Why are actual amounts of active ingredients not listed?

Posted on by Anouschka in Ask The Experts

ingredients1jpg“Why do cosmetic companies not indicate the actual amount of each active ingredient in their products? How can we compare which products are better value for money if we can’t see how much each product contains?”



This is a great question but it is a fairly complex one to answer. I do believe we need to divide the answer into over the counter skin care products and cosmeceuticals or skin care products that are dispensed through a doctor’s rooms or a speciality skin therapist. We also need to know that not all active ingredients are created equal so concentrations can also be misleading. There are differences within Vitamin C types, hyaluronic acid, retinol, etc. so concentrations are not the only factor we should be looking at.


Over The Counter (OTC):

Almost all OTC skin care products do not list ingredient concentrations and some do not even list the ingredients used. The commonest reason given for this is to protect someone from copying their formulas.


I agree that this does make a decision on which product to choose a difficult one but on the whole we should remember that OTC products do not have high concentration of active ingredients due to the possible skin reactions that can take place.


Doctor Prescribed Cosmeceuticals:

Most cosmeceutical (doctor prescribed) skin care companies do list their ingredients either on the box and/or on their respective product information leaflets. Occasionally if they do not appear (usually due to space concerns) on the products box/leaflet then the concentrations can be found on the brands web site.


However, I do agree there are some cosmeceutical companies that do not list their ingredients and this is typically due to formula protection. Some companies feel that by listing every ingredient and concentration opens them up to direct copying so the cost in the research and development they have spent will not be compensated for when a cheaper copy comes onto the market.


Where the answer to the above gets complex is an understanding of ingredients and how slight differences can impact the effects on one’s skin. As an example some companies will list a high concentration of hyaluronic acid but they do not list the ratio of high to low molecular weight. Skin penetration is only achieved with low molecular weight HA but this is an extremely expensive ingredient (compared to high molecular weight). So even if a company listed a 10% HA concentration and in this had 1% low HA and 9% high HA while another company had a 5% HA concentration but in this they have 2.5% low HA and 2.5% high HA the better product to get is the 5% HA product as there will be a better penetration, skin hydration, and improvement of the skin barrier function and repair.


As a side note a high molecular weight HA when applied on the skin gives a luxurious feel but does very little for hydration and barrier function.


Another example of the above is that we also need to be aware in the differences between vitamin C molecules; some are water soluble and some are lipid soluble. Recent studies have shown that water soluble Vitamin C gets absorbed and travels through the layers of the skin while lipid soluble mimics the skin barrier and stays in the skin up to 80 times longer with a 5-fold skin effect. So again a 10% water soluble Vitamin C concentration will have less of an effect that a 5% lipid soluble Vitamin C.


I hope the above has helped and I do believe that at the end of the day we need to find someone who can guide us in making the correct decisions when choosing skin care products for our specific skin type and skin concern.


Kind regards

Dr Alek Nikolic


MBBCh (WITS) 1992, ATLS (ACS) 1998, MBA (UCT) 2000, BLS (ACS) 2016

Dr Alek Nikolic is a well-known aesthetic medical practitioner with practices in Chelsea London and in Chelsea Village Cape Town. He has been appointed as an Allergan Local Country Mentor for Facial Aesthetics and has extensively lectured and presented live demo techniques both locally and internationally. Dr Alek has performed over 20 000 cosmetic dermatology procedures and as such has been responsible for training numerous doctors in the art of cosmetic treatments.


He currently holds advisory positions with numerous aesthetic supplier companies and is an Associate of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery and a member of the prestigious International Allergan Medical Institute.



Aesthetic Facial Enhancements : www.dralek.co.za

SkinMiles: :  www.skinmiles.com

Tel: +27 21 797 0960


If you have any questions, please email them to anouschka@pampermenow.co.za and I’ll get an expert to answer them.

About Anouschka

Anouschka is a full time mom and part time Spa addict and pamper fanatic. After taking a 'mommy break' from working in the advertising industry, she started managing facebook fanpages for businesses and fell in love with social media. She divides her time writing for PamperMeNow!, managing the ‘ILoveBeingPampered’ fanpage, and running after her two young boys, with a little bit of Spa action in between.

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