As consumers, we rely heavily on product labels for accurate and credible information. Logos and labels with terms like “natural” and “organic” often represent important information that we need, such as the expiry date and product shelf life.
Let’s look into how to decipher all these jargon.
One of the first things we would look out for when buying a new product would be the product shelf life. Nobody would enjoy buying a product, only to realise it has expired or is close to expiring. Chemicals in products like skincare or cosmetics undergo changes over time and could result in skin issues when past their expiry dates.
What the digits and letters mean
To show a product’s shelf life, many companies tend to utilise logos or simple and short sentences rather than a lengthy explanation. Some common ways to explain a product shelf life are as follow.
Period after opening (PAO)
An open jar symbol indicates the shelf life of a product after it has been opened.
A letter “M” within the open jar, along with a number, for example, “12M”, means the product will stay good for 12 months after opening.
These symbols are commonly found on products with an extensive shelf life that is over 30 months.
Best before end of (BBE)
The opposite of PAO, products with this hourglass symbol expire quickly, usually within the next 30 months.The abbreviation “BBE” or “EXP” accompanies this symbol, indicating the exact expiration date for the product.
Under the European Union (EU) law, it is not mandatory for companies to print the expiry dates for products with a shelf life of more than 30 months. As a result, some companies prefer to state the manufacturing dates instead of expiry dates for such products. While this may seem unfair to the customers, this method actually protects us from using old products.
In fact, it would be more useful to know the manufacturing date rather than the expiry date, especially for products that have a long shelf life. As mentioned above, skincare products tend to change over time. A manufacturing date would give us an idea of how long the product has been on the shelf, and allow us to gauge the period of usability for the product.
As a general rule agreed on by the majority, skincare products can stay good for up to three years if unopened. However, it is always wise to double-check for any ingredients that might compromise the “general” shelf life of three years.
Another way to determine a product’s shelf life is through a batch code. A batch code helps to identify a product and might contain information such as the manufacturing date. While the batch code does not have a format, it is usually mandatory for all products to have their code printed on the packaging.
There is a standardized form for printing batch codes according to each individual manufacturer. Some formats of batch codes are:
- 1 letter, 11 digit batch codes
- 4 to 10 digit batch numbers
- 3 – 4 character batch codes ( a mixture of letters and digits)
Differences between different manufacturing countries
Different countries would have different product laws, and hence different styles of identifying the shelf life of a product. One main difference is the language of the information on product packaging.
For example, Korean products would have printed information in Korean, while US and UK would have printed in English. This may lead to misinterpretation of shelf life due to the language barrier. While products in stores usually have a translated label, products bought online might not have translations.
Dates are also listed differently, depending on the country of origin. This can lead to confusion between months and days with different date formats. Common formats include:
- Date (D), Month (M), Year (Y)
Products from the United States tend to utilise the “ MDY “ format, while products from Asia might use both “DMY” and “YMD” methods.
Importance of logos & certifications in skincare
While logos are an important way to provide crucial information to us, they can also act as an assurance of quality for the product.
Logos are a form of communication from a company to a consumer, often providing information about the products in the market. They usually contain crucial information about the product such as a company’s value. In fact, many companies opt to apply for logos that they feel are in line with their company image, and wish to reinforce certain messages.
While a logo does help to reassure consumers of the product they are purchasing, some companies decline such certifications in confidence that their brand does not need additional verification of quality.
Common certifications & logos
Some common certifications that you might see are as follow:
PETA Cruelty-Free Bunny
Animal testing has long been a controversy, and now many companies have started to brand themselves against it. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issues this “cruelty-free bunny” symbol which features the image of a rabbit. It indicates that the company does not conform animal testing for its products and that they adhere to ethical principles when obtaining any animal-related ingredients.
Companies with this symbol promote “cruelty-free” products, and do not test their products on animals, eliminating the vicious system of animal testing for products such as cosmetics and skincare. As the movement against animal testing grows, more and more companies have started to brand themselves “cruelty-free” with the PETA Bunny symbol.
However, not all companies without the certificate mean that they are accepting of animal testing. Some companies, such as BLACK PAINT, hold firm to the Buddhist belief of not harming animals and do not see a need for the certificate.
Similar to PETA Cruelty-Free Bunny,the Leaping Bunny Program issues this leaping bunny symbol to certify a company’s stand against animal testing. Companies who wish to use the symbol have to pledge that animal testing is not and will not be used in the development of their products.
A simple symbol consisting of a “V” within a heart shape, the Certified Vegan logo is verified by The Vegan Awareness Foundation. To be able to use this logo, companies have to declare that their products are free of animal products and byproducts, and do not conform to animal testing.
Most of us would be familiar with this symbol, a triangle of three arrows that are usually green in colour. Containers with this symbol are recyclable, so do look out for them! The Mobius loop actually comes in various forms to present different information. For example, if the container is made from recycled material, the Mobius loop would be printed in a solid circle.
Another recycling symbol used on product labels, the green dot indicates that the company pays a fee to recover and recycle the product. Although this green dot can be seen in products worldwide, the recovery process is still solely carried out in Europe.
Global GreenTag is an ecolabel recognised in over 70 countries worldwide. This certifies that products are eco-friendly by submitting them through a comprehensive rating system with several criteria based on environmental impact. Product synergy and corporate social responsibility are some of the main criteria when assessing a product.
NATRUE label (there is no mistake in the spelling)
NATRUE stands for “True Friends of Natural and Organic Cosmetics”, the name of the organization that came up with the label to certify natural and organic cosmetics. An international logo, NATRUE label verifies that products consist of natural ingredients with no artificial components. Products follow these three ratings- Natural, Natural with an Organic share and Organic – depending on the amount of natural and organic ingredients in the product.
Cosmetic Organic Standard (COSMOS)
While this label is relatively new to the market, it consists of five reputable organizations, namely BDIH (Association of German Industries and Trading Firms), Cosmebio, Ecocert, ICEA (Italian Environmental and Ethical Certification Institute) and Soil Association.
This certification comes in two forms: Cosmos Organic and Cosmos Natural. Both verify that the product has met overall criteria for the certification, but products under Cosmos Natural do not meet the minimum percentage for organic ingredients. Another point to note is that the percentage of organic ingredients present would be clearly stated on the product.
Among all the wide array of skincare labels and logos, it is easy to get mislead by professional-sounding skincare claims.
The professional-sounding skincare claims on product labels often mislead us, however many of these terms are marketing tactics that companies and manufacturers use to make their product stand out from their competitors.
With a lack of regulations surrounding the labeling of skincare products, companies have plenty of loopholes to exploit when they label their products.
Skincare claims misunderstood
Here are some of the common misleading or misunderstood skincare claims.
When we see this term on a label, we tend to get the impression that the product is less likely to trigger a reaction from our skin. This tends to sway us into buying a product that we think is better and much gentler on the skin.
The truth is, there are no solid research or evidence to back this claim. Currently, there are no set of rules or tests in the skincare industry for products that claim to be hypoallergenic. This means that almost any skincare product in the industry can put this word on the label without facing any repercussions, even if the product is not actually hypoallergenic.
One simple way to test out a “hypoallergenic” product is to do a skin patch test. Apply a small amount of the product on the inner corner of your forearm. Do it for about a week and see if there are any adverse reactions. In fact, this simple allergy test can be done anytime at your own comfort to test any products that you are unsure of!
If you are looking out for hypoallergenic products, do go through the ingredient list of the product rather than fully trusting the claims on the label. You might be surprised to find that some “hypoallergenic” products contain ingredients that are known allergens!
Used commonly on many labels, “non-comedogenic” products claim to reduce pimples and improve acne by not clogging your pores. How can someone say no to a skincare product that claims not to clog your pores? Alas, similar to the point above, there are no set rules for using the term “non-comedogenic” in skincare labels.
Without any regulations, it can be hard to determine if the product in question is actually what it claims to be. One general rule that we can apply when looking for a non-comedogenic product is the product consistency.
In general, products with a thick, creamy consistency are more likely to clog your pores. Instead, look out for thinner, gel or water-based skincare products. Actual non-comedogenic products are also usually oil-free that remove excess oils without drying out the skin.
While these words may seem professional and reassure us of the product’s quality, in reality, there is nothing concrete behind these words. Just like the first two terms, there are no actual regulations of the term and there are no official standards for the approval of a product.
Even if a dermatologist has tested the product, the test might be something as simple as the skin allergy patch test, rather than testing for results such as brightening or reducing acne. Furthermore, they would never publicise the test results to support the claim, making the term pretty much meaningless.
This might come as a surprise to some of us that “FDA-approved” is on the list. While it is not exactly a misleading claim, the point here is that the FDA has limited authority over what goes out in the skincare industry. In fact, there is no law stating that the FDA has to approve products before companies can launch them into the market.
Although FDA carries the authority to conduct inspections on cosmetic manufacturers, the law does not “require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with FDA” as the manufacturer themselves “have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products”. The FDA website also states that they do not have any specific testing for ensuring the safety of skincare products and their ingredients.
It might sound nice to have your product say “FDA-approved” but not every skincare product in the market goes through FDA. Even if the product has been approved by FDA, it does not necessarily mean that the skincare product is definitely effective and lives up to its claims such as being anti-ageing or being able to reduce blemishes.
When we see something with numbers and statistics, it seems to make this product seem more reliable. For example, a product that says “Contains 99% Aloe Vera Gel” sounds more convincing than another product that just says “Contains Aloe Vera Gel”.
Just as with the above pointers, there are many loopholes that surround the labeling of a skincare product and companies can easily make such claims even if the product does not actually contain “99% Aloe Vera Gel”. In fact, a product might contain an ingredient that is “99% Aloe Vera Gel”, but that ingredient might not make up 99% of the product itself.
Since the product technically does contain an ingredient with “99% Aloe Vera Gel”, companies tend to use this loophole to their advantage and label their product with that claim. To determine if the statistics can be trusted, always go to the ingredient list to double-check.
Let’s face it: we all love a well-packaged product, with good designs that are pleasing to the eye; bonus if it comes with a lovely scent too! While not exactly a misleading skincare claim, the packaging is one marketing technique that companies use to attract consumers.
With good packaging, it is easy to sway the hearts of consumers into giving the product a try, even though the ingredient list might not look that good. Companies tend to exploit our attraction to aesthetics by spicing up their labels with beautiful designs. The same goes for scents and fragrances as these play a part in grabbing our attention.
While it may look and smell good, we should still take a look at the ingredient list of the product to determine its quality, although the product design might have already gotten our hearts. What’s more, many fragrances and colourings contain harmful ingredients that help to produce bright colours and the variety of fragrances to meet the market’s demands.
Natural & organic
There is no denying the attraction that natural and organic products have on skincare consumers because of the positive annotation these words have. In turn, it has led to almost every skincare company slapping a label with these words on their products to entice consumers into giving their products a try.
But here’s the bummer: Most of these products are not actually as natural or organic as they claim to be. With the several loopholes in product labeling, companies can easily pass their product off as organic or natural even if it only contains one natural ingredient.
Furthermore, products tend to contain several ingredients, including preservatives or fragrances and colourings. While the ingredient list might seem promising with all the natural ingredients, the product might have already been compromised by such other ingredients that are not natural, or even worse, harmful.
About natural & organic
Continuing from the above claim, here are some commonly asked questions about natural & organic claims.
Difference between natural and organic
We frequently use these terms in our daily products, be it skincare or food. While these terms are often used interchangeably and seem to hold similar meanings, the truth is, the two terms do not carry the same meaning.
What meaning does the term “natural” hold?
Anything that is naturally occurring is “natural”, such as plants and minerals. “Natural” skincare ingredients contain materials originating from nature, and are not formulated and produced by man. Hence, a “natural” skincare product should consist of only ingredients obtained from nature with no synthetic materials. Even components like preservatives have to come from naturally occurring ingredients in a “natural” skincare product.
With current technology, it is possible to recreate chemicals with similar benefits as natural ingredients. Despite having similar qualities as their natural counterparts, such ingredients still do not fall under the label of “natural” and are considered synthetic instead.
The term “natural” is not regulated by law and many manufacturers are able to label their products as “natural” even if there is only one “natural” ingredient among other synthetic ingredients that make up the product. Some common natural skincare ingredients are aloe vera, tea tree oil, shea butter and jojoba oil, amongst many more. Meanwhile, ingredients like synthetic dyes and colours, parabens and phthalates are not considered natural.
How about the term “organic”?
The term may seem similar to the term “natural”, but it actually holds a different meaning. While “natural” refers to the integrity of the ingredient itself, the term “organic” refers to the cultivation of the ingredient. To claim an ingredient “organic”, there cannot be any synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. It is also prohibited to genetically or chemically modify the ingredient.
While the term “natural” does not have many regulations, there are rules surrounding the use of the term “ organic”. To label an ingredient as “organic”, manufacturers follow strict rules for producing “organic” ingredients and ensure that they do not use chemicals and do not genetically modify any ingredient.
While the FDA has some regulations in place for the the term “organic”, their website also states that skincare products claiming to be organic would have to follow “USDA regulations for the organic claim”, which are a separate set of regulations from the FDA’s.
Governing bodies & associations for skincare
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
According to the USDA, the term “organic” is a term that “indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods”. These methods must prove that the company is “protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances” in the products that they are producing, and has met the requirements set by the USDA.
In fact, the USDA has dedicated a handbook to the rules and regulations of producing organic ingredients for companies who are looking to certify their products as “organic”. Before a certification is issued, a USDA-approved agent would have to verify that the company has met all the requirements to be considered “organic”.
Other than the USDA and FDA
There are actually many other organizations out there that help to certify if a skincare product is natural, organic or both. Some of such organizations include:
True Friends of Natural and Organic Cosmetics (NATRUE)
An international logo since 2007, NATRUE label verifies that products consist of natural ingredients with no artificial components.
The three certifications available under NATRUE:
- Natural cosmetics:
The product has to contain 100% natural ingredients with no synthetic ingredients.
- Natural cosmetics with an organic share:
The product needs to contain 100% natural ingredients with at least 70% of them organic.
- Organic cosmetics:
The product has to consist of 100% natural ingredients with at least 95% of them being organic as well.
Cosmetic Organic Standard (COSMOS)
This umbrella label consists of five reputable organizations, namely BDIH (Association of German Industries and Trading Firms), Cosmebio, Ecocert, ICEA (Italian Environmental and Ethical Certification Institute) and Soil Association.
Some requirements of the label include the restriction of some components or the product itself in animal-testing and the banning of those synthetic ingredients such as dyes and preservatives as ingredients altogether. It is only permissible if no harm comes to the animal when sourcing the materials.
The two certifications under COSMOS are:
- Cosmos organic: The product has met both criteria for organic and natural claims and can be certified for both.
- Cosmos natural: The product has fulfilled the criteria for natural ingredients and others but not the criteria for the organic ingredients.
Knowing what’s in your skincare
To be a more conscious buyer, we have to learn and understand both sides of the coin. We should always pay attention to what goes into our skincare products, especially when many of our products are meant for daily usage.
Often hiding behind wild skincare claims and popular ingredients are harmful ingredients that could negatively affect our health in both skin and body.
Below are some of the common harmful ingredients that we should look out for in our skincare products:
A fairly common ingredient, a large range of both skincare and cosmetic products in the market actually contain alcohol. Manufacturers often utilise alcohol as a solvent to mix different ingredients together to ensure a smooth finish to the product. Products containing alcohol also tend to have a matte feeling when used, giving off a “degreasing” effect.
Meanwhile, the low evaporation point of alcohol also makes it particularly useful in certain cosmetics that require fast-drying properties, such as perfumes and deodorants. Creams and lotions also contain alcohol as it helps the skin absorb products faster.
Despite the wide use of alcohol in the skincare industry, it is still a harmful skincare ingredient as alcohol tends to deteriorate skin conditions. Prolonged usage of alcohol will leave the skin dry and flaking as it eats away at the skin surface. This unnecessary stress on the skin will lead to the interruption of the skin renewal cycle, hence resulting in an extremely unhealthy skin condition.
This can also result in worsening oily skin conditions when long-term use results in oilier and shiny skin. This, in turn, causes an increase in blemishes. Alcohol-based products attract people with oily skin because of its degreasing effect, but they only find an increase in blemishes as time passes due to damage by the alcohol on the skin.
While there is much debate about surrounding alcohol in skincare, do take note that the class of alcohols in question are what we call “drying alcohols.” In fact, another different class of alcohol known as “fatty alcohols” are actually healthy for us. Derived from natural oils and fats, these alcohols do not damage our bodies. In fact, they help to nourish our skin. These “fatty alcohols” are very different from “drying alcohols”, so try not to mistake one for the other.
Due to the negativity surrounding alcohol use in skincare, many have taken to buying products that claim to be “alcohol-free”. However, according to FDA, the word “alcohol” in the cosmetic world refers to ethyl alcohol, a commonly used “drying alcohol”. This means that “alcohol-free” products are free of ethyl alcohol, but not other types of alcohol, either drying or fatty. So if a product claims to be alcohol-free, it would still be good to double-check the ingredient list.
Identify “drying” Alcohols: Ethanol, SD alcohol, Methanol, Denatured alcohol, Ethyl Alcohol
A controversial ingredient, parabens are common chemical preservatives in the beauty industry. To keep a product fresh for a long time, manufacturers use preservatives. Parabens are the cheapest yet most effective option as a preservative in the industry. They are also “safe for human usage”. As a result, it becomes a popular choice for many manufacturers.
However, studies have found that when absorbed in moderation, parabens could be toxic to the human body. The research discovered that parabens mimic estrogen, a hormone thought to cause breast cancer. With similar properties, it is possible that parabens can also cause breast cancer when used on a regular basis. Supporting this theory is the fact that parabens remain in the blood when absorbed. Additionally, with its possible carcinogenicity, it could also be a cause of cancer.
For now, parabens are still considered to be safe for use in skincare products due to its low concentrations. Also, there is no concrete scientific proof to support its said carcinogenicity. While there is still no restrictive laws against parabens, companies have already started removing parabens due to their negative connotation. Hence, “paraben-free” products are gradually becoming more common in the market.
Look out for parabens: Names that end with “-paraben” , “methyl-“, “ethyl-“ .
Fragrances do not refer to just perfumes; they are actually present in almost every skincare product that smells good. And most of the time, chemicals produce these fragrances.
Why use fragrances then? Most people are attracted to products that smell good and tend to have positive feelings towards scents that they like. Furthermore, many skincare products do not smell as pleasant when on their own. Many companies like to add scent to their products to cover up unpleasant smells and attract consumers. Artificial fragrances are also much cheaper to obtain compared to extracting natural scents from organic ingredients.
While products might claim their products are “natural”, not all “natural” scents are completely natural. In fact, most scents are made from petroleum- or coal-based chemicals, which irritate the nose and the skin. Some can even cause allergic reactions and can be dangerous for people with respiratory issues.
Fragrances in skincare products fall under the same safety laws implemented by FDA for skincare ingredients. However, the law allows companies to label fragrances simply by “fragrance”, making it hard to determine what exactly goes into the product. It might do well for people with allergies or respiratory issues to minimise or avoid products that contain any fragrance, be it natural or “natural”.
Look out for fragrance, perfume parfum essential oil blend, aroma.
A known impurity and neurotoxin, it is shocking to reveal that many cosmetics and skincare contain this harmful ingredient. While it may not be added intentionally, lead is usually a recurring contaminant in our products. It is often present in products with colour.
As mentioned, lead is a known neurotoxin that affects neurological functions such as learning and behaviour. Lead may also have negative effects on the human reproductive system, causing infertility and disruptive hormone changes. Younger children are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead as they are still growing.
While lead has been banned for use in cosmetics and skincare, many were tested positive for lead contamination. This was due to colour additives. After much investigation, FDA has set a maximum limit for lead. More than 10 ppm of lead is considered an impurity in cosmetic products that are externally applied. While this is determined safe for human usage, some people are still unsure about the maximum limit. They also choose to completely avoid lead-containing products.
Look out for: Lead acetate.
However, lead contaminants are not on ingredient lists, and this makes it hard to determine which products to avoid. One way is to avoid bright-coloured products as colour additives produce lead, making it an impurity.
Used in over a wide range of skincare products and cosmetics, phthalates have been surrounded by scepticism. There were rumours and concerns surrounding the effects of constant exposure to the ingredient. This ingredient is called a plasticiser and helps keep products soft and pliable. Consumers tend to prefer products that are durable and does not break easily when used. In order to meet these demands, most manufacturers turn to phthalates to make cosmetics flexible and less brittle.
Usage of phthalates may also disrupt hormones, especially in men and children. They may also possibly cause adverse effects on the reproductive system. This is especially true for teenagers and young children, who are still in the midst of growing. There is also growing concern about phthalates causing infertility.
This harmful skincare ingredient does not have any direct correlation to any diseases. However, there is a link to quite a few health issues, such as diabetes, ADHD and even cancer. In fact, there is a possibility that phthalates are human carcinogen due to studies that deem it harmful to animals.
Look out for: Phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP, fragrance
Phthalates are a type of ingredient that requires a clear mention in the ingredient list, according to FDA law. Although, a loophole may result due to some phthalates slipping under the radar. Some fragrances contain these phthalates in skincare products. Moreover, since fragrances can be labelled simply as “fragrance”, some phthalates in products go undetected by the public.
While we try our best to avoid every harmful skincare ingredient, it is inevitable that some might go unnoticed. This can be due to the complicated laws surrounding ingredient listing for a product. It would be better to stick to a few proven and trusted brands. Even better, stick to brands that do not utilise any of such ingredients above.
Consider trying out some of our organic products formulated in Japan. Black Paint only uses natural and pure ingredients. We also do not use any nasty ingredients that harm the skin. Our skin products are gentle on the skin but yet produce amazing results without exposing your skin to any of the dangers of harmful skincare products.
Other types of ingredients to note
It is important to recognise harmful ingredients so that we understand exactly what goes in the product. This also ensures its quality.
This is especially crucial with skincare products that may contain numerous ingredients such as fillers, preservatives and colours. To verify what is in the product, most of us would refer to a product’s ingredient list.
However, an ingredient list can prove difficult to decipher, especially products with a lengthy ingredient list. Thankfully, there are some guidelines that we can follow to understand an ingredient list, starting with:
The order of ingredients on an ingredient list
According to FDA (Food and Drug Administration) law, ingredients have to be listed in descending order of predominance. To put it simply, the ingredient with the highest concentration is first on the list. This is then followed by the next highest concentration, then the next. Ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product are put in no particular order after the other ingredients.
Several cosmetic products usually would contain some form of masking agents such as scents and colouring. This makes the product more appealing to consumers. Colour additives used in skincare products fall under an exception of the FDA law. That law states that colour additives can be listed in any order regardless of concentration. This is only after the rest of the ingredients are put on the list. In fact, masking agents that are at an insignificant level can be considered “accidental”. Sometimes, there have the right to not be named at all.
Another exception would be drugs. Under FDA law, any ingredient that is a drug has to be declared before the other cosmetic ingredients. A drug would usually be listed as an active ingredient right at the front of the list. This is regardless of its concentration in the product.
Naming ingredients in a list
Understanding an ingredient list can be a daunting task, especially with the chemical and usually scientific names. It may also get confusing because FDA law allows fragrance and flavour ingredients to be listed as “fragrance” and “flavour”. As a result, consumers might not know what exactly goes into the product.
INCI – International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient
It is also acceptable to name ingredients using their INCI name. The International Nomenclature Committee coins the term INCI in a program under the Personal Care Products Council. The Council works on the system of setting a uniform name for each cosmetic ingredient. This helps to facilitate communication of information worldwide. With a standard name for each ingredient, it is thought to prevent confusion among both manufacturers and consumers alike.
However, INCI names can come in different forms depending on the nature of the named ingredient. INCI names are also mostly scientific and a mixture of Latin and English. While it is a requirement for most products to have their ingredients’ INCI names on the list, not every ingredient has one. They would be then named according to other approved sources. Sometimes, it could result in a product having two names. When this happens, many companies would list both names on the ingredient list.
This naming system can be confusing to us as consumers, especially if we are not well-versed in science or Latin. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources you can refer to if you find the terms confusing. One source you may want to check out is OSHUN. It is a skincare supplier that has compiled a list of INCI names next to their common names. Another great source would be the EWG Skincare Database. With this, you also can research on different skincare ingredients that you are unsure of.
Estimating concentration of an ingredient
Some companies do state the concentration of their ingredients on the label. Others list their active ingredients separately with its concentration next to it. Most companies, however, prefer to be discreet about the concentration of the different ingredients in the product.
To further complicate things, ingredients below 1% can be listed in any order after the rest of the ingredients. This means that an ingredient with 0.01% concentration can be listed above an ingredient with a 0.9% concentration. This can lead to a misleading ingredient list.
While it is difficult to estimate the exact concentration of an ingredient, it is not entirely impossible. There are some guidelines we can follow to gauge an ingredient concentration.
The “Big Five”
One rule of thumb is the “Big Five”. This means that the first five ingredients make up the bulk of the product. As we already know, ingredients are listed from most to least, so there is some truth behind this rule.
If an ingredient list has too many ingredients to look through individually, choose to look at the first five ingredients. Usually, these are the ingredients that really matter, because anything that follows are mostly ingredients such as preservatives and fillers. To be extra careful, you could choose to pay attention to the first ten ingredients instead of the first five.
While each ingredient list may look confusing, there are ingredients that are consistent across different products. The key is to use these common ingredients as a marker to estimate the concentration of other ingredients in the product.
One extremely common marker ingredient is water. When water is the first ingredient on the list, chances are it makes up 75% – 95% of the product. From there, we can gauge the concentration of the other ingredients.
2. Vitamin C
Other marker ingredients to look out for are those that typically indicate the start of the 1% range. One such ingredient is Vitamin C, an antioxidant that is well-known to be beneficial to the skin. However, due to its antioxidant properties, Vitamin C can break down when in exposure to air and light. To prevent this, some companies use Vitamin C at extremely low concentrations, usually 1% or below.
While these general tips can serve as guidelines for estimating an ingredient concentration, they may be inaccurate for some. Different products made by different companies would have different levels of ingredients and might not adhere to the general guidelines.
Not only that, but there are also ingredients that produce the best results at a low concentration. It might seem misleading if the desired ingredient is placed towards the back of the list. But it could be just because the ingredient is more effective at low levels.
Ingredients may also come in different variations, ranging between weaker and stronger versions. An ingredient may be present in a high concentration. However, in a weaker form, it might not be as effective despite its dominance in the product.
An ingredient list may be incomprehensible, however, it is possible to understand what you are actually getting in your product. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry. We never know what might be lurking in the ingredient list under different and sometimes complicated names!
Now that we know…
With these in mind, we now know to be more conscious when purchasing skincare products or cosmetics. It is better to determine the quality of a product, instead of blindly trusting claims on the label.
It may be unfortunate that there are many loopholes in rules surrounding the skincare labeling. However, we can learn to shop smart and identify these marketing techniques used to influence us!