7 Skincare Red Flags

As an esthetician who’s been working in the beauty industry for over 17 years, here are the skincare red flags Cassandra wants you to know. Oftentimes, products or advertisements will use misleading information or false impressions as selling points.

And sometimes, they’ll even be used to make us insecure so we’ll buy a product! Red flags like these are not always obvious, especially since so much misinformation gets tossed around. So, here’s what you should notice to avoid hurting yourself, wasting money, or getting scammed.

Inconsistent before and after photos

Are before and after photos real?

Because they supposedly show how well a product works, we all love to see before and after photos. But, upon coming across them, it’s important to look for fillers and Photoshop. You have to look for changes in lighting too. Do the before and after pictures have different lighting? They shouldn’t. On top of that, when it comes to influencer marketing, many of these brands who pay influencers to do "before-and-afters" do not make sure these people are using the same lighting. 

For instance, have you ever wondered why your makeup might look really good in the mirror, but then, it looks so different in a window reflection? It’s the lighting. 

And even if the lighting is the same or the before-and-after photo is “real,” studio light or diffused light is much different. Many influencers and photographers use special lighting that looks much different than harsh lighting, sunlight, or lighting that casts shadows. 

So, if you want to know how a product truly performs, make sure the before-and-afters are not filtered or photoshopped and that the lighting is consistent. There’s a high chance the lighting will also be inconsistent when photoshopped has been used.

Now sometimes – yes, before-and-after pictures can be straight-up fake. Sometimes companies don’t even use the same person for the before and afters. That’s why Cassandra will look at what direction the ears are pointing or their shape. She sees if the eyebrow hairs look the same, and you can even look at the hairline and eyelashes. 

But again, we shouldn't have to do this. Plus, if a brand is willing to show misleading photos, what else are they willing to do?

If a brand says they are "preservative-free," that is a red flag.

Upon hearing the word "preservatives," it’s easy to think that the formula could be bad or harmful. But, preservatives simply keep the product from expiring and ensure that nothing bad grows in it. Someone on TikTok actually shared how she got an infection upon using expired products.

While not all expired skincare will give you an infection, it might not be as effective. That’s why brands who put the expiration date on their boxes are a green flag. Because if the brand can’t be bothered to the expiration date on the package, are they negligent about other things regarding the product?

So, if a product is “preservative-free,” that means it spoils quickly, and it’s probably not made by scientists. Moreover, what else are they putting in the product to make sure it’s stable and resistant to bacteria growth? 

Also, products need to have expiration dates. If a product doesn’t have an expiration date, the brand might not be cleared to sell the product. If you look at the bottom of your product, you should see the expiration date on the container. Most standard products are good 6-12 months after it’s opened. For further precaution, Cassandra will write the day she opened it on the bottom of a container. 

Make sure the claims on the box match the ingredient list.

So, make sure you purchase from brands that have the proper nomenclature and disclosures on their boxes. Every skincare and cosmetic product has an "INCI list." This stands for international nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients, and it literally tells you what is inside of that product.

Every brand worth its salt is legally required to disclose those things. If you find a brand that isn’t doing that, be suspicious. For example, a brand could say “for sensitive skin” but contain potentially sensitizing ingredients such as “essential oils.” That’s why it’s so important to turn and learn your ingredients!

A brand saying they’re "chemical-free" is another huge red flag.

Claims about a product being “chemical-free” spreads misinformation about the basics of chemistry. Everything is a chemical, air is a chemical mixture, and vegetables and fruits are chemicals.

Chemicals are everywhere, and they’re not bad. They make our bodies, and they make up our environment. If a brand says “chemical-free,” their marketing probably depends on fearmongering. And in any case, there are ways to fearmonger without being straight up wrong. 

Another red flag is when brands say that “9 out of 10 derms” recommend this. 

When brands make this claim, they normally don’t disclose whether the dermatologist was paid. Just because a dermatologist has tested something doesn’t mean they like it. Always look for a dermatologist, esthetician, or expert-approved products, not just “tested.” Plus, if you’re not giving people a medical study demonstrating why the derms recommend it, that is also suspect.

Furthermore, if the medical studies are conducted by the brand, that deserves a little more scrutiny. You can look at the studies’ disclosures to see if it was biased by a brand. Some brands do fund studies, and this is okay, but you’ll want to look for placebo-controlled double-blinded studies. That’s going to be the best of the best. 

A controlled placebo and double-blind means that both the subjects and scientists don’t know which is the real product and which is the placebo. And because of this, it’s true that the best studies are normally the ones done independently of the brand. 

When brands attack their customers online

When brands gaslight you into thinking you’re the reason the product didn’t work, this is definitely a red flag. While yes, some people can have allergies, a brand should never attack a customer upon having paid money and providing feedback. Many people are already struggling with their skin. 

If you can’t find any negative reviews on the brand site or Sephora

If a brand is launching a product, you might not be able to see some of the reviews. But, when a brand has nothing but 5-star reviews, this could be suspicious. One-star reviews can actually give a lot of insight to other customers. In general, lesser reviews give a holistic view of what the product does in addition to the positive reviews, and this can be very helpful information. 

Ultimately, a brand should always be trying to earn the customer’s trust, and they should be just as invested in the quality of their products as the customers. Also, the brand should always value the good impact it has.