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Decode product labels like a pro ūüßź

by Ian Gabbidon on May 29, 2024

Decode product labels like a pro ūüßź

A lot of cosmetic products have catchy tag-lines that appear interesting and appealing, but that doesn’t mean all of them are as efficient and safe as you might think.

It is easy to get confused by a product name or description ‚Äď get to know and understand your cosmetic labels! That‚Äôs the only way to truly know what is in the products you are using, and how safe they really are. Keep reading to gain insightful knowledge on how to do that.

A lot of cosmetic products have catchy tag-lines that appear interesting and appealing, but that doesn’t mean all of them are as efficient and safe as you might think. Many products contain ingredients you may prefer to avoid, ingredients that can be irritating, or even ingredients that can be harmful to your skin.

For instance, a large number of companies use a product name or label to highlight ingredients that are only present in tiny quantities, and that in reality are not big enough for the ingredient to have an effect, but they sound very attractive on the label.

Other companies use words like ‚Äėnatural‚Äô or ‚Äėorganic‚Äô to give the impression that the product is made entirely from natural or organic ingredients, when that isn‚Äôt the case.

To really know what is and what isn’t in your product, you need to read the whole label, not just trust an attractive name.

Not sure how to do this?...keep reading we can help!

Common information found on a packaging label...

  • brand name and product name

  • product type/purpose and description

  • ingredient list

  • symbols

  • the product weight or volume (net contents)

  • usage/storage directions

  • manufacturer contact details.

In this blog we cover one main area that will help you to decode a product label. 


1. Ingredient list/INCI list

In addition to the product name and basic characteristics, a cosmetic label will also include ingredients in the product ‚Ästthe INCI list. INCI stands for ‚ÄúInternational nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients‚ÄĚ and is a naming system for ingredients based on scientific nomenclature.

The INCI list might seem confusing and frightening at first. Don’t be afraid of it, take some time to read and investigate it. There are various resources to assist in your investigations such as.

Allergens List - https://www.cosmeticscare.eu/en/from-26-to-82-longer-list-of-allergens/

INCI Dictionary - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Consumers-Dictionary-Cosmetic-Ingredients-7th/dp/0307451119

Plant Ingredients are easy to spot...

Plant ingredients are easy to spot because they are listed with their latin names (always two words) and a common name in brackets, eg rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oil, which is  rosemary essential oil; helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, which is sunflower oil.

Some ingredients on the list sound very ‚Äėchemical-like‚Äô and many people believe that ‚Äėif you can‚Äôt pronounce the ingredient name, it must be bad for you‚Äô. That is not always true. There are plenty of common or naturally derived ingredients that have complicated names, but are safe to use and even have an important function in the product. Here are few examples:

  • Xanthan gum: a naturally derived gum that thickens the product.
  • Potassium sorbate: an example of a preservative, potassium salt of natural sorbic acid, it is also used to preserve foods.
  • Cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol: a fatty alcohol that stabilizes emulsions and has a moisturizing action. It is not drying as pure alcohol (ethanol).
  • Citric acid: even though it has the word ‚Äėacid‚Äô in it, it is not harmful. It regulates the pH levels of the product and also protects it from microbial contamination.
  • Tocopherol:¬†vitamin E, it protects the product from going rancid.
  • Sorbitan olivate: this is an example of an emulsifier, it sounds very ‚Äėsciency‚Äô, but is in fact made from sorbitol (alcohol sugar found in chewing gums) and olive oil.

Is the Order of the ingredients important? YES!

The order the ingredients are listed on the label is important. Ingredients are listed in descending order from greatest amount to least amount present in the product (except ingredients present at a concentration of less than 1%; those can be listed in any order).

At the end of an INCI list you will find the allergens listed. These allergens are constituents of natural essential oils or synthetic fragrances. There are 26 possible allergens including geraniol, limonene and linalool. You’ll a full list of. all 26 here Often companies mark with an asterisk or in italics which ingredients are essential oils allergens. It is worth becoming familiar with the common allergens as to the untrained eye these allergens can look suspicious.

Take a look at a full list of ingredients:

Vs an abbreviated list that requires you to find the images of the product and read the ingredients yourself...

It can be alot to look out for, so take your time, bookmark this blog and come back at your own leisure. Why not test yourself on a few product labels you may have in the bathroom and get decoding yourself!