Regardless of your intentions to self-educate and protect yourself, when it comes to beauty labelling, you’re at the mercy of manufacturers being truthful and ethical. In the quest to clean up and detox your skincare routine, you’ll discover words are redefined, misused and bandied.
Even if you have a cosmetic science degree or read labels for a living, it can be challenging to assess and define the safety of a product and what it contains. Your right to know is compromised and undermined by the lack of legislation and authorisation. There are numerous loopholes in labelling laws, some of which are compiled below.
Decode the label
- Top Third – This area lists the ingredients that constitute 80-95 per cent of the product. So, if the first ingredient listed is water or aqua, that’s what you’re paying for.
- Middle Third – This constitutes about 4-12 per cent of the product and is made up of oils, actives, emulsifiers and surfactants.
- Final Third – Makes up around 1-4 per cent of the product and consists of preservatives, fragrances, stabilisers and label claims.
Words to watch out for
Implies something taken directly from nature without having undergone any processing. The law doesn’t prohibit the term being used in products that may also contain synthetics. Even if products are labelled as natural, they may contain 100 per cent synthetic chemicals.
Means that it shouldn’t clog pores or trigger acne by clogging the skin and blocking the oil glands resulting in irritation of the hair follicle. The claim is not regulated and many companies do their own internal tests to determine whether a product should be considered comedogenic or not. Commonly known comedogenic ingredients include coconut oil and cocoa butter
Doesn’t mean dermatologist endorsed. It usually refers to a patch test a dermatologist performed to see if the product created sensitisation or irritation. It doesn’t mean it was tested to deliver any promises or results.
- Learn your International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). It’s the international standard and terminology for writing ingredients. In most countries other than the US, this standard is enforceable; the nomenclature must be used and not the common name. Labels for truly natural and organic products will contain trade words you can pronounce, as opposed to words that sound chemically-ridden.
- Ingredients that are in the formulation less than 1 per cent can be listed at the discretion of the manufacturer and in any order. If a product claims that it contains a certain key ingredient, but it’s listed towards the bottom of the label, then it’s likely a label claim and could be in the formulation in as little as 0.10 per cent.
- If a product states it’s natural or organic and claims a specific ingredient on the front panel of the label, make sure to turn the product over and read the INCI list to verify the remaining ingredients in the formulation
This is an edited extract from Mukti’s new book Truth in Beauty ($54.95), which is a comprehensive guide on how to make the switch to organic skincare, what to avoid, and how to tell the difference between toxins and organic or natural products. Get your hands on a copy here.
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