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Understanding Product Labels


Continuing on with skin/hair care, I want to discuss the importance of knowing what ingredients are in your products and what they do. To start this off, I want to talk about understanding product labels, how they are listed, and what companies can and cannot get away with when it comes to transparency. Some skin damage is irreversible so, that’s why I try to emphasize the importance of knowing what you’re using on your skin. The information used will be coming straight of out my Milady’s Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary by Natalia Michalum and M. Varinia Michalum and/or my Salon Fundamentals for Esthetics textbook (there is an entire page dedicated to all of the people that contributed to producing the textbook so, just know it’s a legitimate textbook and if you really want the authors, you can google them). Just wanted to give you legitimate sources so you guys know that I’m not pulling this information out of thin air.

How Product Ingredients Are Listed

Understanding ingredient labels enables you to determine what products can work best for your skin. Instead of having to spend years using trial and error, you can make a much more educated guess when it comes to choosing the right product for yourself if you have a fairly decent understanding of what all that product contains. “A great deal of information about how the product was created and the accuracy of the claims made on the label can be ascertained by reviewing the list of ingredients included with each product. Ingredient labeling for commercially distributed cosmetic products is now required by law in the US, Europe, and many other countries” (Textbook, p. 235). If you can’t easily find a list of ingredients on your product container, the box it came in, or online, that’s usually a pretty big red flag as it is required by law to list them. This should be especially important to those who are trying to break into creating their own natural skin care products to distribute and sell. Just because you aren’t a big company, does not mean you are not liable for any side effects your products may cause people if products are not formulated properly or if ingredients are not visibly listed. On cosmetic product labels, the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight concentration as a percentage of the total formula. “This is the case for the first several ingredients until the 1% concentration ingredients are reached. At this point the remaining ingredients...” (usually listed after the preservatives) “are listed in any order desired by the product manufacturer, usually in the order that will enhance the product’s marketing and efficacy claims the most. This is normally accomplished by listing the more glamorous ingredients -those upon which the efficacy claims are based- as high as possible on the list while keeping the least desirable ingredients, such as color additives, fragrance, and preservatives, lowest on the list” (textbook, p. 236). It’s also important to understand and look for the active ingredients vs the inactive ingredients.

  • active principle (active ingredient)- an ingredient with “treatment” value. When placed on the skin, it performs a therapeutic or beneficial function for the skin, such as healing, hydrating, soothing, toning, etc.
  • “inactive” ingredients- ingredients in a product that do not increase or affect the therapeutic action of the active ingredient(s).

Inactive ingredients can still have beneficial properties, they just aren’t going to specifically target what the active ingredient is trying to help fight. For example I could have an acne cleanser with salicylic acid as the active ingredient, but it could also have something like honey or aloe as an inactive ingredient. Honey and aloe both have anti-inflammatory properties and can also aid in moisturizing the skin, but they don’t directly target acne so, they aren’t going to be listed as an active ingredient. When looking at your product label there are a few key things that I think are important to be observant of.

  • If your product promises something on the front of its package or highlights a special ingredient that it says has some kind of treatment quality to it, make sure you check where it’s listed in the ingredient list. If it’s low on the ingredient list, there is a good chance it contains less than 1% of that ingredient and the company just wants to use it as a marketing/selling point, not to actually help the user. In my humble opinion, that tells me more about the company than the product. It’s not technically lying for them because the ingredient is present in the product, it’s just unethical because the efficiency of how well that ingredient will work will most likely be very low if it does anything at all.
  • If your product is advertising some miracle ingredient that’s supposed to deliver amazing results, it’s also a good idea to do a quick Google search to see if that ingredient actually has the capability of doing what the product claims it does or if that product is just trying to hop on a trend for the money. For example: collagen applied topically cannot be absorbed back into the skin to produce more collagen in your body so, any product that uses collagen as it’s selling point and claims it will help promote more collagen production, is just trying to sell a product that most likely won’t do anything of the sort. Collagen is however, known as one of the oldest, purest, most effective and economical proteins available for cosmetic use and is praised for its water binding properties that can aid in hydration. So it’s not a bad ingredient itself, you just have to be careful that you aren’t putting your faith into the wrong thing.
  • If a product contains less than 1% of an ingredient, in most cases, those ingredients do not have to be listed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in regards to the actual product, but if you are someone who has a severe allergy to anything that could potentially be used in a product, it’s best to double check and make sure that product does not contain what you are allergic to.
  • Products (like food) that are labeled “organic” or “all natural” may in fact, not be. Again, pay attention to the ingredients listed on the back to make this determination for yourself.
  • Be cautious of how many ingredients are in your product. In most cases, the fewer the better.

I want to keep these skin care posts a little shorter and break them up a bit so I’m not completely bombarding you guys with information that’s too much to keep up with each week. Because this is a topic I am passionate about and want people to actually learn about for themselves, I think the shorter posts will be much more beneficial for information retention. Next week I will be listing and discussing common symbols you may find on your product labels and what they mean, then the following week I will dive into ingredients. The good and the bad. I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the week and safe travels to those of you headed to Electric Forest this week! I will be shooting Dorfex Bos again, so if you want to catch me, you’ll know where to find me!

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