“If you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it on your skin.”
Says everyone who showers with dihydrogen monoxide every single day.
Water. Dihydrogen monoxide is another name for water. If you’re so committed to not using things you can’t pronounce, you shouldn’t even wash your face.
Do you see how absurd this thing is?
Look, I’m all for using safe skincare products. No one wants to get cancer from a moisturiser. But you need to let science – not a playground ditty – figure out what’s dangerous.
Just like you can’t judge a book from its cover, you can’t determine the safety (or lack thereof) of a skincare ingredient from its name. Here’s why:
Natural Ingredients Are Made Of Chemicals, Too
Think a banana is just one ingredient? Think again. Here’s what a banana is really made up of:
Water, Sugars (Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose,Maltose), Starch, Fibre E460, Amino Acids (Glutamic Acid, Aspartic Acid, Histidine, Leucine, Lysine, Phenylalanine, Arginine, Valine, Alanine, Serine, Glycine, Threonine, Isoleucine, Proline, Tryptophan, Cystine, Tyrosine, Methionine), Fatty Acids (Palmitic Acid, Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Linoleic Acid, Omega-3 Fatty Acid: Linoleic Acid, Oleic Acid, Palmitoleic Acid, Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid, Myristic Acid, Capric Acid), Ash, Phytosterols, E515, Oxalic Acid, E300, E306 (Tocopherol), Phylloquinone, Thiamin, Colours (Yellow-Orange E101 (Riboflavin), Yellow-Brown E160a), Flavours (3-Methylbut-1-YL Ethanoate, 2-Methylbutyl Ethanoate, 2-Methylpropan-1-OL, 3-Methylbutyl-1-OL, 2-Hydroxy-3-Methylethyl Butanoate, 3-Methylbutanal, Ethyl Exanoate, Ethyl Butanoate, Pentyl Acetate), 1510, Natural Ripening Agent (Ethene Gas)
Before you ask, these are all the ingredients in a 100% natural, non-GMO banana. Plus, there are no pesticides or anything like that.
Now, how many of them can you pronounce? Heck, I had a hard time typing them. But does that mean you shouldn’t eat your banana now? Of course, not!
It’s not the banana’s fault that some scientist decided to call one of its components 2-Methylbutyl Ethanoate or something.
A name is just a name. Just because you can’t pronounce it, it doesn’t mean it’ll kill you.
Related: Why “Chemical-Free” Skincare Is A Lie
Want to know what ingredients you really need to avoid in your skincare products? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet:
Just Because You Can Pronounce It, It Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe
“If you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it on your skin” is not just silly advice. It’s also dangerous.
Take poison ivy, for example. You can totally pronounce it, right? And yet, I bet you wouldn’t put that on your skin…
Of course, you may say: “But Gio, no one would be that stupid to put poison ivy on their face!” Maybe. But they may put something else that’s natural AND dangerous – without knowing it.
Like lemons. Did you know some people got BURNS after using lemon juice on their skin in an attempt to fade away dark spots? Lemon is highly acidic and can totally destroy your skin’s protective barrier, if you’re not careful.
But hey, you can pronounce it! And it’s natural! 🙄
See what happens when you think natural and pronounceable = good and synthetic and unpronounceable = bad?
You let your guard down. You don’t do your research. And you can very well end up with blistering burns or itchy rashes all over your skin.
Can we please stop judging ingredients based on their name and origins and start relying on science again, please?
Related: When Life Gives You Lemons, Don’t Put Them On Your Skin
Natural Ingredients Aren’t Better Than Synthetic Ones
Just because an ingredient is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s better for you. Sometimes, it’s actually worse. Yes, really.
Take mineral oil and lavender oil. Which of the two do you think is safer?
If you said lavender, think again. Mineral oil is one of the safest oils out there. How is that possible?! Easy. It’s made in a sterilised lab with only a handful of non-irritating compounds.
Lavender oil, on the other hand, contains fragrant components that easily irritate sensitive skin. Not to mention all the kinds of allergens – pollens, resins, pollutants – that deposit on plants on a daily basis. Nope, they’re not always removed before the oil/extract ends up in your skincare products.
But what about mineral oil vs rosehip oil? Rosehip wins this time. Unlike lavender, it doesn’t contain any fragrant component that irritates skin. But it has plenty of antioxidants that mineral oil lacks.
Do you see how things aren’t so clear cut? What’s better really depends on the singular properties of each ingredient, not its origin – or how easy it is to pronounce.
Related: 5 Mineral Oil Myths You Need To Stop Believing Right Now
It’s The Dose, Not The Name, That Makes The Poison
“All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” – Paracelsus.
Scientists already knew this 500 years. Everything – including water! – can kill you if you consume too much of it.
This is why you need to consult your doctor before taking supplements. You may think a Vitamin C pill won’t do you any harm, but if you already get plenty of it through your diet, you may overdo your recommended daily dose and get sick.
It’s the same in skincare. Even good ingredients like retinol give you a bad case of irritation when you use too much of it. Likewise, lavender oil may not irritate your skin at all if there’s only the tiniest drop of it in the serum.
Related: 8 Science-Backed Tips To Make The Most Of Retinol (Even If You Have Sensitive Skin)
The Bottom Line
I know it’s be easier if everything you could pronounce was good for you, but that’s not how skincare works. Good skin starts with educating yourself about the safety and effectiveness of each active – or harnessing the help of a reliable dermatologist or skin coach who’s done the work for you.
What are your thoughts on the “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it on your skin” myth? Let me know in the comments below.