how to read a cosmetic label

In pursuit of my goal towards becoming a cosmetic chemist, I like to believe that I’ve taught myself a lot about the cosmetic and beauty industry leading to some unique skills. I can scan an ingredient list and immediately point out most of the ingredient’s purposes, marketing schemes don’t get past me as much, determining a product’s shelf life is super quick and I can understand the weird names for products that companies are using nowadays. If you haven’t made the connection between this post’s title and what I just said, most of these unique skills come from knowing the proper way to read a cosmetic’s label. Knowing how to read a cosmetic label is extremely important for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge about cosmetics in general.

how to read a cosmetic label copy

parts of a cosmetic label

The FDA has a comprehensive list of all their requirements when it comes to labeling cosmetic products, however, unless you’re a manufacturer you won’t have to worry about this. Products being sold in stores and online are required to have certain things on their label in order to educate consumers about what exactly they are purchasing. The requirements include an ingredient list, the product name/type, manufacturer and/or distributor name, manufacturer address, net contents (weight) of the product, and any necessary warning labels. As you likely know, most all of this information will appear on the packing that the product comes in so that the cosmetic itself can have a clean appearance.

ingredient lists

When I first learned about ingredient listings I found it super interesting and has definitely helped me become a smarter shopper. Cosmetics are required to list ingredients that are over 1% (in the formula) in order of concentration starting from the highest percent to the lowest percentage. After that, ingredients that are less than 1% can be listed in any order. Colors are the one exception since colors in cosmetics are highly regulated by the FDA, they are listed at the very end of the ingredient list in order to better show what that product contains. It is very common to see the active ingredients listed above everything, but this is still following protocol. Essentially brands will do this to show exactly what makes their product effective.

label symbols

The next piece of learning how to read a cosmetic label is understanding what all those little symbols found on the packaging actually mean. Into the Gloss has created an amazing compilation of these symbols that show what they look like and what they all stand for, I would highly recommend checking it out!

intothegloss label symbols.jpeg

check out the compilation here!

consumer education

The final piece of learning how to read an ingredient label is understanding the ingredients being used in the product’s formulation. Understanding how to read a cosmetic label will make you a smarter shopper but it’s also important to keep up with this knowledge, especially of the ingredients, as this industry is a fast changing one. If you are into the “safe” chemical movement I’d recommend checking out The Beauty Counter’s Never List, they have created a printable business card size paper that lists all of the ingredients they have declared unsafe. While I don’t personally follow this Never List it is a great way to learn more about what ingredients are out there so you can educate yourself and form your own opinions about them. Additionally, you may remember that I wrote about the app Think Dirty, that can help you figure out exactly what’s in that product you are buying, and it’s chemically cleaning rating. Finally, my personal favorite, a beauty podcast – The Beauty Brains, which has experienced cosmetic chemists explain the science behind beauty trends, dissect cosmetic product claims and much more.

how to read a cosmetic label

Overall I’d like to say that learning how to read an ingredient label is very important because it helps you understand more about what you are putting on your body every day and can help you make smarter choices. No matter what your opinion is on the beauty industry learning as much as you can is definitely the key to trying to figure it all out!

Please share any comments or questions you have below!!








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