Skincare manufacturers and their marketing teams like to throw a lot of terminology around to describe their products. As consumers, you might be tempted to gloss over these terms and assume they’re interchangeable.
But as skincare professionals, we want our clients to be educated and informed about the things they’re putting on their skin.
Two of the biggest skincare buzzwords are “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic.” So what do they really mean, and how are they different?
Non-Toxic Skincare Products
On a skincare label or marketing campaign, “non-toxic” ostensibly means that the products’ ingredients do not include substances that have been linked to toxic responses in humans. That is, ingredients that science has already determined could cause organ damage, birth defects, neurological effects, or cancer.
Examples of substances considered toxic—and which have in the past been used in skincare and cosmetics—are formaldehyde, lead acetate, and asbestos.
Any product labeled “non-toxic” should not include those substances.
That being said, the FDA does not regulate the use of the term “non-toxic.” It would be nice to trust that companies that label their products “non-toxic” aren’t including harmful ingredients. But consumers should always check the ingredients list just in case.
Hypoallergenic Skincare Products
Similarly, the FDA does not regulate the use of the word “hypoallergenic”—a term that’s sometimes used interchangeably with “safe for sensitive skin” or “allergy tested.”
In this case, brands that label their products “hypoallergenic” are claiming that they’ve left off ingredients that may cause common allergic reactions.
As we mentioned above, some skincare products in the past (and, in some cases, even now) included ingredients that could cause adverse reactions. Rather than calling these ingredients “toxic,” some people suggested that these adverse reactions were the result of allergies or “sensitive skin.”
But a skincare product can be labeled “hypoallergenic” regardless of its ingredients.
What You Should Know
Still, there are conscientious skincare manufacturers out there. Some manufacturers sincerely want to produce concoctions that result in real, high-quality, long-term results. And some companies really do test their products thoroughly for allergic reactions.
But because these terms can be used by any brand on any product, the onus is on you, the consumer, to educate yourself on the toxicity of various ingredients, take note of what things your skin responds to, and find the product that’s best for you.
We know that’s a lot to tackle for people who aren’t skincare experts. That’s why the best course of action is to consult your aesthetician. They will help you make sense of the ingredients list and steer you toward products that are safe, effective, and healthy for your skin and your whole body.