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When we buy newly adverted beauty products, how many of us can honestly say that we stop for a moment to read the ingredients listed on the label before handing over our cash? And, if we do take the time, to what extent do we understand the vocabulary? Often, consumers are left baffled by the list of ingredients of today's new cosmetics.

Here's the a low down on what those terms mean.

Allantoin: Reported to have healing, soothing, and anti-irritating properties. Extracted from urea, which is derived from the urine of most animals, and from herbs like comfrey or uva ursi.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids: Group of acids that appear naturally in fruit. Used in toners, creams, and masks to exfoliate and moisturise the skin. Can be a skin irritant causing redness and rashes.

Bentonite: Clay that is an effective skin clarifier. Used in facial masks. It takes its name from Fort Benton where bentonite deposits are found.

Biotin: One of the B vitamin family that assists in dermatitis and hair loss.

Bronopol: Toxic alcohol used in fabric softeners and detergents. It is also used in face creams, shampoos, hair dressings, mascara, and bath oils. It is a white crystalline powder that can cause skin irritation at concentrations of 0.25 per cent.

Co-Enzyme Q 10: a vitamin-like substance that supports the skin cells' self-repairing mechanism so that wrinkles are reduced and become less visible.

Dimethicone: Gives a smooth feel to a cosmetic cream or lotion. Various allergic reactions and internal problems make them questionable as cosmetic ingredients. Although they're still widely used, they should be avoided. Many herbal oils, such as vegetable glycerine, can easily replace this chemical.

Essential Oils: Oily liquids obtained from plants. Complex mixtures of alcohols, ketones, phenols, acids, ethers, aldehydes, esters, oxides, and sulphur compounds (among others). They're also called volatile oils, ethereal oils, essences, or absolutes.

Gingko Biloba Oil: Ginko, thought to be the oldest tree on the planet, has long been used in Chinese medicine. Used for its anti-inflammatory and antiallergenic properties.

Green Tea: Anti-carcinogenic. Contains polyphenolic antioxidants that play an important role in the prevention of cell damage. Has a soothing and moisturising effect.

Hemp Seed Oil: A natural source of essential fatty acids vital in preventing cell loss, regulating skin's moisture barrier and maintaining elasticity. This oil is absorbed directly into the skin and provides important amino acids, linoleic acid, protein and highly prized Omega oils. Skin visibly responds to this rich nourishment.

Jojoba Butter and Oil: Extracted from the edible seeds of the desert shrub Simondsia californica. Used as a lubricant and hair conditioner. Often used in shampoos, moisturisers, and sunscreens. May cause allergic reactions.

Keratin: This insoluble albumoid (fibre protein) can be found in horny tissue like the hair and nails. High in sulphur, it's quite strong, but it is subject to chemical penetration.

Lipids: These materials are soluble in alcohol (and other solvents) but not in water. Includes fatty acids, fats, waxes, fixed oils, phosphatides, cerebrosides, and sometimes steroids and carotenoids. Along with proteins and carbohydrates, lipids constitute the structure of cells. When used on the skin, they have a moisturising cream action.

Liposomes: Microscopic sacs obtained from natural or synthetic sources. Because these can easily penetrate the skin, in lotions and creams liposomes are used to deliver substances, contained within the sac, to internal skin layers.

Mica: Ashiny silicate minerals split into very thin sheets. Used in eye cosmetics to provide sparkle.

Non-comedogenic -Does not clog oil glands that may lead to blemishes.

Para-aminobenzoic Acid (PABA): Found in Vitamin B complex. Used in sunscreen formulations and as an anaesthetic in sunburn products. Can cause allergic reactions.

Parabens: Toxic. Allergenic. Artificial chemicals. Used to preserve cosmetics. They are not effective with shampoos or with products that contain proteins.

Retinoids/Retinol: A series of compounds derived from Vitamin A. These compounds are found in skin and aid in its normal functioning.

Seaweed - High in vitamins A, B - complex, C and E. A skin and scalp nutrient, soothing and toning.

Shea Butter: An excellent emollient for skin moisturisers made from Mangifolia Tree Nuts High in triglycerides and fatty acids.

Sodium Bisulphite: Artificial chemical that is used as a hair "relaxer" and a preservative.

Sorbitol: Derived from fruit or algae. A humectant that gives skin a velvety feel. Gives a lubricant quality to lotions.

Stearalkonium Chloride: Used almost universally in hair conditioners. It was originally developed by the textile industry for use as a fabric softener. It also has antistatic properties.

TEA-Lauryl Sulfate: Very popular shampoo ingredient. Used as synthetic detergent. A combination of triethanolamine and the salt of lauryl sulphuric acid.

Tree Oil: Derived from the tree Melaleuca alternifolia or tea tree found in Australia. Used as an antiseptic and germicide. Also used for insect bites, skin problems, as a dentifrice, and mouthwash. Cosmetic applications are dandruff shampoos, face masks, and topical creams.

Triclosan: An antibacterial agent used in deodorant and deodorant soaps. Absorption through skin may cause liver damage.

Water-based: A product in which water and water soluble materials constitute the major part.

Witch Hazel: A natural extract from the leaves and twigs of a shrub. A skin refresher, local anaesthetic and a natural, gentle astringent. It is soothing to the skin and helps regulate sebaceous glands.

Rangsita Sirivanich, The Nation
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
 
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