily skin does need hydration in the form of oil. It’ll take about a week for your skin to get used to, and after that it’s smooth sailing.


Salicylic acid: Breakouts be gone!! Salicylic acid is related to aspirin, but has mild antibacterial properties as well as its cousin’s anti-inflammatory properties, so aspirin allergies will be triggered by this ingredient. It can either be chemically manufactured or naturally derived from wintergreen, birch bark, peppermint, and some other sources. Salicylic acid is a powerhouse maintenance ingredient for helping keep breakouts at bay. Benzoyl peroxide is often used as a substitute in some brands, but it’s just too harsh for maintenance use. Not only will benzoyl peroxide stain your clothes, makeup brushes, and sheets, it aggressively dries the skin to the point that you get burnt, scaly red skin with oil pooling on top. Lovely, right?? That’s why we recommend salicylic acid for regular maintenance use and benzoyl peroxide as a spot treatment if necessary.


Hyaluronic Acid: this is another ingredient that can mimic sebum, but it’s geared toward anti-aging and dryness. It’s been dubbed as the fountain of youth for its ability to take tired, deflated skin cells and help plump them back up. We produce hyaluronic acid naturally, but over time that ability diminishes and eventually completely goes away. This is part of what keeps our skin firm, young, and resilient. Getting hyaluronic acid back into those cells is key for anti-aging and preventative skin care.


Vitamin E / Tocopherol: vitamin E is not only a natural preservative, but it helps moisturize the skin as well. Vitamin E is great for scarring, as it’s lightweight and mends scar tissue very nicely. It’s also labeled as tocopherol and tocopherol acetate. If you have a gluten sensitivity, however, please contact the brand to see if their products contain gluten. Most vitamin E is wheat-derived, and although more brands are using rice-derived tocopherol every day, it’s still worth making sure that you’re safe. Not everyone reacts topically to gluten, but as someone who does (and it gets baaaad, kids), I’ve learned that brands are always okay with questions to make sure everyone is safe.


Now that we’ve covered some key helpful ingredients, let’s look at a few ingredients that aren’t quite so great.

Coconut oil: I know, I know, coconut oil is touted as a magical cure all for pretty much anything. When it comes to hair and body care, it’s a great help! But it’s just too thick for the face. The pores on facial skin are much more reactive and require a smaller sized ingredient to penetrate those cell walls. Any benefits you think you’re getting from coconut oil on your face are from other things you’re using. The diameter of coconut oil molecules is so large that it can’t penetrate skin AT ALL. It just sits on the surface and suffocates skin cells. While short term that can look like an improvement, it will lead to skin discoloration, sagging pores, accelerated aging, and breakouts. Save the coconut oil for your legs after shaving.


Hydroquinone: for anyone who wants to get rid of hyperpigmentation and discoloration, please stay away from hydroquinone. More and more dermatologists are realizing it has negative long-term effects on the skin. Even though those spots may be gone, your skin can end up translucent, scaly, hard, and easily irritated. This ingredient is actually banned in Europe! If you have discoloration you want to remedy, try looking for products with good exfoliation and lots of vitamin C. Hyperpigmentation is a form of scarring that happens on more sensitive skin, so do remember that more aggressive is not necessarily better. If you want advice tailored for you, talk to an aesthetician or dermatologist to find the best option.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS: You know all those massive suds you get from your cleansers and shampoos? Those are actually doing more harm than good. A little sudsing is one thing, but the amount of sudsing we’ve come to see as normal or very clean is frankly too much. It completely strips the skin on your face and scalp of any and all protective oils and nutrients. Oily people, don’t be fooled: stripping those oils actually makes your body go into hyperdrive to overcompensate, making the whole situation even worse. SLS is a surfactant, which means it breaks down oil to remove it, much like dish soap and grease. Not all surfactants are bad, nor are all as aggressive as SLS. Last time I checked, your skin is a bit more delicate than your pots and pans. Be gentle with it, okay?


Extreme Pinterest Masks: okay, so this isn’t exactly an ingredient. Individually and in small doses, a lot of these ingredients are great for the skin. But mixing honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a paste to make a burning mask? Not great, and a waste of good ingredients. Same with lemon juice and aspirin (which can actually give you a chemical burn). So use your judgment and do a patch test on the inside of your wrist first. If it burns or otherwise feels uncomfortable, don’t use it!


That concludes today’s lesson! Make smart choices!!

Charlotte Smith is an esthetician licensed in Tennessee and Georgia. She’s married to a lumberjack version of Deadpool, is obsessed with huskies, is straight up in quarter-life crisis mode, and loves pretty much anything that could be considered creepy.

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