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A guide to beauty-product labels

  • Story Highlights
  • Terms on beauty products can be confusing
  • "Clinically proven" means it's undergone lab testing for something
  • "Lifting" -- helps repair sagging skin, fine lines, and wrinkles
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Real Simple

( -- What does the jargon on beauty-product packaging actually mean?

The terms on beauty products can be confusing.

Let's face it. Some words are there to impress you; others mean more. But you don't need a decoder ring to understand the labels on skin, hair, and face products.

Here, find an explanation of 13 confusing beauty terms.

Clinically proven

What it means: The manufacturer has conducted some testing of the product in a clinical setting, like a lab.

What it doesn't mean: That anything significant has been "proven."

Best for: Someone willing to do her own digging, like researching independent data about ingredients.


What it means: The product has a low chance of causing allergies.

What it doesn't mean: It has been tested for all allergies. "There's no way to prove it won't cause a reaction in some people," says Howard Murad, a Los Angeles dermatologist.

Best for: People with sensitive skin or a history of allergic reactions.


What it means:: Generally found on makeup packaging, this term refers to the product's staying power.

What it doesn't mean: Waterproof. "Long-wearing" means it lasts longer under normal circumstances but still may not survive swimming or crying.

Best for: Times when you don't want to touch up your makeup. Real Simple: Long-lasting beauty tips


What it means:: Found on sunscreens, it tells you the product protects against both ultraviolet A and B rays.

What it doesn't mean: That you're fully covered. No matter what the label says, no sunscreen blocks out 100 percent of harmful rays.

Best for: Everyone. Broad-spectrum is the best protection available.


What it means:: The product contains temporary brighteners, like mica, or ingredients that help even out skin tone.

What it doesn't mean: Lightening, a term regulated by the FDA. A cream can't claim it will "lighten" the skin or dark spots unless it contains the chemical hydroquinone.

Best for: People with mildly uneven skin tone. Real Simple: Best concealers


What it means: The product has no noticeable smell and usually contains no added artificial or chemical fragrances.

What it doesn't mean: It's totally free of added substances, like botanical extracts, that mask the smell of the basic ingredients.

Best for: Sensitive, allergy-prone skin.


What it means: Contains ingredients that help plump up skin for a fuller look.

What it doesn't mean: Dramatic results. Chances are any "firming" effects you see will be subtle and not permanent.

Best for: Skin that lacks elasticity.


What it means: The product helps repair sagging skin, fine lines, and wrinkles.

What it doesn't mean: Miracles. "The only thing that can really lift is the plastic surgeon," says Annet King, director of training for the International Dermal Institute.

Best for: Mature skin.


What it means: Helps skin look radiant by expelling toxins from cells.

What it doesn't mean: Purification. It's hard to prove that products can eliminate whatever is actually "toxic" to skin.

Best for: Dull, oily, or acne-prone skins.


What it means: Contains no ingredients known to clog pores or cause acne.

What It Doesn't Mean: It definitely won't cause a reaction or be irritating in other ways.

Best for: Those with acne-prone skin and anyone concerned with clogged pores. Real Simple: Treating, preventing adult acne


What it means: A dermatologist tested the product.

What it doesn't mean: It's approved and endorsed by a dermatologist. "The implication is that the dermatologist liked it, but you don't know that," says Murad.

Best for: People who don't necessarily need a doctor's approval.


What it means: Found on hair-care labels, this word implies the product will restore hair to its natural structure -- before it was damaged with styling and chemical treatments.

What it doesn't mean: That you can permanently restructure hair. This is a temporary fix that will leave hair looking and feeling healthier.

Best for: Anyone who damages her hair on a regular basis with heat styling and coloring.


What it means:: The product doesn't contain mineral oil, plant oils, or lanolin, which can clog pores and irritate skin.

What it doesn't mean:That it won't cause a reaction. Be careful that something more irritating -- like menthol, eucalyptus, or camphor -- hasn't been substituted to help the product glide on easily.

Best for: People with oily skin who don't want to look shiny by lunchtime. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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