Mascara, lipstick, foundation – applying these products is as essential in most of our daily routines as drinking your morning cup of coffee.  Although we would like to think that our beauty products are doing exactly what they’re meant to do – making us beautiful – the harsh truth is not all products are doing their job properly.

So, what should you be putting on your skin? Our handy guide will show you what to look our for – and what to avoid:

Don’t always believe labels

Don’t assume that if a product label says ‘natural’ it mean that it is 100% natural, or that it is organic or vegan, either. Natural should mean ‘free from synthetic chemicals’ – but there is no legal or medical definition of ‘natural’, which is why it creeps in to packaging copy – and vegan means no animal byproducts.

Organic means organ, literally from organised living beings, but free from pesticides and fertilisers. Beauty brands, especially the cheaper ones, are notorious for promoting random ‘natural’ ingredients that lead you to think cheap, synthetic ingredients are good for you.

Read the ingredients

Start reading the ingredient labels of your beauty products carefully, just as you would your food. The main ingredients your want to avoid are: parabens, petroleum (usually listed as mineral oil), sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfates (SLS) and phthalates. If the product is certified organic or vegan, it will not contain any of these ingredients and the brand will be sure to inform you of it.

Why you want to avoid synthetics

Once you start to really pay attention to beauty labels, you’ll quickly find yourself pretty horrified at some of the things that are thrown in there. Some of the most important ingredients to look out for are petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels, including coal, gasoline, tar and petroleum (petroleum jelly or mineral oil). Yeah, we’re being serious.

Other things to look out for are parabens – which has been linked to breast cancer in women – silicone as well as synthetic synthetic colourants and fragrances.

Check for stickers

Natural and organic beauty products usually display a stamp or sticker showing that they are certified by a certification body. Look out for stamps from health associations including BDIH, Soil Association, ICEA and EcoCert.

Two natural and certified organic beauty brands we’re loving right now:

Dr. Hauschka

Central to Dr. Hauschka’s philosophy is that skin inherently knows how to regulate itself and that nature works best with nature. Medicinal plant extracts are therefore used to support the skin’s own functions so they perform optimally, rather than manipulating the skin’s natural tasks. ‘The higher the quality of the natural ingredient, the better the skin responds to it,’ says Dr Hauschka’s Elizabeth King. ‘Organically and biodynamically grown ingredients with a potent life-force stimulate the skin’s cellular activity, moisture levels and oil processes.’ She says that a synthetically derived ingredient is not naturally understood by the skin and so it will ‘manipulate’ the skin to behave in a particular way. The result is often a quick-fix and can be ageing.

Certified 100% natural and organic, the range smells divine and feels instantly nourishing. Rose is a key ingredient in the Rose Day Cream (R422) for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties used to nourish and protect dry, sensitive skin. Almond is used in the Cleansing Cream (R278), due to the oil’s moisturising properties and the meal’s dirt-removing particles, while the antioxidant-rich red clover and quince seed in the Regenerating Serum (R998) help the skin combat premature signs of ageing. My secret weapon this summer is the Translucent Bronzing Tint (R498), a liquid mineral formula with witch hazel and olive oil – mix with moisturiser for a healthy, sun-kissed glow.

Drhauschka.co.za

Regenerating Serum DE-GB_OriginalTranslucent Bronzing Tint DE-GB; Tönungsfluid 30ml DE-GBRose Day Cream GB; Rosen Tagescreme GB

ESPA

ESPA is founded on the notion of beautifully natural products that enhance natural beauty, says its founder, Sue Harmsworth. ‘Ingredients must work with the systems of the body, not against them. Quality and performance, texture and fragrance should never be anything but exceptional.’ And they certainly are – ESPA products are 99% natural and are free from synthetic colour, parabens, mineral oil, silicone, propylene glycol, petroleum and phthalates.

ESPA experts scour the globe for the most efficacious natural ingredients: ESPA Nourishing Cleansing Balm (R990) contains rose damascena to tone and firm, antioxidant grapeseed to nourish, and rose geranium to calm the skin; and for blemishes, the ESPA Purifying Tea Tree Gel (R400) is rich in antibacterial tea tree oil, antiseptic thyme and hydrating evening primrose oil.

My skin can’t get enough of the ESPA Optimal Skin ProSerum (R900), enriched with omega-3, -6 and -9 oils, vitamins A and E and proactive natural extracts turmeric, white lupin and sunflower, to brighten and even skin tone, enhance elasticity, firm and protect against premature ageing. Use under the ESPA 24 Hour Replenishing Moisturiser (R940), which uses potent myrrh, frankincense and neroli to stimulate cell renewal, while vitamin E-rich peach kernel oil protects against environmental aggressors. Nourishing evening primrose and jojoba moisturise, leaving you with soft, comforted and supple skin.

Espaskincare.com

ESPA Optimum Skin ProSerum plus packaging55mlTube_PurifyingTeaTreeGelESPA 55mlJar_NourishingCleansing Balm