Sometimes it seems people pay more attention to the label on a food product - counting calories, sodium, looking for gluten, artificial color/flavor/preservatives, grams of protein, etc.; yet so little concern is paid to what they are using on their bodies. It is ALL relevant, and the skin does absorb more than you think. Whether it's on the face, scalp, or body.
I pulled this random cosmetic label ingredient deck as an example - for education purposes only. Based on its ingredient deck, I can tell you it is a moisturizer (and a heavy, chemical-laden, congesting, unhealthily preserved, formula at that).
Ingredient decks are the recipe or formula of the product. In each deck the items on the top are greatest in quantity, whereas the ingredients are less in quantity as it descends.
Water is called the 'universal solvent', so it can be necessary to formulating a product. But, water can also be used to dilute something down, and with watered-down decks, you're getting very little 'actives', which makes it much cheaper to manufacture, and provides little to no therapeutic value.
Active ingredients to water ratio can also be why superior, professional products perform so much better than OTC products - even those fancy department store brands. You are really paying for the brand and its marketing, rather than higher levels of results-oriented ingredients/actives. Anything made in large quantities have to be highly preserved. Anything with water-based decks become easily contaminated with pathogens (bad germs). Anything with high levels of fatty/oily substances go rancid and oxidize (go bad) quickly and require preservatives to prevent that as well.
Parabens are strong preservatives, are widely used in products, and come in several types. They are also very inexpensive. In my extensive research, I believe parabens to be very dangerous, bioaccumulative (collect in the body), endocrine disruptors/xenoestrogens (false hormones), and should be avoided at all costs. There are other safer preservatives which may cost more, but are as effective. It's up to the manufacturer and their ethics, and ROI they want.
This product is highly preserved with parabens. Notice methylparaben is somewhere in the middle, and another paraben lower down. No amounts of parabens are safe. They all bioaccumulate and stay within our bodies.
Not everything with alcohol in it, or the word alcohol attached to it is bad for you. Sometimes alcohol is need to formulate a product, and there is no other way to make it without the addition of alcohol. Cetearyl alcohol isn't alcohol, but actually a fatty substance with is smoothing to skin used in cosmetics and hair conditioners. It is by no means drying or astringent.
Sometimes you may see witch hazel, and lower in the deck you will see SD alcohol. Witch hazel is good for the skin but the extract can't be made without alcohol, so the manufacture will separate the two components in the deck based on the percentages. However, the percentage of alcohol is very low in the total formulation.
Of course, if you see alcohol/SD alcohol listed near the top of the deck, it most likely is very drying, and stripping to the skin. It has its place in formulation for certain products such as mild acid treatments and a few toners for the oiliest of skin, but should not be used with any frequency.
Petroleum and petroleum byproducts: JUST NO! Petrolatum (Vaseline), and mineral oil, and paraffin are all petro-chemical derivatives. Even highly-refined, they carry traces of very unhealthy chemicals, some of which may cause cancer. These chemicals can be bioaccumulative as well.
What about all the other stuff? Googling an ingredient will help you find the common name of a substance, and with further research, you can understand its properties and why it may be in there. You can always bring your products in at your visit, and I will be happy to discuss the formula with you.
The final take away: Some things sound bad and they're not (cetearyl alcohol). Water may be necessary, but may also dilute something so much it's a virtually useless percentage of anything active.There's always the most of something near the top (percentage-wise). Look for more of the good stuff (actives) at the top (vitamins, peptides, extracts, ceramides, fatty acids, hyaluronic acid, etc.).
Remember, some ingredients - no matter how much, are not good for you in any amount (parabens, petro-chemicals).