Brands’ desire to meet these growing demands without breaking the bank has given rise to a phenomenon called “fairy dust,” in which brands add a small amount of an active ingredient to their formulas so they can advertise its benefits on the label . —and, in effect, get more people to buy your products. It’s a shady shortcut, sure, but it’s not exactly a well-kept secret within the industry. It is a recognized term within the cosmetic and skincare industry as a deceptive practice involving brands and manufacturers misleading consumers by adding an insufficiently small amount of an active ingredient and claiming it will produce measurable results or benefits,” he explains. Shuting Hu, PhD, cosmetic chemist and founder of Academy. This practice allows brands to claim that an active ingredient is present in formulas (because technically it is) without spending the amount of money that would be required to include it in an effective concentration.
most of Food and Drug Administration Regulations around beauty products have to do with poisonous or dangerous ingredients and the sanitary conditions in which a product is formulated. Therefore, the organization does not closely monitor how companies market their ingredients, as long as they are considered “safe.” “So unless there’s a dangerous ingredient or false health benefits printed on the label, like ‘Niacinamide helps control oil production,’ the brands can go unnoticed,” he says. Priscilla Fadul, skincare brand founder lendava. “This is the main reason why pixie dust is still out of control and completely legal.”
And since it doesn’t technically involve breaking the law, many brands continue to see this practice as a viable method of keeping their production costs down. According to Dr. Hu, brands choose fairy dust because it allows them to promote the ultimate ‘it’ ingredient, even if it means sacrificing the quality of their formula. She explains that they can get away with it without losing credibility because, since they don’t disclose the concentrations of the actives they use, they assume that consumers won’t be able to hold them accountable when a product doesn’t. deliver results.
There is a batch to unpack here, but educating yourself will ultimately prevent you from wasting your money on products that don’t live up to their promises.
Knowing the ‘1 percent rule’ can help you understand your assets and avoid pixie dust
To understand why fairy dust is problematic, it’s first important to understand how the active ingredients work and how they’re listed on the product’s packaging.
“Actives are ingredients backed by laboratory research to exert the desired effect on the skin,” he says. Dr. Jessie Cheung, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chicago. Vitamin C, for example, helps brighten the skin; hyaluronic acid helps in hydration; and retinol diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
However, simply adding active ingredients to your routine does not guarantee that your skin problems will go away. “You also have to take into account the specific concentrations of each ingredient, because that is what is needed for the desired effect to occur, and it is [what makes] the difference between a skincare routine that works for you and not against you,” says Dr. Cheung, referring to how much of the full formula contains a specific ingredient. For example, vitamin C works best when 10 to 20 percent concentrated, and glycolic acid requires at least a 10 percent concentration (ideally at pH 3.5) to be effective.
Finding out if a brand is dusting off one of these assets requires doing a little detective work on a product’s ingredient list, which starts with educating yourself on what cosmetic chemists call the “1 percent” rule.
According to Fadul, the ingredients that make up more than 1 percent of the formula are list on the label in order from highest to lowest concentration. “The first ingredient is the one with the highest amount in the product, while the last one on the list has the least amount,” Paul Pestano, lead database analyst for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization for-profit organization that provides information and research on ingredients in its deep skin database, previously counted well+well.
To take advantage of the 1 percent rule, Fadul recommends becoming familiar with the most commonly used inactive ingredients, such as phenoxyethanol, parabens, sodium benzoate, ethylhexylglycerin, and glyceryl caprylate. “These ingredients are typically equal to or less than 1 percent, meaning anything listed after these will be [concentrated at] less than 1 percent, too,” she says. “So if you see a brand list a key ingredient, like vitamin C, after these filler ingredients, they’re misleading you.”
He adds that products sprinkled with vitamin C and glycolic acid will be the easiest to spot, as these ingredients are known to work best at higher concentrations. Generally, if a product contains an effective amount of either, it will be one of the first ingredients listed.
However, the 1 percent rule isn’t foolproof: “Many actives are effective at low usage levels, like retinol, so they’ll be found lower down the ingredient list even when used in the right percentages,” says Emmy Ketcham, co-founder and CPO, R&D of skin care experiment.
More ways to shop smarter
Beyond looking at the order of ingredients, there are a few other telltale signs that a product won’t be able to deliver on its claimed benefits. “Always beware of brands that list these ingredients without specific concentrations, do not have clinical data reports available online, or use general marketing terms like ‘technology’ or ‘complexes’ to assure you that an active ingredient is present,” says Dr. Dr Cheung.
“Buying medical-grade skincare helps protect consumers from false claims – they have a higher potency of active ingredients and are backed by doctors, research and data,” he adds. Dr Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist based in San Francisco. “It’s a safer way to spend your money.”
And remember: if you contact a business for more information and they don’t give you a straight answer, walk away. There are tons of brands that pride themselves on being transparent about ingredients and sourcing and are happy to share clinical data to back up their product claims.
Common Fairy Sprinkle Ingredients to Watch Out For
“Peptides and hyaluronic acid are quite common as they are very popular but very expensive,” says Ketcham. “Therefore, brand formulations will generally include cheaper, but more effective moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin, while attributing efficacy to hyaluronic acid in their marketing.” In other words, brands can make an effective serum based on glycerin (the ingredient is known as one of the best universal moisturizers on the market) and sprinkle some hyaluronic acid on it so they can claim that the formula gets its moisturizing powers from it. buzz activates and charges a premium price… even if it’s not doing much at all.
Collagen is another good example of an ingredient that people tend to overspend on: its molecules are too large to penetrate the skin, so applying it topically won’t do much for your complexion. But that hasn’t stopped brands from adding the ingredient to expensive anti-aging formulas and touting it as a miracle solution for diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Plant and fruit extracts and oils are also frequent offenders, because although these ingredients generally do not contribute significantly to efficacy, they are highly valued in marketing. “A lot of these extracts sound great, but they’re not clinically effective, which means they don’t work,” says Dr. Campbell. In addition, certain stimulating botanicals, such as tea tree, citrus, and lavender oils, can cause irritation on sensitive skin.
While there’s no real harm in using fairy products, as Ketcham mentioned, many affordable ingredients are actually more effective than their popular counterparts, they’re just not worth the investment. “So much of the beauty industry is built on making people feel ‘less than’ or ‘lacking’ and using marketing to help satisfy that need to feel ‘good enough,'” says Dr. Campbell . “But while good skin can help you feel better inside, it’s important to invest your money and time wisely in products that work and made by brands you can trust.”
Since we know that brands have to compete for our money and attention, the most important thing you can do to avoid wasting your time and money is to educate yourself and do your research. The more informed you are, the less likely you are to fall victim to unethical practices in the beauty industry.
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