When it comes to shopping for beauty products, it’s far too easy to become overwhelmed. Distracting packaging, miracle ingredients touted on labels — just the sheer volume of choices is enough to drive you bonkers. What’s a girl to do when she’s just trying to pick out a daily moisturizer?

If you’re like us, you panic and grab one. They’re all just face creams right? Really, how different can they be? Very different, as it turns out. To investigate, we chatted with Dr. Lindsey Bordone, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center.

To us, it seemed like reading the ingredients label on a beauty product was a logical place to start, but it turns out that task is way harder than it looks. “It is very hard to understand the ingredient list in most personal care products,” Dr. Bordone says. “I had to study allergens for a few years before I understood what the purpose of many things listed in the ingredient section were.”

However, there are a few things that Dr. Bordone recommends keeping an eye out for. “I try to avoid the frequent use of methylisothiazolinone,” she says. “It is a common allergen and and it is used as a preservative in many personal care products. With increased exposure to this ingredient over time, the possibility of developing an allergy to it increases. I specifically try to avoid it in leave-on products, but will use it in wash-off products such as shampoo. To further avoid this preservative and some others, I use bar soap over liquid body washes. Liquid products need preservatives that prevent the growth of molds and fungus that grow easily in a wet environment. These preservatives can be avoided with bar soaps.”

Dr. Bordone is also picky about which types of sunscreens she buys, especially for her young kids. “If there is anything other than titanium dioxide or zinc oxide listed as a sunscreen’s active ingredient, I will not use it on my children,” she says.

One piece of good news? “Many of the expensive products are similar and no better than the less expensive products, just in nicer packaging and [with] a higher price tag.” So, put down that jar of La Mer cream.

However, it turns out that the all-natural skin products that we love so dearly may actually be bad for those of us with sensitive skin.

“It’s best to avoid products with fragrance and botanicals,” Dr. Bordone advises. “Many all-natural products contain plant-based ingredients that can be very irritating to the skin.”

It’s not uncommon for people to become allergic to natural ingredients over time. For instance, she’s seen many a patient come in with a mysterious lip rash, only to find that the culprit is a beeswax-based lip balm that she’s been using for years.

It’s not uncommon for people to become allergic to natural ingredients over time.

But thankfully, sensitive skin-types don’t have to say goodbye to all natural products completely. “Aloe can be very soothing for the skin and is less allergenic than other botanicals,” Dr. Bordone says. Milk and oatmeal can also calm the skin: oatmeal baths are a lifesaver for those with eczema.

At the store, Dr. Bordone suggests that sensitive skin-types pick up Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($11) or Dove Beauty Bar for Sensitive Skin ($14/8 bars). Both bargain buys have an ingredients list that pass muster for this skin pro.

And as a general rule, Dr. Bordone says to keep it simple. “I tell people to stick with products that have been on the market for a few years,” she says. “By that point, if there is an issue with it, then you would have heard about it in the news. Let someone else be the guinea pig.”

Next time we walk into the beauty department, we’ll know exactly what we’re looking for.

Christina Pellegrini is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. Her favorite things include Drake, athleisure, Beyoncé, lipstick, and succulents (in no particular order). According to Buzzfeed, her period is very metal. You can follow her on Twitter @theempireedit or read more of her writing on her website.