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Jojoba Oil: Ingredient Decoder

Lately, I’ve been on a quest to find a beauty regime that’s good for both my skin and the environment. After hunting around for eco-friendly products that actually work, I found TAY’s Safflower Seed Night Cream. Not only does this all-natural formula smell amazing, it’s also laced with a hero ingredient everyone at Birchbox has been praising: jojoba oil. This natural ingredient is one of the most powerful out there, which is why it pops up in everything from leave-in detanglers to stretch mark creams. But my favorite way to use it is as an overnight moisturizer, since skin does the bulk of its repair work in the wee hours. Learn more about jojoba oil after the jump! 

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Pumpkin: Ingredient Decoder

Photo: June Jacobs

I’ve never met a pumpkin treat I didn’t like: there’s pie, bread, cookies, and the list goes on. My only regret is that I tend to gobble up a whole pile of sweets in five seconds flat. Well, now I can have my pumpkin and eat it too…sort of. Not only is pumpkin a superfood (desserts count, right?), it’s also great for your skin. High in anti-aging vitamin A, skin-brightening vitamin C, and healing zinc, pumpkin helps cuts down excess oil production and acts as a natural exfoliator. But before you run to the grocery store to scoop up the last of the fall crop that didn’t achieve jack o’lantern status, check out pumpkin-infused products instead.

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Sulfates: Ingredient Decoder

Captain Planet would disapprove, but there’s nothing I love more than taking an extra-long shower before bed. Since I treasure my shower ritual so much, I’ve started to rethink which products I use to lather up. For the past year or so, I’ve relied on the same body wash, a creamy formula found in most drugstores that claims to moisturize skin. The other night, I decided to check the ingredients list. There it was, squeezed between two other chemical-sounding names: sodium lauryl sulfate. This foaming agent is found in many soaps, shampoos, and even toothpastes, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Learn why after the jump!

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Hyaluronic Acid: Ingredient Decoder

Photo: Wei

I turned 24 a week ago and experienced a minor freakout moment. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. While 24 is still young, I’m now officially in my mid-twenties, which means it’s time to start being a real adult. One requirement of adulthood: a skincare routine that goes beyond splashing my face with cold water. As I realized from looking at old Facebook photos, my skin just doesn’t look as fresh as it once did. My solution? Products infused with hyaluronic acid.

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, this ingredient is famed for its holding up to a thousand times its weight in water. But what does that mean? Brief chemistry lesson: hyaluronic acid may sound like a lab scientist’s invention, but it actually occurs naturally inside your skin. Located beneath the dermis (translation: outer layer), it helps your tissues stay hydrated. When you apply the ingredient to your skin’s surface, it plumps up your face by forming an elastic film of moisture and instantly smoothes rough surfaces. 

In addition to giving skin a dewy glow, hyaluronic acid is a lifesaver for those with super dry skin because it boosts the hydrating properties of your moisturizer. Try layering it under your favorite face cream in the winter months. Product picks after the jump!   

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Polyphenols: Ingredient Decoder

I know of a beauty editor who pours a full glass of red wine into her bath every night. She swears that it softens her skin. While I like to save my bottles of Pinot Noir for drinking, that editor may be onto something: the anti-aging properties of polyphenols.

Derived from grape skins and seeds, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that protect skin from UV rays and free radicals, the cell-destroying molecules responsible for wrinkles. When ingested, polyphenols help prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (ever wonder how French women stay so healthy despite the cheese and cigarettes?). A glass of wine a day may keep the doctor away, but there’s no research yet on whether bathing in wine really has similar benefits. So before you forsake your bubble baths for purple-tinged soaks, consider a more conventional approach: potent products inspired by the vine.

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Ingredient Decoder: Argan Oil

Photo: Urban Bush Babes

Most girls identify their hair as straight, curly, thick, or thin, but I can only think of one word to describe my hair: hard. I was born with abundant black locks that feel like strands of al dente spaghetti to the touch. Even gallons of conditioner can only soften it so much — by day two, it’s back to its original resistant state. But I’ve finally found something that can tame my mane: Redken’s All Soft Argan-6 Oil. I’ve been rubbing it into my hair post-shower every night, and it makes my hair remarkably soft and pliable. The secret is right on the label: a high concentration of fair trade argan oil. 

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Ingredient Decoder: Coconut Oil

Photo: Dermstore

I don’t believe every piece of beauty hype I read, but it’s hard not to pay attention when you keep coming across rave reviews of a certain ingredient. Over the past few years, every magazine has extolled the virtues of coconut oil. Caribbean women coat themselves in it from head to toe, and more and more of us are adopting it as a staple in our beauty routines (not to mention the fact that it’s a model fave). Used on your face, coconut oil acts as an anti-aging moisturizer. On your body, it smooths dry skin and heals rough patches. In your hair, it functions as a leave-in deep conditioner. Plus, the oil smells really, really good!

Since my next tropical vacation is nowhere in sight, I decided to track down the purest coconut oil product I could find on these shores. The winner: VMV Hypoallergenics Grandma Minnie’s Oil’s Well Nurturing Do-It-Oil. This product may have a tongue twister of a name, but I love how it contains just two ingredients: organic virgin coconut oil and monolaurin, a coconut-derived antibacterial agent. I’ve been using it in place of my regular hand cream, lip balm, and moisturizer, and it’s already done wonders to soften my skin. With my curiosity piqued, I did a little digging around.

Little known facts about coconut oil:

  • Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is more potent than the refined, heat-pressed kind. Since it’s not subjected to heat, virgin oil has more beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants to boost collagen and skin elasticity. Besides the VMV oil, you can find other versions at your local health food store or Whole Foods
  • The oil solidifies into a milky white butter in cold temperatures, but you can still use it! Just heat up the bottle in warm water or scoop the product out.
  • It’s edible in its natural form (duh), but you probably didn’t know that eating coconut oil helps repair skin cell damage from the inside out. Sadly, the health benefits probably evaporate if you use it in a cookie recipe. 


Another product we love with organic coconut oil: Truth Art Beauty’s Coconut Body Buff.

Ingredient Decoder: Glycolic Acid

Photo via

There was a time when I scrubbed my face every day with a drugstore exfoliator filled with bright blue beads. I thought that the more I exfoliated, the better my skin would look, so I attacked my T-zone with the same vigor shown by my mother when she fought the mildew between the bathroom tiles. The result? Instead of clearing up my teenage blackheads, my overzealous scrubbing stressed out my sensitive skin. Cue a massive breakout. 

Boy, have times changed. These days, I limit my exfoliation to once or twice a week and rely on products with glycolic acid. It sounds counterintuitive, but these chemical exfoliators can actually be gentler on your skin than physical scrubs. Why? Since there’s nary a bead to be found, you skip the step where you try to strip off a whole layer of skin. Naturally found in sugar cane, glycolic acid dissolves dead skin cells and also improves skin hydration by enhancing moisture intake. Product picks after the jump!

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Ingredient Decoder: Shea Butter

Photo via Fekkai

Earlier this year, I hit the ultimate beauty jackpot: eight bottles of free Fekkai shampoo and conditioner from their Essential Shea Collection. No, I didn’t raid the pricey Fifth Avenue salon. I was actually at a bar trivia night, and my team was divvying up a prize of donated spa goodies after winning first place. I guess no one else liked to wash their hair, because the precious Fekkai products remained untouched until I slipped them into my bag. Who knew my knowledge of Pippin and other obscure musicals would eventually pay off in the form of great hair? 

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Ingredient Decoder: Retinol

Photo: All Women Stalk

I started using retinol creams at the ripe old age of 21. It wasn’t because I had a lifetime’s worth of wrinkles to erase; I had just read a slew of magazine articles touting retinol as a miracle skin saver for all sorts of issues. A quick refresher: retinol is Vitamin A in its purest form, and dermatologists call it the topical gold standard for anti-aging, reversing sun damage, and refining skin.Since my brown spots and visible pores pushed me into the category of early adopters, I picked up a pricey cream with a portion of my textbook allowance.

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