How to read cosmetic labels like a boss

March 26, 2019

Micora how to read cosmetic labels like a boss

With the advent of obsession with 'wellness' and 'healthy living', people, especially millennials, are leading the demand for 'cleaner', 'healthier', and 'safer' skincare and cosmetic options. However, how do we start decoding the fine prints of products' ingredient labels and use this information to make the best purchase decisions? 

Let us help you master it like a boss with these easy pointers:

1. Don't put too much weight on marketing labels

How many times have we seen and bought on the pretext of marketing labels commonly found on products such as:
  • Organic
  • Non-toxic
  • Safe
  • Plant-based

These terms ARE NOT regulated! - so technically, any brand can call itself ‘organic’ or ‘safe’ without actually having to be (e.g. a product with only 5% organic ingredients bearing the ‘organic’ label.)

If that is not bad enough, some products even have made up ‘organic’ symbols to give impression of a specific quality. These non-official symbols are not necessarily making ‘false claims’ but there’s no way of knowing if they are truthful. It might just be a marketing strategy or it might actually mean that the product is organic but the company didn’t go through organic certification (usually due to high costs).

These are some of the official certification body symbols you should familiarize yourself with when shopping for products:

 Micora Certification Symbol

2. Look out for ‘toxic’ ingredients

    Some of the most common offenders you’ll see on your ingredient labels are listed below:

    • Parabens (methyl, propyl butyl)
    • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS)
    • Phthalates
    • BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
    • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers
    • Coal tar
    • Mineral Oil
    • Talc

    (P.S. This is not a complete list, but it will get you accustomed to reading labels)

    Now let’s take a look at a real ingredient list of a cosmetic product from a well-known brand:

    Talc, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Huile Minerale, Kaolin, Zinc Stearate, Fragrance, Polyoxymethylene Urea, Quaternium-15, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Camphor, Menthol, Propylparaben, Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove) Flower Oil, Methylparaben, BHT, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides, Carmine, Red 7 Lake, Ultramarines, Yellow 5 Lake

    We’ve bolded the ‘bad’ ingredients (some of which are listed above). Polyoxymethylene Urea is actually from the urine and bodily fluids of other animals! So, basically, you’re using animal pee on your face. Um, barf! It’s been linked to organ toxicity and has been considered an allergen. Quaternium-15 is used a preservative, and the European Union has actually determined that it may not be safe in the use of cosmetics! Both of these are known formaldehyde releasers.

    3. Ingredients are listed in descending order

      The first thing to note is that the ingredients are listed from highest amount (weight) to lowest. So, if there’s an ingredient featured on the front of the packaging, you should expect it to be higher up in the list. The first five ingredients or so are typically the bulk of the formula. If it is listed at the end of the ingredient list, then not much of that ingredient is present. However, note that this does not take into account concentration. Some ingredients can be effective in lower concentration levels.

      4. Be aware of expiration labels

      product label expiry

      The PAO symbol—or, period-after-opening symbol—is another important logo to look out for. It looks like a small jar of body butter with a number and the letter “M” written inside or underneath it. The number represents a product’s expiration date once opened for the first time. For example: If you open a product labeled “12M,” you have 12 months to use it before it’s considered expired.

      Once you mastered these few key rules, you will find reading labels are as interesting as your favourite book (well maybe not quite).




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