In a recent report created by skin-care conglomerate DECIEM and Y Combinator-backed beauty trend tracker SPATE, researchers compiled a list of the most-searched skin-care ingredients and concerns to shed light on the rising concern regarding ingredient safety and the misconceptions across chemical ingredients. Ahead, we take a deep dive into the findings and dermatologists chime in to share their thoughts.
Behind the Data
SPATE analyzed over 20 billion search signals across the beauty and ingredient categories in the United States. From there, top trending ingredients and related search data were organized to determine the concerns consumers are associating with those ingredients.
The first section of the report analyzes the top ingredients by safety concern, which were organized by year-over-year growth comparing the last 12 months (ending June 2021) versus the previous 12 months. The top five ingredients that were searched alongside the term “safe” or “unsafe” are dmdm hydantoin (+23,900.0% year-over-year search growth), magnesium stearate (+66.7% year-over-year search growth), boric acid (+38.1% year-over-year search growth), retinol (+36.0% year-over-year search growth) and zinc oxide (+31.9% year-over-year search growth).
In another section of the report, researchers reviewed the top concern-related ingredients, which were determined by the search volume of the ingredient along with the growth and volume of the ingredient searched with the relevant safety concern. Included in the top five: zinc (+12.9% year-over-year search growth), hyaluronic acid (+27.9 year-over-year search growth), silicone (+5.4% year-over-year search growth), retinol (+38.3% year-over-year search growth) and vitamin C (-4.2& year-over-year search growth).
“One particular skin-care ingredient that is very near and dear to any dermatologist’s heart, but has fallen in grace in the public’s eye because of these social media misconceptions and trends, is retinoids,” says Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD, who explains that this negativity is largely unfounded. “It is, by far, the most effective, multi-tasking, powerhouse ingredient in skin care for maintaining skin health and rejuvenating the skin. I would confidently say that the majority of dermatologists, male or female, use a retinoid in their own skin-care regimen or wish they did. Retinoids are that important and impactful! If I had to pick one anti-aging ingredient that everyone should include in their skincare regimen besides moisturizer and sunscreen, I would choose a retinoid…It is also very ‘natural’ because it is a vitamin-A derivative.”
New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD agrees with Dr. Honet: “Retinol has long been a concern regarding its effect on the skin. There are many myths about it, like that it thins out the skin or that if you have it on your skin you’re more likely to burn in the sun. Both are untrue. They are known to help normalize skin cell turnover and improve collagen production, which makes the skin thicker and firmer as well as smoother and less wrinkled. One of the concerns is around irritancy and newer formulations have also helped greatly with making this a much more tolerable ingredient. It’s one of the most highly studied and published ingredients in the medical literature.”
According to Washington D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD, people should not be worried about any the above ingredients. “The only time retinol should not be used is on pregnant or lactating women. Otherwise, I do not limit the use of products containing hyaluronic acid, silicone, zinc oxide or vitamin C.” Dr. Day dives deeper into the silicone and vitamin C concern: “With Vitamin C, the concerns are mostly regarding stability more than efficacy. Newer formulations such as tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are now both fat soluble and more stable, making this an excellent option for this vital ingredient. In regard to silicone, the fact is that they play an important role in product development and play important roles in how a product goes on and feels on the skin. They eventually break down in the environment back to silica (sand) and so have little to no negative impact on the environment.”
Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Janet Allenby, MD believes there is a bit of a disconnect on this search analysis because there are many reasons why people could think an ingredient is harmless. “To really understand what someone is inquiring about, you must know what form the product is being searched for and the why,” she says. “For example, some of the ingredients are very innocuous when used as a topical but severely detrimental as an oral or injection form. It would take a lot of understanding about the different forms, which they cover, but if you are new to the area it still may not really explain why someone would worry about its harmfulness.”