Safe and sound at home but with little to do? Then maybe it’s time to learn once and for all just how to read your skincare product labels.
The format in which ingredients are listed is called the ‘INCI’, which stands for the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. ‘Nomenclature’? That word in itself can leave us scratching our heads before we even start on the ingredients! Let’s see if together, we can decipher this ‘common’ format of listing what our skincare products contain:
Where plant extracts are concerned, these are normally listed by their Latin name, such as rosehip oil “Rosa Canina Fruit Oil” for example. If it is a glycerin or aqueous extract it will also be listed in Latin as well and will refer to the part of the plant where it was extracted from, like in the case of Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, or Malva Sylvestris (Mallow) Flower Extract for distillates of Mallow. (Now do you wish you’d studied Latin at school??)
Is there a Chemist in the house?
All synthetic ingredients are listed by their chemical name, for example Vaseline will show up on the label as Paraffinum liquidum. However, it’s sometimes difficult to spot synthetic ingredients if you’re not in the know-how, but a widely used group of them are ones that have been processed with ethylene oxide. So everything starting with PEG, PPG or ending in ‘-eth’ is not natural. Take note!
Exactly where each ingredient appears on the list is also important when figuring out how to read your skincare product labels, as they are listed according to how much of the formula they make up, from highest to lowest until reaching 1%, (anything lower than 1% is not required to be listed by law). However, it’s worth remembering that the last ingredients on the list should not necessarily be ignored, as many are active at low doses, such as allantoin (Allantoin) or Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone).
First is best?
If the first ingredient is water, how much water does the product contain in total? This is a very common question. In a day or night cream, it can represent between 65-70% of the total content of the formula, so as a manufacturer it is important to have a good water purification system installed in the lab. However, some natural skincare brands opt to replace the purified water with flower water, something that at first glance seems a like good alternative but in reality, is nothing more than water used for washing or rinsing plants before processing. This liquid not only has virtually no benefits but also a high level of impurities. Because of this is there also a tendency to avoid water altogether and use only oil-based products, which can cause other problems. Oils by themselves are not able to hydrate our skin sufficiently (water is needed to “feed” the hydro-lipid film our skin has), oils can go rancid (sometimes quite quickly!), and in some cases, formulas containing oils can suffer from ‘solubility issues’, where after a short time the mixture begins to separate.
This is an expression commonly found on makeup labels. Many of the minerals used in these products may carry traces of other minerals or metals due to the extraction process. “May contain ….” is also a common advisory on food labels as well.
Usually found on the box or bottle / jar, the lot or batch number is a traceable number manufacturers use to perform quality control checks, calculate expiration dates, and issue corrections or recall products if there is a problem. It also gives consumers an identifier that they can use when contacting the manufacturer.
How long will it last?
By law, when an unopened product has a minimum durability of more than 30 months, then an expiry date is not required to be shown. So in cases where the product has a shelf life of more than 30 months, the container must show the ‘open cream jar’ symbol with a number and the letter ‘M’. This shows how long the manufacturer guarantees a product is safe to use after opening, (when stored and used reasonably, of course!). The number indicates the time frame the product should be used in once opened: 3M, 6M, 12M (3 months, 6 months, 12 months respectively).
Signs and symbols
Other warnings package tends to include are recycling symbols, packaging material, warnings of use (time, precautions in the case of hair removal products or hair dyes), if it contains alcohol or other flammable ingredients present in lacquers, enamels, etc.
Commonly seen logos range from “cruelty free” (which doesn’t always count for much!), to vegan skincare, and various other stamps and certificates accrediting the ’green-ness’ of a product or the origin of its ingredients (organic farming, for example). On a positive note, these logos help consumers make their choice, however on a not so positive one, choosing which of the myriad of different certificates to go for can be a real headache for manufacturers and quite a costly process to boot.