Retailers as Educators: What You Need to Know to Help Your Customers Choose Safe, Effective Personal Care Products

Guest Blog by Dr. Amy Kim, founder of Baby PibuNewborn Essentials Skincare Kit by Baby Pibu

Parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, zemea propanediol, sodium cocoyl isethionate. Consumers these days have their work cut out for them when trying to decipher which ingredients are helpful and which are harmful. And as storeowners everywhere are well aware, consumers today are more discerning than ever.

According to a 2013 study by the American Dietetic Association, more than 60% of consumers look at the nutrition panel on their food before making a purchase and more than 50% read through the ingredients. As more and more American consumers are looking through ingredients and trying to find the most natural, whole foods possible, all the focus on food labeling is bound to spill over into personal care items. After all, some ingredients can be absorbed through the skin and enter into the bloodstream.

However, don’t be fooled. In personal care, “green” and “natural” are not regulated by the government and can be used as marketing tools by anyone. And just because an ingredient is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it works better. In fact, some natural ingredients can actually exacerbate certain skin conditions.

So, with all this focus from consumers, and with the confusing marketing terms, how do we separate the help from the hype, and why should I educate my staff? As a retailer, your consumers depend on you to guide them. Help them choose just the right accessory to go with that outfit, choose the perfect gift for graduation, and even the right skin care products for the right condition. Like it or not, as a retailer, you also inherit the role of counselor. But with just a little information, you and your staff can feel confident guiding consumers to the right skincare products for their needs. Here are answers to some of the top consumer questions:

1. Are the bad ingredients those with the names I can’t pronounce? Not necessarily. Even ingredients with long, complicated names can be naturally derived. For example, sodium cocoyl isethionate is a mild cleanser derived from coconut oil and zemea propanediol is an ingredient to prevent water loss and soften the skin that is naturally derived from corn sugar. So just because you can’t pronounce it, doesn’t mean it’s bad.

2. What exactly does natural mean? Unfortunately, there is no real definition for natural when it comes to personal care products. It is simply a marketing term. Also, keep in mind that there is very little government regulation when it comes to personal care products. Just about any personal care product can be called natural. Because of this, it’s more important to understand how the product is produced and the composition of its ingredients.

3. What do I need to know about a product’s production? Because of the loose regulation around personal care products, there is little scrutiny on a product’s production. Consumers should look for products that have been clinically tested to ensure they won’t irritate the skin. Also look for seals of approval from esteemed organizations like the National Eczema Association and the Skin Cancer Foundation, who also review products for their irritancy and effectiveness. Some products will also provide labeling on their manufacturing facility, to ensure consumers that they products were created in a clean production environment.

4. Is there anything I should avoid? Yes. There are certain ingredients that we recommend consumers steer clear of. Here’s our short list:

  • Parabens. Parabens are preservatives used to provide a longer shelf life. There was a 2004 study showing some parabens detected in breast cancer. While research hasn’t shown a direct link between parabens and breast cancer, and the FDA doesn’t yet have enough evidence to show harmful effects, we still recommend you avoid them.
  • Phthalates. Phthalates soften plastics but can be found in personal care products as well. In 2009 some phthalates were banned from children’s toys for effects ranging from endocrine issues to attention deficit disorder.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS is a cleansing agent that has been under scrutiny because of its irritating effects. Better to avoid it than to have skincare products that irritate the skin.
  • Formaldehyde releasers. Formaldehyde releasers are commonly used in personal care products as preservatives but they can cause allergic reactions.
  • Fragrance. We know, we love that baby smell right after a bath too. But fragrance is one of the leading causes of skin allergies, and it can take hundreds of chemicals to create one fragrance. Instead, look for products that get their fragrance from essential oils. Lavender, rosemary and thyme are oils that are the least allergenic.

With these key points in mind, you and your staff can confidently help your consumers find the education they are seeking and ultimately find great personal care products for their specific needs.

Dr. Amy Kim is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon practicing in Atlanta for the past 10 years. She specializes in skin cancer detection, management and surgery. Dr. Kim received her B.A. degree from Boston University College of Liberal Arts and M.D. degree from Boston University School of Medicine. She underwent her dermatologic training at Emory University Department of Dermatology and her Mohs surgery fellowship training at University of Michigan Department of Dermatology.

As a dermatologist-mom of two young children, Dr. Kim has developed and launched a natural baby skin care line, Baby Pibu™, in 2014. This unique skin care line uses only the highest quality ingredients and is hypoallergenic and clinically tested. The line consists of products for daily skin care as well as the prevention and treatment of common baby skin conditions.

You can find Baby Pibu at AmericasMart Atlanta in the Kimberly Jones & Co. showroom in Building 3, 13-S117B, or at their temporary booth on Floor 3 during the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market.

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