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I've always had a pretty intuitive way of reviewing skincare products, but there's so much debate going on at the moment within the skincare community about ingredient lists, formulation and how we should navigate all of this as skincare enthusiasts who aren't dermatologists or cosmetic formulators. Therefore, I thought it would be worth discussing my thoughts on the topic, as well as laying out how I review skincare products so you know what to expect from my blog and social media channels...
First and foremost: I am not a dermatologist, esthetician, medical professional or cosmetic formulator. I am simply a skincare enthusiast who has done a bit of research! My word should absolutely not be the start and finish of your research into a product or ingredient. My personal approach is to seek out studies on topics of interest and follow lots of experts in the field on YouTube and Instagram to allow myself to absorb as many opinions as possible. When I was much younger, I actually always saw medicine as being pretty black and white; if a doctor told me something, I assumed it was an objective fact. It wasn't until years later when I had an existing issue but had moved house and had a new GP that I realised this wasn't the case. The new GP had a different take on my issue and had actually taken it (obviously anonymised!) to a group she went to with other GPs to discuss difficult cases with the goal of getting some consensus on the right course of action. That's when it clicked; there's not an objective 'right' and 'wrong', there's just an informed professional opinion.
Professionals can disagree with one another, and whilst their opinion obviously holds far more weight than mine; what I try to do here is give you my opinion based on my research and encourage you to do your own. Of course there's such a thing as scientific consensus, but two dermatologists can give you two very different opinions on the same topic based on their interpretation of the research and their professional experience. Just because 'a study' says something does not mean it's fact (if an ingredient patented by L'Oreal has one study on it that says it's amazing and this was conducted by L'Oreal - take it with a pinch of salt), just because one dermatologist says an ingredient is bad doesn't make that the objective truth; the best thing you can do is try to absorb as many professional opinions as possible so you can form your own. You also have to bear in mind that things change, and the way in which products are formulated can change, which means that our 'common understanding' about an ingredient (such as how it is delivered to the skin, how it should be packaged and how it interacts with other ingredients) is ever-evolving. When you're looking into purchasing a product; read as many reviews as possible and look to focus on reviewers you trust and know have similar skin concerns / a similar skin type to yourself.
- THE INCI LIST -
There's been a real trend in the past year or so of 'reviewing' products or deciding if they're 'good' or 'bad' based purely on their ingredients. Personally, if I click on a 'review' and the person hasn't touched, felt and used the product in question; I'll usually click off pretty quickly. Fair enough; when there are very new launches it can be helpful to have someone give a little overview of what you might expect from it, but to me you simply can't review a product you've not used. I do definitely think ingredient lists are important; for too many years we were buying expensive products full of filler and not much else and there's power in understanding what's in a product. If you have sensitive skin; it's really important in figuring out what's triggering you. If you're looking for specific actives; this will help you go beyond the brand's label of 'exfoliating toner' and understand if it's glycolic, salicylic, mandelic or lactic and what the specific benefits are of the ingredient in your product. I like to discuss the key ingredients and flag up anything in there that's a common irritant or that I know people have concerns regarding to go into a little more depth. But, at the end of the day, everyone's skin is different and the reason I'm linking the product page is so that you can check out the ingredient list for yourself and ensure that, if you were to purchase the product, there's nothing in there that's going to cause you problems. I know a number of people who break out from products containing shea butter because it's too rich for their skin, but it's considered a pretty non-problematic ingredient for the vast majority so I don't feel I need to *warn* people a product contains it. Many people are really anti-fragrance at the moment, so if a product contains it, I'll discuss the type of fragrance and my experience with it so they're aware.
However, I really do think this has been taken to its logical extreme, as often happens with the internet! I personally don't think you can or should 'review' a skincare product by looking at the ingredient list, which I'm seeing a lot of at the moment. Personally, I think there's so much more to a skincare product than what's in it. Just like reading the ingredients of a cake recipe and throwing them all together in a bowl at the same time in random quantities then sticking it in the oven for some indeterminate amount of time won't make you a nice cake. Method, formulation and sourcing of ingredients play a huge role in the finished product. Ingredients that could be drying can be counterbalanced by other ingredients within the formula so they're no longer problematic. Also, ingredients that might be 'toxic' in high quantities might be at a level that's not even 1/10th of the amount needed to cause potential problems and could actually be beneficial in this context. Or, ingredients that are dangerous in some way in and of themselves go through a chemical process that renders them totally safe. For the same reason, if you were slow cooking a recipe containing 100ml of red wine for several hours, it's very likely that no alcohol at all will remain by the end, because the process has changed the properties of the red wine you started with.
-BEYOND THE INCI LIST -
I personally consider so many factors when reviewing a skincare product, all of which I weight differently. Firstly; how easy was this product for me to get hold of? Did I have to order it from the US and pay customs when it arrived? How long did it take to come? Did they have good customer service? Was any 'additional effort' worth it, or is there a similar product out there that the majority of you can access more easily?
Another factor is packaging. Of course, if a product works well, I'm not going to hide it (or, if it looks promising, I won't not try it) because it isn't pretty enough on my shelf. It's an added extra, a 'nice to have', but I won't pretend the experience of skincare isn't important to me at all. There are functional products in my skincare routine and there are products that I truly just enjoy using, and I always try to discuss both sides because skincare can be fantastic to treat the skin and see results with, but it's also a form of self-care. What's more important to me when reviewing, though, is whether the package does what it needs to do: if it's a retinoid or Vitamin C, is it in clear or opaque packaging? Is it pump packaging or does it come with a dropper? Is it quick and easy to use? Is it awkward to open or not very travel-friendly? These are all factors that come into play for me.
Again, an area I think people underplay is how a product looks and feels on the skin. I get it; there are super-affordable brands out there that offer active ingredients at very low prices, and the textures often aren't the best, even if the product is doing the job. At the end of the day; if a product feels nice on my skin, I'm going to keep reaching for it. If it pills up and makes a mess or feels tacky, filmy or sticky on my skin, I'm probably not, because I have better options!
I see my role as trying a bunch of, for example, niacinamide serums at different price-points to see which one strikes the right balance between effectiveness, price and application. Likewise, if I discover a really beautiful, elegant, more high-end formula; I recognise there's an audience out there that does like a bit of luxury and I want to be able to compare, discuss and recommend products across the price spectrum based on my personal experience. I actually think it's pretty important to try the expensive products so I can find affordable alternatives to compare them to and have a sense of what the difference is between a £80 serum and a £10 serum and reach my own conclusions. First and foremost, I write based on personal experience because I think there's a lot more credibility in that. To the extent that, yes: I used that Kylie Walnut Scrub, so I can tell you what trash it is based on having used it! Whilst that's an extreme example; I don't think you can honestly say that x brand 'definitely isn't worth the money for anyone' unless you've used it, and I'd prefer someone to say 'and I've tried y product that really reminded me of their formula, so give that a go instead'.
- THE TESTING PERIOD -
I've already covered this off in great detail in my post How Long Does it Take to See Results with Skincare?, so I won't repeat myself here. I'll just say that my priority is to give the best possible review for my audience, not just appease brands who expect you to be gushing 'omg this changed my skin!!!' a week after it arrived.
How do you interpret skincare reviews? How do you assess skincare when you're trying it yourself?