How To Read Skincare & Cosmetic Ingredients Labels

How To Read Skincare and Cosmetic Ingredients Labels

The Bodhi Luxe website has been removed so I have posted my original article below.

If you are not already aware, I occasionally contribute to the lovely website, Bodhi Luxe. This week they have published my article titled "How To Read Skincare & Cosmetic Ingredients Labels". I offer tips for reading ingredients, list a few ingredients to avoid, discuss logos associated with the shelf life of products and identifying organic and cruelty free skincare.

Everyone should be reading labels on cosmetics, food and household items. Having a better understanding of the products you are using puts you in control of what goes into and onto your body. When it comes to labels on skincare and cosmetics, there are regulations in place to protect the safety of the consumer.

Here are some tips to help you understand packaging…

If you are interested in the formulation of your favourite skincare, it is important to read ingredients from top to bottom. Ingredients must be listed in order of the percentage used, starting with the highest amount.

Ingredients should also be listed in their INCI names (The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients), for example, water is listed as ‘aqua’. You may see the English translation alongside: this is not a requirement but often companies provide it to assist the consumer.

If you are avoiding a particular ingredient it is worth familiarising yourself with its INCI name. A quick internet search will assist you in identifying it, and it is a good idea to jot it down so you can refer to it/them when out shopping.

You may have also noticed that some products carry a ‘hand and book’ symbol. When there is not enough space on packaging for a list of ingredients, this symbol is used to inform you that they can be found elsewhere, usually on a leaflet or detachable label.

The list of ingredients to avoid when ‘greening’ up your skincare regime can be daunting. There are different opinions about what should be avoided and why.

I like to recommend starting with a few basics and building up a list as your knowledge expands…

Sulphates: Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES): a surfactant (detergent), which is a foaming agent found in cosmetic products. It is has the potential to cause irritation to skin.

Parabens (Methylparaben/Propylparaben/Butylparaben/Ethylparaben): a preservative ingredient which mimics oestrogen and can potentially act as a hormone (endocrine) system disruptor.

Mineral Oil (e.g paraffinum liquidum): a petroleum derived ingredient used as a skin emollient. Has no proven effectiveness, regarded as a cheap filler ingredient for personal care products.

Artificial Fragrance or Parfum: an undisclosed collection of chemicals (protected by Trade Secret Laws), often believed associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory issues and potential effects on the reproductive system.

Once you have mastered the art of understanding ingredients the next step is to take notice of symbols on packaging…

For your safety, you should be aware of the shelf life of your products. There are two symbols to look out for: an egg timer and an open jar. A skincare product with a lifespan of less than 30 months should display a ‘best before the end of’ date. This can be displayed using the egg timer symbol, followed by the date or the words (can be abbreviated to BBE or Exp).

Products with a lifespan longer than 30 months must display a ‘period after opening’ time. The open cream jar symbol is used and the time in months should be shown inside or alongside. There is an exception to the rule when a product will not deteriorate in normal use, for example, aerosols and perfumes.

Many consumers choose to shop for organic skincare and it is worth familiarising yourself with organisations which provide certification…

The Soil Association and USDA have the highest standards demanding 95% organic ingredients. Organic certification can be expensive and smaller companies cannot afford to join these organisations.

Often you will see tag lines such as ‘made with certified organic ingredients’. In these cases the organic ingredients are usually marked with an asterisk (*). If you see few stars on the ingredients list, I would question the company’s credentials.

You may decide that you would also like reassurance that products are cruelty-free…

Animal Testing for skincare and cosmetics has been banned in the UK for a while, but in March 2013 a ban came into effect for the European Union. Unfortunately, there are exceptions to these rules – they do not include household products and in some countries (China is one of them) animal testing is compulsory. An EU company selling to these countries can have products tested on animals.

You have to be aware of certain wording on labels as they may not mean what you think. The general rule of thumb is as follows:

Cruelty-free: ingredients and final product are not tested on animals.
Not tested on animals: final product is not tested on animals.
Vegetarian or Vegan: product does not contain animal-derived ingredients, nor is it tested on animals.

The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC) Leaping Bunny Program, PETACCF (Choose Cruelty Free) and Vegan and Vegetarian Society symbols are highly regarded and credible symbols that should provide great reassurance to customers. The three bunny logos are also considered reliable, and I would question credibility of any others.
cruelty free logos
By following the tips outlined in this post, the next time you are shopping for skincare and cosmetics you will be able to make an informed choice about the products you are buying. If you are ever in doubt about an ingredient or logo certification, you should contact the company and ask questions. Companies that do not respond are probably worth avoiding!