I thought I was doing the right thing, but my skin proved otherwise. Just because the label said I wouldn't get zits didn't mean that it was true.
Related: 18 Best (and Worst) Acne Fighters
After years (and who knows how much wasted money) of trying products with pretty labels -- but not-so-pretty results -- I came to my senses. Did you know the FDA doesn't regulate what goes into cosmetics? And while there are guidelines for labeling, there's no review process in place.
Ultimately, that means it's up to us to decode labels. No pressure, right? That's why we talked to experts -- from dermatologists to manufacturers -- to find out what's just a load of marketing speak and what we should actually care about. Here's the scoop:
Most people prone to breakouts are adamant about only wearing oil-free foundation and concealer because they think oil will make their acne worse. And now many beauty companies are making oil-free versions of just about everything -- even blush and eyeshadow -- to target these women. However, most dermatologists agree that having "oil-free" emblazoned across the label is mostly a marketing trick.
In fact, if you turn over your bottle of oil-free foundation, you may find oils on the list of ingredients. Companies substitute synthetic oils for natural versions in order to call the product oil-free -- and the irony is that many of the synthetic oils are actually more likely to irritate your skin.
It's fantastic that so many companies are adding sunscreen to makeup -- we can all benefit from more daily SPF. But there are two very different kinds of sunscreen ingredients -- chemical and physical -- that work in opposite ways. Physical sunblock acts as a barrier on your skin to reflect UV rays. Chemical ingredients absorb UV rays and create skin-damaging free radicals.
"I'm a big advocate of physical sunscreens," says Washington D.C. dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD. "My number one choice is zinc oxide, followed by titanium dioxide." If you're prone to breakouts, titanium dioxide may exacerbate them, but zinc oxide is an excellent choice.
Even if your makeup contains zinc oxide, you shouldn't rely on it as your only form of sun protection. Dermatologists recommend applying a teaspoon of SPF 30 or higher to your face -- and no one should be wearing that much foundation. The ultimate regimen is an antioxidant serum, followed by a teaspoon of sunscreen, and then a little makeup.
Related: 11 Best Sunscreens for Your Face
Of all the confusion in the beauty aisle, organic and natural products might be the worst offenders. "FDA requirements say you only have to use 20 percent natural ingredients to say that a product is natural," explains Tyler Hanson, founder of Mineral Hygienics. "So the other 80 percent? Who knows?" If it's important to you that your makeup is truly organic, make sure the label specifies that the contents are "USDA-certified organic." And research the products through organizations like the Natural Products Association and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
So many makeup products are now calling out skin care benefits -- like anti-aging and anti-acne -- on their packaging. Unfortunately, smoothing wrinkles isn't as simple as adding a fine-line-fighting ingredient to a concealer.
"You can get anti-acne benefits from makeup that contains salicylic acid," says Tanzi. "But anti-aging ingredients? Not so much. And you're better off saving your anti-aging for nighttime anyway." (Many anti-aging ingredients are photosensitive and break down in sunlight.) While Tanzi recommends using makeup with built-in SPF to supplement your sunblock, she says that antioxidants in makeup aren't going to be particularly effective. "They're better delivered through a serum worn underneath your moisturizer," she says.
If you don't like strong smells, fragrance-free is a great option for you. However, if you're buying fragrance-free products because you're allergic or sensitive to fragrances, you might still end up with a reaction. "A lot of companies add masking fragrances to cover the scent of other ingredients -- and the FDA doesn't require that these masking fragrances be included on the ingredient list," says Laura Verallo de Bertotto, CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics. While the term hypoallergenic means that a product has only a small chance of causing an allergic reaction, if you're prone to reacting you should always do a patch test when trying something new for the first time.
There's something so enticing about makeup that makes time claims like "24 hours." We're all busy -- who wouldn't want makeup that could survive every obstacle we might face during the day? However, if you plan to jump in the pool while wearing your long-lasting makeup, know that it will be dripping down your face when you get out. These formulations are not the same as waterproof -- but they're perfect for someone whose eyeliner tends to be smudged by lunchtime.
Just because a dermatologist tested a product doesn't mean that he or she liked the product. It's a semantic trick, and the phrase is basically meaningless.