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5 Ingredients Every Smart Skin and Haircare Consumer Should Know

Ah, the ingredient label: the absurdly long list of tongue-twisting terms that typically leaves us sufficiently befuddled. What do these ingredients do, and which ones are safe for your type of skin or hair? To better inform your purchases, here’s a cheat sheet for five frequently used ingredients on the market in skin and haircare.


Parabens are preservatives that help prevent bacterial and fungal growth in your products. They are one of the most hotly-debated ingredients out there. The latest studies hold that parabens in small doses are safe in cosmetic and personal products, but sometimes the ingredient can irritate skin. If that’s the case for you, steer clear of the p-word with a natural, botanicals-based line like Essentiel Elements.


Another oft-discussed name, sulfates (frequently seen on labels as sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate) are what give your cleansing products that foamy froth, and can help soften your skin. But they also might dry out your hair. You’ll find sulfates most commonly in soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes—really anywhere that you’re used to seeing bubbles when you scrub. If you’ve found that suds-filled formulas tend to dry out or irritate your scalp, give Hanz de Fuko Natural Shampoo a test drive. For the bearded guys out there, try swapping in sulfate-free products like those in Billy Jealousy’s Beard Envy Kit to clear away dirt and grime.

Titanium Dioxide

This white mineral-based powder is used in everything from pigmented makeup to bath soap, and its main purpose is to make a product less transparent and more opaque. But an added benefit of titanium dioxide is that it also helps reflect, absorb or deflect sunlight, which is why you’ll see it listed in so many SPFs. For the acne prone, you may want to skip a product with this ingredient as it can increase the chance of breaking out. Instead, grab a sunscreen with blemish-friendly zinc oxide like Jack Black’s Sun Guard Sunscreen SPF 45.


This ubiquitous ingredient is essentially silicone. It’s used in creams, lotions, soaps, and plenty of hair products to give them that smooth slippery feel. Dimethicone can also help create a protective layer on the skin and give it a more even-looking surface, which is why you’ll find it in skin-smoothing products like dr. brandt’s pores no more anti-aging mattifying lotion.


Glycerol, also seen as ‘glycerin,’ is a humectant—a type of ingredient that helps products stay moist. You’ll find it in a slew of skin care products as well as toothpaste, shaving cream and even hair products like conditioners. For folks with particularly sensitive skin, using a glycerin soap like Imperial’s Glycerin Face/Shave Soap is an almost full-proof way to gently hydrate irritated or dry dermis.

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