In this day and age, we are more aware of what is in our skincare products and what each ingredient can do for our skin. For example, it has become common knowledge that vitamin C and retinol are great for anti-ageing and pigmentation, and salicylic acid is perfect for blemishes. The list goes on and on.
Since we are becoming more knowledgeable on the benefits of all these amazing ingredients we also become curious about percentages and efficacies of ingredients.. Note that I have separated efficacy and percentages as they are completely different things that will be discussed later. In a world where everyone's skin is completely different to each other, we have to ask ourselves: does this really matter? Do we have to go into stores and look at percentages for us to find the right product? The short answer is no.
Efficacy vs. Percentage
First I want to discuss what is the difference between the 2. You'll hear percentages of ingredients that claim to be the optimal concentration of ingredients is best for the skin. (Vitamin C ~20%, Retinol ~2%, Salicylic acid ~2%) Although this may be true, it's not always the case that the ingredients in your skincare have the same efficacy, meaning the maximum response achieved from the dosed ingredient. The real difference is that marketers love to stake their claim on the percentage of ingredient that may be present in their bottle, but really, their ingredient loses its ability to function 100% on the skin because of a) the mix of ingredients, b) how it is stabilised, and c) how it is packaged.
Now I'm no cosmetic scientist, nor am I claiming to have more knowledge. But, what I do know, from many brands and other cosmetic scientists, is that the marketing of skincare is still like this to this day. It's a sad reality and we just have to equip ourselves with the right knowledge. Here are some of the tips I've accumulated from brand founders, scientists and, research.
Find Credible Brands
Most companies out there have used the labeling of ingredient percentages as a way to market their product. This has created a whirlwind of competition based on these ingredients and which one has the highest. Some companies do it as part of their aesthetic (eg. Deceim and in-salon brands) and are backed by cosmetic science. Find and research those brands. Look at their philosophies and understand why they have created this product. Most credible brands tell you what the ingredient does on a cellular level and has reasons behind things like packaging and pairing of calming ingredients with the active one. Finding a credible brand that really knows what they're talking about is crucial in this instance.
Look at Ingredients Lists
We all know that the higher the ingredient is on the list, the more potent the ingredient. Be very careful with this as some ingredients, to be more effective, are lower on the list because they can work at lower levels.
I say to look at ingredients lists because you can see what kind of ingredient is used. If you want a very effective vitamin C, look for L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl-, and if you're looking for retinols, retinyl palmitate, retinoin etc. You can find more info about this on Caroline Hiron's blog or Nadine Baggot's. And look at what they are paired with. Horse chestnut, ferulic acid, fruit extracts, etc, these are ingredients that help to calm the skin or enhance the ingredient's efficacy so that your skin doesn't get a big reaction. Our skin is not used to absorbing high amounts of any ingredient because it is used to functioning fine all by itself. You'll realise this when you get that rash or reaction from using a powerful product. My advice would be to start slow and ease into your strong ingredients in due time.
Listen to the Experts
Find your resources, whether its podcasts, blogs or websites. Research and read as much as you can. It's only then where you'll find the commonalities and be able to form your opinion on skincare. If that is too much work, listen to the experts. Find your experts in-store. Ones that aren't affiliated with one brand. Listen to people who are going against the grain and wonder why they are speaking out.
I hope you find this useful and not too confusing. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments.