Be an Awesome Ingredient Shopper

Three labels of products with varying ingredients: (left to right)   The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter, Alpha H Liquid Gold, The Ordinary's Caffiene Solution 5% +EGCG

Three labels of products with varying ingredients: (left to right) 

The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter, Alpha H Liquid Gold, The Ordinary's Caffiene Solution 5% +EGCG

Hi Face Freaks! 

Welcome to blog number six.

Recently I read that far more people focus on the negative aspects of the ingredients that go into a product than the wonderful ones that do, too. Can I just say that both parts of this puzzle are important, but that for me, it’s a heck of a lot easier to dismiss a product because it has some particularly offensive things in it, knowing that I won’t put it on my skin to start.

So how do you get there? How do you know what’s okay and what isn’t? There are about five billion opinions on what to use and what not to use in internet land. So forgive me for giving mine here as well.

First we have to say that everyone’s skin is different. That sounds simplistic and like a blow-off statement, but it’s 100% true. My face is different from Caroline Hirons’ (CH) face and it’s different from my husband’s face, and it’s different from yours. That is why following CH’s methods are so wonderful. She straight up says this over and over again. We are all different. But her 30+ years of being an esthetician has taught her a lot. And what it has taught her is that certain ways of doing things (using a routine method—I just wrote about that here) is important, and certain ingredients are wise to avoid. And you know what? It’s a lot easier to avoid them and start with a clean slate with her wisdom than to go backwards—there’s a lot less money wasted in my observation, and a lot less heartache with a face that hates you for what you’re doing to it.

So let’s get into it.


What to avoid?


Mineral Oils

CH says to avoid mineral oils and their derivatives. I don’t know all of their names—I just learned a new one the other day!—but there are a lot that I do:

Mineral oil


Paraffin (any word linked with paraffin and there seem to be about twenty)

Baby oil

Ozokerite (mineral oil wax, and the one I just learned!)

These are cheap fillers and can clog pores. They also have been purified using some unsavory methods. They may be fine, even excellent choices for the rest of your body, but the skin on your face is far more delicate and there are a lot of other much nicer options to lock in moisture.



CH says to avoid stripping agents like simple alcohols and witch hazel (she is a human being with a lot of experience, though, and LOVES many products that have both of these ingredients in them. If you want to buy one that she has given rave reviews on, please do and tell me how you like it! If you find one of these in a drug store brand and you are just starting out on your skincare journey, put it back on that shelf. It is not worth your time or pennies.)

Some common names:


Organic Alcohol (made me laugh the day I saw that)

Isopropyl Alcohol

Denatured Alcohol

Alchol denat (doesn’t that sound fancier?!?!)

SD Alcohol (Specially Denatured)

Ethyl Alcohol or Ethanol

CH doesn’t agree with everything Paula from Paula’s Choice brand says, but she does admire and like the businesswoman. This is a lovely article on alcohols in skincare from Paula’s Choice.


Other Alcohols

But wait! I see a TON of other alcohols in my skin care products!!! Am I going to combust?!

No—those are likely fatty alcohols, and they are good for your skin.

Some common names:

Cetyl Alcohol

Benzyl Alcohol

Stearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol

Lauryl Alcohol

Decyl Alcohol

Myristyl Alcohol

Oleyl Alcohol

Really, you just have to look for the –yl ending to know you’re fine, and remember the two imposters—isopropyl and ethyl alcohols are not your friend.

I super heart this article from The Naked Chemist, which breaks down the science. 



Another agent CH recommends we avoid is SLS:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryth Sulfate

These two chemicals are really good at doing one thing: foaming, which equals stripping your skin.

CH: “…stay clear of ‘foaming’ on the bottle (there is the odd exception, but they are few and far between) – to get foam you need to use a surfactant – and a surfactant turns your skin alkaline. Alkaline skin is like a petri dish for bacteria. The irony being that so many cleansers pushed on to acne/combination skins are foaming.”  Source

That odd ingredient she’s likely talking about is coconut based:

Cocamidopropyl Betaine—it still foams though, so be careful and make sure it doesn’t leave you too dry. Each formulation will be completely different.


An overview of ingredients by CH herself.

Here’s her list of ingredients to avoid and to use by skin concern.



Last thing I can think of is to not use gritty substances or devices to exfoliate your skin. No apricot kernel scrub. No gritty stuff. No sugar scrubs. Just don’t. Here’s why.
(And I love that CH, in characteristic CH style, mentions, if it works for you, keep on doing it. We’re really trying to avoid them as they do an imperfect job and it’s a bit overkill when you have a washcloth cleansing routine and you’re using an acid toner.)

These are ingredients in the grey area for me:


These are naturally occurring preservatives. There are tons and tons of studies on their effects on our bodies, and some of them are fine and some are completely ridiculous. Both sides of this camp like to argue about their safety and efficacy. Google a bit, do some reading, and decide for yourself.

This is an article that I think is solid on Methylparabens from Paula’s Choice website:

And here is an article from CH herself:

This article goes a bit to the DANGER DANGER side of things, but it’s nice to read opposing views. This company (True Botanicals based out of San Fransisco) makes beautiful things, and if you’re looking for products (expensive ones) that are going to tick all of these boxes, this would be a gorgeous place to start.

I wish I could give you a neat and tidy little business card that you could tuck into your purse to help you find all of these ingredients. But I can't. It would end up looking like that 3x5" notecard you got to take into that one cool teacher's final test. Completely unreadable from all of the tiny, minuscule, words packed on it. It does get easier, though. The more you practice, the more you read, the more you put Google to work, the better you get at knowing when to say yes, and when to walk away. And that is when you are going to start to see a big difference in the state of your skin--because you will be savy as heck at knowing all the things that really matter.

As always, please reach out if you need help Face Freaks. I'm here for you.