Every day you see many ads on T. V. for cosmetic products which seem to imply that using their product will bring you better health, increased beauty, and more popularity, money, and/or success. Many products try to strengthen their claims by adding exotic ingredients, like aloe vera, or seemingly desirable qualities, like "hypoallergenic." But, are the companies' claims valid? Do the extra ingredients really work and are the healthy sounding phrases really true? And, although cosmetics are widely and frequently used, are they completely safe? As you will see, these claims are often grossly exaggerated, and are pure hype. Also, we will examine the health precautions that should be taken when using cosmetics.

You may be wondering whether or not people actually believe cosmetic ads. The answer appears to be an emphatic "Yes!" In 1999, U. S. consumers spent $3.4 billion on health and beauty products, and in 2003, the international cosmetic market is predicted to reap benefits for cosmetic companies of over $23.6 billion. Obviously, the constant barrage of beautiful people shown using cosmetics has an effect on how the everyday consumer spends his/her money on health products.

In reality, some cosmetics are not as healthy as they claim to be. This is not to say that they are harmful to your health, but the benefits they promise are often not actually significant. For an example, we will look at aloe vera. Many lotions, creams, and other skin products contain a claim on their label saying that the product contains aloe vera. Although aloe vera has been used for the relief of itchy, scratchy, and burning skin for thousands of years, most cosmetics do not contain enough of the plant extract for it to actually have an effect. This is because aloe vera is quite expensive to manufacture and handle, so adding significant amounts to any product would skyrocket the price.

Many products contain added vitamins like A, D, E, K, and others. These vitamins are essential to healthy hair and skin, but there is no definite experimental evidence to show that placing vitamins, and many other additives, on the skin has any benefits, because it is quite possible that the skin does not absorb and use them. Basically, cosmetic label statements which promote the addition of an ingredient into the product as beneficial need to be taken with a grain of salt, as many are either not potent enough or are not proven to have a real effect.
Another common claim of cosmetic labels is that they are formulated to have some trait that appears attractive. A very typical example is the phrase "hypoallergenic." For people with sensitive skin, hypoallergenic cosmetics sound like a blessing, because the word "hypoallergenic" means that the cosmetic is less likely to cause an allergic reaction to the user. Then again, there are absolutely no FDA (Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency which regulates, among other things, cosmetics) regulations concerning the use of the word "hypoallergenic." In other words, there is no set definition for hypoallergenic, which leaves the decision of whether or not the product really causes less allergic reactions completely up to the company.

The term "dermatologist-tested" only means that a dermatologist has run tests to determine if the product causes less reactions in general. This does not mean that the cosmetic actually does cause less reactions, only that it has been tested. Of course, some companies really do try to make their products less likely to induce allergies by conducting lab tests, but just because the cosmetic is labeled as "hypoallergenic" or "dermatologist-tested" does not mean that it will not cause an allergic reaction.

When a product says that it contains "natural" or "all-natural" ingredients, it is really saying that the ingredient was not produced chemically in a lab. Instead, it was extracted from plants or animals. However, this does not at all mean that it will not cause allergic reactions. In fact, some natural ingredients are very common causes of reactions (for example, lanolin which is a product from wool).

When a consumer is evaluating cosmetic labels to separate bonuses from bunk, he/she needs to read all the promotional phrases and words with a slightly cynical eye. Any exotic ingredients or so-called good characteristics of the cosmetic which are highlighted by the label should be scrutinized before the consumer buys the product; there may be not enough of the added ingredient to have the claimed effect, or the claims on the label may not be as justified as the company would have you believe. Products whose labels contain only completely factual and meaningful claims do exist, but the consumer should watch out for cosmetic hype when they try to find the lotion that will give them the softest skin and is chemical-free or a cream which will not bother sensitive skin, but will soothe it with plant extracts.
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