While we all love a beautiful package, the most important part of the label is usually on the back. In tiny type. You guessed it… the ingredients list.
Even for us, packaging and marketing materials can be quite persuasive. So we go straight to the ingredients list to get the true picture of the product. How much of those “wonder” ingredients promoted on the front are actually contained in the product? And are there any nasty ingredients included that we try to avoid?
If the ingredients label is hard to read, or the ingredients are not readily available on the manufacturer’s website, consider that they may not want you to read the ingredients list at all. We find that the worst offenders try to keep it hidden. With so many great products available today, that is our cue to move on! The following guidelines can help you do a little detective work to determine if the product you are considering is right for you (and worth its price tag).
So let’s take a closer look.
What to Look for on Skincare Ingredient Labels
Sometimes you don’t get what you pay for.
Don’t go by price alone! It is easy and comforting sometimes to think that if it is expensive, it must be worth the price. Not always. Let the ingredients label tell you what the product is worth.
What is with those crazy names?
Ever wonder why some of the names on the ingredients list are unrecognizable? Why is orange peel oil listed as Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Peel Oil? Ingredients lists must conform to the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) standards of identification. INCI is a system of names for waxes, oils, pigments, chemicals, and other ingredients in skincare and cosmetics that are based on scientific nomenclature (so, yes, that means much of the list will literally be in Latin!).
The order of the list matters. A lot.
The FDA directs that ingredients be listed in order of concentration by weight. So the first listed ingredient is the most concentrated ingredient in the product. This helps you determine the relative concentration of each ingredient in the product. It is impossible to determine exact amounts of each ingredient though because divulging that would reveal the company’s formula. However, relative concentration really can reveal all you need to know in order to make an educated purchase.
We recently came across a line for babies at a big box retailer that touted the benefits of cocoa butter. The line waxed poetic about the amazing things cocoa butter can do for your baby and the packaging was of course, beautiful. But when we flipped it over to examine the ingredients label, cocoa butter was listed right behind parabens! That means that the product contained more parabens than cocoa butter! Yikes! So you can see the ingredients list is where you can separate reality from marketing hype.
Is water the first ingredient on the label?
If water (or aloe vera juice) is the first ingredient on the label, it is likely that 75-95% of the product is comprised of water. Emulsifiers (ingredients that hold the oil and water in a mixture) are necessary if oil and water are combined in the product (like in lotions, foundations, cream, illuminators, and moisturizers). And preservatives are always necessary if water is present to keep the product from spoiling. Factoring in the percentage for those two necessary ingredients, the remaining available space for active ingredients is between 22 and 2%! This doesn’t mean the product won’t or doesn’t work—peptides, enzymes, vitamins, antioxidants and a host of other active ingredients are typically effective in small percentages.
What does fragrance mean anyway?
Fragrance and flavors are considered to be trade secrets by the FDA and as such, the exact formulas do not have to be disclosed on the label. Fragrance and/or flavor is required to be listed if it is used. However, the consumer is not privy to the exact ingredients of any fragrance and/or flavor. So look for fragrances that are naturally derived or essential oil blends. At One Love Organics, we only use ECOCERT certified blends of 100% natural origin that are made from essential oils, fruit and plant extracts. Our natural fragrances are free of phthalates, parabens, sulfates, chemical sunscreens, petrochemicals, formaldehyde donors, PEG’s, DEA/tea and 1,4 dioxanes.
If the active ingredient you are looking for is listed behind the fragrance, it is likely in less than 3% of the product. Fragrance is usually anywhere between .50 and 3% of the product. You can usually tell by how strong or subtle the scent is to know if it is at the higher or lower concentration.
Soon, you will be a pro at deciphering any cosmetic label. You can avoid toxins, potential allergens and spend money on products that are just right for you. And what could be more beautiful than that?!