How to read a cosmetic label

How to read a cosmetic label

All skincare and cosmetics are required by law to carry a label displaying key information, including the ingredients contained within the product.  

To facilitate easy identification, the ingredients must be listed in a specific way, this is called the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).  All natural ingredients will be specified in Latin such as Simmondsia Chinensis (jojoba oil), often with the commonly recognisable name featured in brackets. A synthetic ingredient will just have the INCI or chemical name such as Paraffinum.

The ingredients must also be listed in order of weight from the highest percentage to the lowest.  So those ingredients listed in the first half of the list have the highest concentration and make up the majority of the product. You may notice that water (aqua) is often a key component of products and this is often found in large-scale manufacturing where the need for stable ingredients is paramount to avoid batch variations. Products containing plant oils are more concentrated and go further.

The regulations also require the label to specify any known allergens. Many natural essential oils contain allergens and these are noted individually from the main ingredient on the INCI listing. An asterisk is usually used to denote they are from natural ingredients. Examples include *citral, limonene and linalool.

Labels must also indicate a "Best before the end of" date (if the product has a lifespan of fewer than 30 months) or a "Period after opening" time for products with a lifespan longer than 30 months. If a product is flammable (such as nail varnish), this must be indicated by a flame symbol.

Hopefully, you'll now feel better informed to understand what's in the skincare products you're using. If you want to find out more about the potentially harmful side effects of some of the commonly-used synthetic skincare ingredients in cosmetics, check out the blog post entitled "If you can't eat it why put it on your skin?"

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