How to choose the right skincare products

When you're being treated for, living with or recovering from cancer, lots of things become a greater area of consideration - including your skincare products and their ingredients. That's in part because some ingredients are thought to be carcinogenic, while others can be especially effective in providing short term relief for conditions caused by cancer treatment, such as eczema, dermatitis, skin-reddening and soreness. So how do you know what to choose, and how do you decipher the list of ingredients on the labels in the shops?

Cutting through the cosmetic jargon

The labels on skincare products are littered with cosmetic jargon designed to entice you by addressing particular needs. ‘Hypoallergenic', 'anti-aging', 'suitable for sensitive skin’ - but what does it really mean? The place to start is with the list of ingredients. However, so often these ingredients read like Morse Code crossed with the Periodic Table. So, we have developed a few rules to help you navigate through them.

Rule 1: If you can’t read the ingredients list, don’t use the product

All products should have an ingredients list, either on the product itself or on the box or wrapper. As mentioned, this is often hard to understand, not least because EU Cosmetic Safety Regulations require the listing to be in Latin. Many reputable natural cosmetic companies will provide a translation (in brackets) next to the ingredients. For example: Persea gratissima (Avocado Oil). If a translation is not provided, you have some research to do. Often the Latin will be used to disguise less than natural ingredients. Liquid paraffin is an often-used, cheap but not-so-nice, ingredient. It will be listed as Liquidium parafinium.

Rule 2: Look past the marketing

So much of the jargon on products has been created for the sake of marketing. ‘Hypoallergenic’, for example. Everyone has different skin and different sensitivities. There are not, to the best of our knowledge, any ingredients that are guaranteed not to cause a reaction. In short, you still need to think about what you want and need in a product and try not to pay too much attention to the shorthand spiel on the front. Ingredients labels are listed with the greatest ingredient first. If a product is called ‘Organic Lavender Body Oil’ and the ingredients are ‘Liquid parafinium, Lavandula Angustifolia’ it means that the oil has more Liquid paraffin than lavender. The product is likely to contain 1% (or less) organic Lavender.

Rule 3: Some natural ingredients are more equal than others

You may have read about the lack of plant oestrogens in our Jennifer Young skincare products. The nurses that we worked with to develop them had a very strict rule and as a result, oestrogens are not allowed. The nurses advised the patients on their ward were not to use skincare and cosmetics that include natural oestrogens. We love our natural ingredients and whilst we would always choose natural and organic for those going through cancer treatment (and we do), it doesn't mean all organic ingredients are good for you, and even the ones that are not recommended all the time - in the case of cancer, that means oestrogen. If you see the words Persea gratissima on an ingredients list, you may wish to choose a different product. We are often asked to provide a definitive list of safe and unsafe natural ingredients, but sadly it isn't possible - at least not at the moment. Research regularly uncovers more hormone disrupting ingredients and compounds so we can’t be sure that any list would be up to date. Whenever we are faced with a new ingredient, we will always update the information we have whenever possible. You're welcome to contact us with any questions if you're unsure about a particular ingredient however, and we also recommend that you arm yourself with your own research if a product contains something you're not sure about.

Rule 4: Patch test ingredients or skincare products

This is easier said than done, but most skincare manufacturers do not allow you the opportunity to patch test products before you buy. When you're being treated for cancer, skin can change and react differently to the way it has done in the past, so it's important to test products - even ones you have used in the past - before applying them. You may not learn more about the specific ingredients that cause a reaction, but you will know whether or not you can tolerate the product.

Rule 5: If there's more than a handful of ingredients – find something else

Your skin is very sensitive and reactive at all times, but especially during cancer treatment. It can be difficult to identify the exact ingredients that may cause a problem and you may develop sensitivities with prolonged use that don't show up at the start. That's why it's particularly important to identify the ingredients that cause a reaction. If a product has hundreds of ingredients, that becomes an almost impossible task. The fewer ingredients in any product, the easier your task will be.

What are the 'good' skincare ingredients?

Identifying 'good' skincare ingredients is not as simple as it sounds. This is because everyone is individual, so it's tricky to take a 'one rule for all’ approach. However, there are some ingredients that are less likely than others to cause a reaction. For example, we are big fans of apricot kernel oil and peach kernel oil. However, there are some people who will have particular allergies to these as well so it's still important to test ingredients wherever possible because there is every chance that your reaction to ingredients will be unique.

As for our own skincare products - we have created them using what we have found to be the least likely range of ingredients to cause negative reactions. To date, we have never had a report of a reaction. However, given the nature of what we do, we value honesty and are very transparent. For that reason, we stress the importance of treating your skin and body as being completely unique, and if you do have a reaction, we will give you a money back guarantee - no questions asked.


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