Some Help Please! Understanding Cosmetic Ingredients Lists

Sunday February 3, 2013 | Beauty

Hi everyone! It’s Sunday and what better way to spend today than share with you some resources on deciphering chemical ingredients in your cosmetics products!

As a beauty blogger, I often spend quite a bit of time looking up cosmetics ingredients and trying to figure out what they are, what they’re doing in a product and what potential risks they might pose to our health. But sometimes, I have doubts on how accurate and free of bias the information I find may be.

So I recently asked Colin, a cosmetic scientist who blogs at Colin’s Beauty Pages, what resources are available out there to help us understand more about the ingredients found in our beauty products.

Colin’s response came with an interesting anecdote about the cosmetics ingredients list that I didn’t even think about:

"First things first, ingredient lists aren't there for members of the public to do their own safety assessments.  They aren't even there to give beauty bloggers something to talk about during product reviews.  Their origins go back to the seventies and eighties and are the result of pressure from dermatologists.
Dermatologists could carry out patch tests on patients with allergies and determine what ingredients were causing the reaction. But there was no way for the patients to use this information because cosmetic formulations were a closely guarded secret.  So ingredient lists were brought in for the benefit of the small proportion of the population who are allergic to cosmetic ingredients. But as everyone uses cosmetics, although it is a small proportion it is still a large total number of people.  So it seems a reasonable thing to do.
Given that the large number of different names for chemicals confuses even chemists, it was agreed to compile a list of generally agreed names to standardise things and give the consumers a sporting chance of identifying their particular allergen.  These names were published in the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary, which is four thick volumes in size.  These are the names that you are legally obliged to use on your product." ~ Colin 

Cosmetics Ingredients Close-Up

Oh right. Now it makes sense. Ingredients lists aren’t supposed to make sense.

They were  put in place mainly for the benefit of people who have allergies to certain ingredients.

Anyway, since I’m not about to drop $350 on the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary (even though I know it would be such a page turner), he also mentioned the following resources:

European Union’s CosIng database which gives information on the names and descriptions of cosmetic ingredients, as well as their functions, restrictions and opinions on consumer safety. However, it’s not very easy to navigate and the information I’ve found on here are the barest of bones.

American Cosmetic Ingredients Review is a compilation of scientific reviews on cosmetic ingredients, but the information on here is very complex. I ran into technical and very bureaucratic flow charts. I also noticed that their search tool is not functioning properly. So I wouldn’t recommend this site for the average consumer or beauty blogger out there. In addition, there may be an inherent bias towards the cosmetics industry because of the way the review process is funded. is actually a database that I’ve been making use of. It’s much easier to navigate and the information is more detailed and a lot easier to understand.  The information is based on the American Cosmetic Ingredients Review mentioned above.

I personally would like to include in this list the Skindeep Database by the Environmental Working Group because I have used it in the past. But there’s a lot of controversy surrounding this site because of what some have termed as “scare tactics.” Something that we won’t get into too much right now. Just take this site with a grain of salt if you use it.

My problem with all of these cosmetics ingredients databases is that they’re either really technical and/or there is a lot of controversy surrounding them.

Personally, what I would love to see is a database made for people who simply just want to know. What is this ingredient? What does it do? Is it okay to put it on my body?

I envision something like a Beauty Wikipedia, based on the open source model of Wikipedia. A cosmetics ingredients database that’s free for anyone to edit and add information to, as long as they cite reliable sources. Easy to navigate, and easy to understand. Why not?

I think it’s an idea that’s worth a thought.

What about you? Where do you go for your cosmetics ingredients information? And do you think that something like a Beauty Wikipedia could be a viable source of information, one that’s reliable and free of bias?

How Perfume Became My Breakfast At Tiffany’s: Manifesto By Yves Saint Laurent

Friday February 1, 2013 | Beauty Product Reviews

How does one even begin to describe a fragrance? Sweet, flowery, opulent, sensuous…

These are the words that I would use to describe the Manifesto perfume by Yves Saint Laurent. A perfume that I am very much in love with.

Before moving to Paris, I didn’t care much for perfumes. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who wore perfume. Not really. But then upon coming here, I noticed how some of the french girls I’d befriended always had the same signature scent when we’d greet each other with a bisou on the cheeks. And after we’d part ways, their scent would always softly linger on.

I liked that.

I liked how the French love perfumes. This should have been obvious with all the perfume shops that you’ll encounter at every turn of the street. So it came to pass that I developed a habit of popping into perfume shops whenever I was on my way somewhere, just to smell and discover all the different perfumes.

Slowly, the world of perfumes became my Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

Whenever I would feel a little bit sad, all I had to do was go into a perfume shop and spritz a bit of perfume and give it a sniff. This never failed to brighten my mood. But I’d never actually dare to buy one for myself. I wasn’t that type of girl.

My first crush was Addict by Dior. A very pert, floral and summery fragrance. Chanel No. 5 made me wrinkle my nose and brought to mind the image of batty old ladies with stuffy fur coats. I’m sorry, but it does.

Over time, I noticed that there was one perfume I kept being drawn to. That was when I realized I was in love with Manifesto, the latest fragrance created by Yves Saint Laurent.

I carried this crush secretly for months, but there must have been someone who noticed because I received this little gold package for Christmas.

This was a very pleasant surprise…

A Golden Gift, Yves Saint Laurent's Manifesto

Yves Saint Laurent's Manifesto Perfume

Yves Saint Laurent's Manifesto Perfume

Yves Saint Laurent Manifesto Perfume

The colors of gold and purple make for quite a regal pair, don’t you think?

The bottle’s cinched shape is very feminine, which is an attestation to the fragrance itself. The creators wanted to create a Manifesto of Femininity whose fragrance would evoke “an attitude, a burst of laughter, a tone of voice, a presence.”

When it comes to the scent, the top notes are blackcurrant, bergamot and green notes. The middle notes are jasmine and lily of the valley. The base notes are cedar, sandalwood, vanilla and tonka bean.

For me, I really adore this combination of the blackcurrant, jasmine and vanilla. Perhaps my only critique of this perfume is that its scent does not last long enough. Others have complained that the scent is not bold enough to distinguish the Manifesto from other perfumes. But for a first perfume, I think the Manifesto really is just lovely.

I take great pleasure in walking around and catching whiffs of this perfume on myself. Sometimes I will just bring up my wrists to my face to inhale it. When I wear this, I do feel like I am making a statement of femininity.

And it’s something that I wear for no one but myself!


Discover: Manifesto Eau De Parfum by Yves Saint Laurent
How Much:
 $62 (1.0 fl oz), $82 (1.6 fl oz), $102 (3.0 fl oz)
Watch: A bit over the top, but if you haven’t seen it yet this is the ad featuring Jessica Chastain, the face of Manifesto…

Jessica Chastain, the face of Manifesto by YSL


And you, have you tried the Manifesto? What is your favorite fragrance?

A Look At Caudalie + A Review of their Beauty Elixir & Moisturizing Cream

Wednesday January 30, 2013 | Beauty Product Reviews

Since I am so fortunate to be living in France, I think it would be a shame—-nay, a crime! if I, as a beauty blogger, didn’t bother to try out at least some of the popular French beauty brands out there and review them for you.

Caudalie is among the most popular French beauty brands. Just like Avène, you can find this brand in every pharmacy and parapharmacy in France. You might remember me griping about how, in the pharmacies here, it’s so much easier to find vitamins for stronger hair and nails than it is to find a bottle of aspirin!

French pharmacies are well-known for their impressive collection of skincare and beauty products. And visitors from all over the world come in order to buy some of the popular beauty brands that they carry, like Caudalie.

Caudalie Beauty Elixir & Moisturizing Cream Review

So what makes Caudalie so special?

If you like to drink wine, then you may be in the regular habit of reminding yourself how wine is good for you because it is rich in anti-oxidants.

Caudalie’s origins is based in Bordeaux, a region famous for its vineyards and wine. The wife and husband team who founded Caudalie took the grape and used it for its powerful cosmetic properties.

Caudalie revolves around the active ingredients derived from grapes, which contain potent anti-oxidants and other beauty benefits.

There are many scientific studies that show the myriad beauty benefits that can be extracted from the humble grape plant. The grape seed contains polyphenols which help protect the skin against free radicals, which may come from our environment and our lifestyle habits and can accelerate the aging process of our skin. The grape vine contains reserveratrol, which helps to stimulate collagen production and preserve the skin’s firmness.  And the grapevine sap contains viniferine, a molecule that reduces and fights against the formation of dark spots.

Caudalie makes use of every part of the grape (the seed, the vine, the sap, the water, the oil and even the wine yeast used to make wine) to create products that not only help preserve the skin’s youthfulness but also respect the environment.

Although this brand is not certified organic, a lot of their ingredients are plant-based and are supposedly sourced from organic fair-trade plants. Their products also boast of being free of parabens, phenoxyethanol, phtalates, mineral oils, gmo’s, artificial coloring, etc. And they are against animal-based ingredients and animal testing.

So brand marketing gibberish aside…. when it comes to using their products and assessing their effectiveness, the question is… are they actually any good?

Well, I’ve been using two products by Caudalie: The Beauty Elixir & The Premières Vendanges Moisturizing Cream.

Let’s have a look…

Caudalie Beauty Elixir Close-up

Caudalie Beauty Elixir Spray

Caudalie Beauty Elixir

The purpose of the Beauty Elixir is to smooth lines, tighten pores and give skin a glowing complexion. It is a product that many bloggers from around the world have raved about. So I got the small version of it just to see what all this hype is about.

How to use it: As you can see from the photos above, the elixir is water that you spray on your face. There are these tiny globules that float and hang out at the top so you have to shake the bottle first before you use it. I find that three full sprays six-inches away from the face usually suffices for me.

Ingredients: Water, alcohol (plant derived), flower orange, perfume (fragrance), rosemary leaf oil, potassium alum, peppermint oil, styrax tonkinensis resin extract, commiphora myrrha resin extract, balm mint leaf oil, rosa damascena flower oil, grape fruit extract, tocopherol, citral, limonene, linalool, citronellol, geraniol, farnesol, benzyl benzoate, eugenol.

The first ingredient in the ingredient list is water. And the second ingredient listed is alcohol. Usually the first couple of ingredients are the ones which constitute the highest percentage of the product. So this already had me going “Hmmm… why would people rave so much about a product whose first two ingredients are water and alcohol?”  Yes it’s a plant-derived alcohol, but any type of alcohol can be too drying for the skin.

What I like about it: After I spray the elixir, I get a tingly sensation which gives me the impression that my skin is refreshed. I do see a difference in the radiance of my complexion. I get a bit of a glow after I spray the elixir on my skin.

What I don’t like about it: The smell is weird–I mean it’s neither bad nor good. But the elixir’s scent is just not its strong point. Although my skin feels refreshed, afterwards it starts to feel uncomfortably dry. And that’s probably from all the drying astringent ingredients.

Fortunately, my skin does not react negatively to the elixir. But I have read instances where people’s skin had a bad reaction to the elixir. And that’s probably because there are a lot of essential oils here that can cause irritations and allergies. So if your skin is sensitive and reacts badly to fragrances and essential oils, be careful with this one.

Many people say the elixir is great for “priming” their skin before putting on makeup, and although I’ve tried it for this purpose, I don’t see much of a difference between when I do and when I don’t use this before putting on makeup.

How much: Around 8€ for the 30 ml bottle and 24€ for the 100 ml bottle.

Would I buy it again: Maybe. But’s it’s not high on my re-purchase list. It’s good that they had a small version of this so you could try it out first before you committed to the 24 euro size bottle.

Caudalie Premières Vendanges Moisturizing Cream

Caudalie Moisturizing Cream Close-up

Caudalie Premières Vendanges Moisturizing Cream 

The Premières Vendanges Moisturizing Cream is a hydrating cream formulated with grape polyphenol anti-oxidants to protect the skin against free radicals. It’s suited for all skin types, but mainly recommended for youthful skin, which I suppose is what the term “Premières Vendanges” (winespeak for “harvest of the first crop of grapes”) refers to.

How to use it: You apply a quarter-coin sized amount on your face and another quarter-coin sized amount on your neck. This cream can be used both day and night.

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin* , Stearyl Heptanoate*, Ethylhexyl Cocoate*, Ethylhexyl Palmitate*, Polysorbate 40*, Sorbitan Palmitate*, Vitis Vinifera Grapeseed Oil*, Tripalmitin*, Tristearin*, Polymethylmethacrylate, Ceteareth-20*, Oleyl Alcohol*, Carbomer, Tocopheryl Acetate*, Dimethicone, Hydrogenated Stearyl Olive Esters*, Perfume (fragrance), Caprylyl Glycol, Palmityol Grapeseed Extract*, Potassium Sorbate, SodiumHydroxide, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylatecrosspolymer, Benzyl Benzoate, Citronellol, Coumarin, Geranoil, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool.

* Asterisk indicates ingredient is derived from plant sources

I actually spent a good hour and a half looking up each and every one of these ingredients!! I wanted to know what they are, what cosmetic purpose they serve and any potential toxicity they may pose.

So basically, the first couple of ingredients are emollients with hydrating properties, and then you have antioxidants and then later on the fragrances which are derived from essential oils. Most of the ingredients are low in toxicity but the fragrances from the essential oils can be irritants and cause unwanted reactions (a usual risk with essential oils).

If you want my notes on these ingredients, let me know and I can send them to you. It was just waaay tooo looong to post on here.

What I like about it: This is a cream that is really good at what it’s supposed to do!! It’s truly hydrating and it has a high concentration of anti-oxidants. I like the subtlety of the scent and I like the way the cream feels on my skin. It’s very soothing. After I use it, my skin feels really smooth and has this undeniable glow. The moisture lasts all day. And it doesn’t leave my skin feeling greasy. I can see how this would be good even for people with oily and pimple-prone skin. And of course, I’m pretty happy with the price in relation to how well the product works and how much of it you get.

What I don’t like about it: I’m actually pretty satisfied with this product. Of course I could be a little happier if I got more in terms of quantity but that seems to always be the case with cosmetic products that I like. Also, it’s not rich enough for cold, dry winter days. So if you have dry skin, or dry/combination skin then this might not be your ideal winter moisturizer.

How much: Around 15 € for a 40 ml tube.

Would I buy it again: Yes! In fact, this is the second time around that I’ve purchased this product. It’s an excellent moisturizer with a list of good, reliable ingredients.

In conclusion…

Personally, Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir was a great example of a much-hyped product that really didn’t do much for me. It does feel nice on my skin and I do get a nice glow from it. But the dry, uncomfortable feeling that I get afterwards is just not worth it. For people who like toners and whose skin takes well to astringents toners, I can see how this products would work for them.

The Premières Vendanges Moisturizing Cream provided the saving grace. It is a product that I am really happy with. And one that I would recommend to people to try if they’re looking for a good moisturizer.

As for the brand Caudalie itself, one of the main critiques out there against them is that their products are too expensive and do not contain enough of the active ingredients which they boast of. However, their serums have received many positive reviews. And if I were to ever encounter one of their serums during a BIG sale, I would be very happy to try them!

Phew. So that wraps up my review of Caudalie and two of their products!

Now over to you…

Have you tried any Caudalie products? And if so, what were your impressions?