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Choosing skin care products: Know your ingredients

Advertisements for skincare products can seem like a science lesson at times, using terms like alpha-lipoic acid and alpha hydroxy acid.

The safety of cosmetics and their ingredients come under EU regulations and is enforced in the UK by local trading standards officers. The rules now say cosmetics sold in Europe cannot be tested on animals.

You'll often see the phrase 'dermatologically tested' in relation to skin care, although the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association says there is no legal definition of this term. It just means tested on the skin. A medically qualified person should have been involved in setting up the testing procedure.

Any claims about a cosmetic product have to be cleared by advertising watchdogs, who require robust scientific evidence to back up the claims being made.

What are the ingredients in skincare products and what's the evidence for them helping with skin care or looking younger?

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Antioxidants are natural substances made up of vitamins and minerals. They have the ability to fight " free radicals" - unstable compounds that attack human cells and damage DNA and may contribute to the ageing process. Damaged skin cells can lead to accelerated ageing in the form of wrinkles, dry skin, dark circles under the eyes, dull skin and more.

Free radicals are generated from many sources - the air we breathe, the food we eat, from sunlight and pollution. Eating foods rich in antioxidants is one way to ward them off. Another is to apply them to the skin, where they can seep underneath to strengthen skin cells and keep them healthy.

Antioxidants that have been shown to repair damage and slow the ageing process include:

Acai: Antioxidants from the blue berry native to Central and South America.

Alpha-lipoic acid: Alpha-lipoic acid has been called a "universal antioxidant" because it's both water and fat-soluble.

Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10)

Your body naturally produces CoQ-10 to neutralise free radicals in cells, but as you age, the levels of CoQ-10 go down. That may make skin cells more susceptible to damage by free radicals. That's the rationale behind the use of the antioxidant in skin-care products such as toners, gels and creams which are to be used alone or with a moisturiser. One study showed that CoQ-10 helps reduce wrinkles around the eyes (crow's feet). CoQ-10 is bright orange, so products containing it will be orange or yellow.

Other popular ingredients

More and more, skincare and cosmetics companies are incorporating natural components such as botanicals into their product ranges. The following are some of the most common new ingredients:

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

These ingredients are found naturally in grapes, lemons, sugar cane and milk, but tend to be called fruit acids.

They are used in low concentrations in skin care products to speed up the normal exfoliation process.

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