Consumer Reports Decodes 15 Beauty Terms

PHOTO: A shop assistant works at the cosmetics counter at a Boots store on Oxford Street in London, U.K., May 16, 2006.
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If you're not sure what to make of the many claims beauty products tout for the "new and improved" you, you are not alone. A trip to the drugstore beauty aisle or department store makeup counter is enough to make one's head spin after reading the purported features of creams, lotions, masks, sprays, and toners.

"ShopSmart" magazine from the nonprofit consumer organization Consumer Reports decoded 15 terms touted as benefits, including five terms the magazine advises consumers to "ignore" and three that are "the real deal."

Ignore

1.
Hypoallergenic

ShopSmart said the FDA does little to regulate the use of the term "hypoallergenic," which is defined by each company.

Ignore

2.
Natural

Found in lip balm and acne treatments, the magazine said that "natural" does not have a regulatory definition. Consumers are also cautioned that "just because something isn't man-made doesn't necessarily mean it's safe."

Ignore

3.
Lifting

"Lifting" is another word the magazine said has little weight. While the term denotes a reversal of sagging, the magazine notes that formal dermatologic treatment, such as a heat-generating ultrasound, is often needed to actually boost the production of collagen, a protein that firms skin.

Ignore

4.
100 Percent Pure

While the words, "100 percent pure" may hint that a product is free of artificial additives, that does not have to be the case. However, exceptions include if a product has just one ingredient, such as 100 percent aloe vera, the magazine notes.

Ignore

5.
For Sensitive Skin

ShopSmart notes that it is possible a manufacturer has minimized the use of irritating ingredients, such as fragrances, and tested the product on sensitive skin, "but there's no way to know for sure."

The Real Deal

6.
Broad-spectrum

The benefits of sunscreen are widely agreed upon by dermatologists. Starting in December, the Food and Drug Administration's labeling requirements specify that "broad-spectrum" must protect against two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, which can cause premature skin aging, and UVB, which causes sunburns. SPF numbers relate to a product's effectiveness against the latter, ShopSmart notes.

The Real Deal

7.
Organic

Only the USDA's official "organic" seal is approved by the USDA for having at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients made without things like pesticides.

The Real Deal

8.
Water-resistant

While the term water-resistant can be applied to makeup and moisturizers, the FDA only governs the use of that term in sunscreen. The FDA's rules that take effect this December govern that sunscreen using that term must stay on through 40 minutes of water immersion. Products using the term, "very water resistant" must stay on for 80 minutes of water immersion. No longer will sunscreen makers be allowed to use the term "water-proof."

9.
Brightening

ShopSmart stayed neutral on the term, "brightening." The magazine said "brightening products might contain ingredients (such as salicylic acid, willow-bark extract, or kojic acid) that may slightly reduce uneven pigmentation and have a mild brightening effect, according to dermatologists. But it doesn't mean they will make skin lighter."

10.
Clinically proven

Before using the term, "clinically proven," a company may have paid to test the product on cell cultures or people, but ShopSmart notes that unless the details of the study are released, often little is known about them, such as whether they were conducted in controlled environments.

11.
Dermatologist recommended

ShopSmart said that if two out of 20 dermatologists tell a company they would recommend a product, a company may still use the term, "dermatologist recommended." "There's no rule in the derm world for what percentage would have to recommend it," Leslie Baumann, M.D., dermatologist and author of "The Skin Type Solution," told ShopSmart.

12.
Firming

The word, "firming" may have ingredients that hydrate or plump skin for a "fuller" look, but there is no legal or regulatory definition for the term, ShopSmart notes.

13.
Non-comedogenic

Ellen Marmur, M.D., vice chairwoman of cosmetic and dermatologic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and author of "Simple Skin Beauty," told ShopSmart that the term non-comedogenic "may not be a fail-safe guarantee against breaking out, but it's a good term to look for." The term usually means a product does not have ingredients known to clog pores, such as mineral oil, lanolin, parafin or fatty acids.

14.
Refining

Without a specific definition, the word refining could mean it contains ingredients that reflect light or fill in wrinkles, or it could mean that it hydrates skin. Sometimes a scrub or cleanser might tout this term because the product removes dead surface cell, ShopSmart said.

15.
Restructuring

The term often refers to companies that are laying off employees or implementing a change in its business, but in skin care, Dr. Baumann said "the company must have some scientific data somewhere showing that the product makes more collagen."

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