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When it comes to cosmetic ingredients, more is not always better

Bugra asks…You say in your book some brands can have similar products and therefore check the ingredients first and buy the cheap one. However, although the ingredients are similar in both products, how about the amounts ? For instance, both products have the same ingredients. Let’s name the ingredient ” hyaluronic acid”. For example Product A has 1k of hyaluronic acid and Product B has 3k of hyaluronic acid. That makes Product B is more effective and expensive. How can we say two products are the same although we don’t know the amount of ingredients ?

The Beauty Brains respond:

Our suggested approach can only give you directional information about which products to try because reading the ingredient list only allows you to make a rough comparison of the relative amounts of ingredients between two products. It’s certainly possible that the ingredient list of two products could be identical but the products could contain different amounts of those ingredients. In some cases the product with the higher amount of a given ingredient could be superior. But just having “more” of an ingredient doesn’t automatically mean the product is better. Here are some examples where more is NOT better:

When MORE of an ingredient is bad

1. Over dose effects
In the case of products with retinol or alpha and beta hydroxy acids, TOO much of the active ingredient is a bad thing because it can burn/irritate the skin.

2. Poor aesthetics
Higher levels of occlusive agents (like petrolatum, mineral oil or even olive oil) may do a better job of locking moisture in skin but too much will leave your skin feeling so greasy you’ll never use the product again.

3. Law of diminishing returns
Some ingredients (like cationic hair conditioners) have an optimum use concentration. Once you reach that level adding more doesn’t increase the benefit because the substrate (hair or skin) will only absorb so much and the rest of the ingredient will just rinsed down the drain.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

While there are cases where “more is better” when it comes to active skin care ingredients that’s not always the case. Our suggestion of finding a cheaper product by comparing the ingredient lists is only a starting point. You’ll still have to try to the product to see if it provides the benefit you’re seeking.

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Eileen March 3, 2014, 11:57 am

    Bugra brings up an excellent point. Just because two products list the same ingredients, and perhaps even in the same order, it does not necessarily follow that the two products will have the same level of efficacy. Without knowing the actual percentage of all the ingredients listed, an educated guess can still be made, but not a bonafide comparison. As rightly pointed out by The Brains, the ingredient list is “. . . only a starting point.” When comparing products, the goal is for each individual to find the sweet spot wherein the best result is being obtained at the best price. And, because a person can throw just as much money away on so-called dupes as on the real deal, understanding how to read a label is a valuable tool.

    I’d also like to add that in the case of some products, the type of container can be a factor in selecting one product over another. For example, I use a prescription strength retinoic acid preparation that comes in an opaque, airless pump container. I would never consider buying it in a jar or clear bottle even if it was the exact same formula and came at a significant discount.

  • Michelle Reece March 4, 2014, 1:19 am

    I think the advice of checking the ingredients list first and then buying the cheaper one *best* applies to large companies like L’Oreal that own many brands at many price points. These companies would have the biggest incentive to release a “dupe” before a competitor does.

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