A quick glance on the ingredients list of any beauty and skincare product reveals a plethora of complex, scientific-sounding names and chemicals, and chances are most of us have no idea what they actually are. Chalk it up to clever marketing, because if things like crystalised guanine, ambergris and carmine were listed by their everyday name, you might think twice about picking that perfume or lipstick off the shelf. Below we reveal some of the most unexpected (and downright weird) ingredients that you might be applying to your skin, hair and nails everyday. But we’ve got to warn you, sometimes ignorance really is (beautiful) bliss.
Have you ever looked at the long list of fragrance notes on a perfume, spotted something obscure sounding like “ambergris” and just assumed it was an exotic flower or wood you hadn’t heard of? Well it might pay to do a quick Google search next time because ambergris is actually whale vomit. Highly prized nowadays (a 2.7kg lump found a few years ago sold for over $200,000!), it’s used by artisan perfumers as a fixative, which makes the scent last much longer, and is also described by one perfume historian as adding “depth, richness opulence, smoothness and ambiguity” to a scent. Rightio then.
This one’s a little less off-putting but it might still blow your mind (so, so sorry) to know that dynamite is used in many of your everyday products! One of the two main components of the explosive is diatomaceous earth – a soft, siliceous rock that easily crumbles to a fine white powder due to its hollow and porous properties. Those same properties make it gently abrasive and moisture absorbent, lending to its use in exfoliators, toothpastes, powders and deodorants.
So…how far are you willing to suppress your gag reflex in the name of beauty? Unlike some of the others on this list, snail mucus isn’t a hidden ingredient – in Asia, where it’s uber popular, it’s advertised front and centre as a premium feature in anti-ageing products. It’s derived from the substance snails produce to repair abrasions on their soft bodies when moving across rough surfaces. As gross as it sounds, snail enzyme is packed with protein, hyaluronic acid and elastin that do wonders for the skin – replenishing moisture, encouraging cell regeneration and fading pigmentation.
We all love a bit of glimmer and shimmer, but have you ever noticed that the pearlescent shine in everything from lipsticks to nail polish and even shampoo looks strikingly similar to those of fish scales? Well that’s no coinky-dink my friend, because crystalised guanine, the substance used to create that gorgeous iridescent effect is extracted from the scales of our sea-borne friends! On the upside, now you can feel more like a mermaid every time you shower…
Certainly something for lippie-loving vegans to be aware of is that many red lipsticks get their vibrant colour from crushed beetles. Listed as “carmine” on ingredient lists, it’s another name for the extract made by boiling, drying and crushing cochineal beetles. The result is a bright red pigment that’s also commonly used as food colouring in say, yoghurt or lollies. The more you (wish you didn’t) know, hey.