How to read cosmetics Labels

Divya Kapila

How to read cosmetics Labels

Don’t be fooled by a product name or description – get to know and understand your cosmetic labels! That’s the only way to truly know what is in the products you are using, and how safe they really are. This guide will help you do just that.

A lot of cosmetic products 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 sensitizing and irritating, or ingredients that can even be harmful.

"Fancy packaging and clever wording on the labels can make you believe the product is something that it actually isn’t."

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 ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ to give the impression that the product is made entirely from natural or organic ingredients, when that isn’t 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.

Don’t know how? We’re here to help!

Break down the ingredients

Ingredients listed on a product is in decreasing order of their concentration. The first three ingredients are about 80-85% in concentration, if a product have water(H2O, Aqua) listed as their first ingredient, so you are basically paying for water. The next 4-5 ingredients are about 4-15% in concentration and the last ingredients are 1-4% in concentration. 


Know your ingredients

  • Sodium laureth sulphate – A commonly used surfactant that is a known skin and eye irritant and possible endocrine disruptor. It goes through the process of ethoxylation during manufacturing, which means it is processed using ethylene dioxide, a known carcinogen. Another by-product of ethoxylation is 1,4-dioxane, also carcinogenic.
  • Acrylates copolymer – A type of plastic polymer that acts as a stabiliser or as a viscosity increasing agent. It’s a skin and eye irritant.
  • Peg-80 sorbitan laurate – Human skin toxicant that is not safe to use on damaged or broken skin. As it's an ethoxylated compound it may contain 1,4-dioxane.
  • Di-PPG-2 Myreth-10 Adipate – A ‘skin conditioner’ produced through ethoxylation, so it may contain 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen.
  • Coco-Glucoside – A surfactant, foaming agent, conditioner and emulsifier derived from coconut oil and fruit sugar. It's been listed as having a low irritation score.
  • Glyceryl Oleate – The ester of glycerin and oleic acid, this is an emulsifier derived from naturally occurring oils and fats. It has been deemed safe to use in cosmetics.
  • Glycerin – Can be from a natural source or synthetic. It's a lubricant and humectant. Helps to hydrate the skin and is considered safe.
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine – A naturally derived foaming agent and viscosity builder. Currently deemed safe.
  • DMDM Hydantoin – An antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser* preservative. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. DMDM Hydantoin is a known human immune system toxicant, a human skin toxicant, eye irritant, restricted use in cosmetics in Japan.
  • Lauryl Methyl Gluceth-10 – A conditioning humectant. According to the Environmental Working Group it has not been assessed for safety by an industry panel.
  • Methylparaben – An antifungal and a preservative. It's a known endocrine disruptor, a human skin toxicant, interferes with gene expression. Parabens have been linked to breast cancer and mimic estrogen in the body. 
  • Tetrasodium EDTA – This is a chelating agent. Classified as ‘expected to be toxic or harmful’ by the Cosmetics Database.
  • Mica – A mineral used in cosmetics for its shimmering appearance. Considered safe.
  • Titanium Dioxide – A naturally occurring mineral, used as a whitening agent and UV blocker. A photosensitiser that can be absorbed by skin, resulting in increased production of free radicals. Has been classed as possibly carcinogenic to humans.


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