How to decode beauty product labels

How to decode beauty labels

There’s a lot of labels on beauty products and understanding what they mean can help you make smarter choices. Image via Adobe Stock.

Decoding beauty product labels can be somewhat of a minefield. Unless you’ve done extensive research to familiarise yourself with what certain ingredients are and what certain names mean, looking at a label on a beauty product can look like technical gibberish to the common beauty consumer. But because the beauty industry is (unfortunately) highly unregulated for the most part, an important part of purchasing beauty products is knowing and understanding what beauty labels mean and what ingredients do so you can make an informed decision on what products you are putting on to your body. Many brands will trick consumers into purchasing their products by using specific keywords to reel you in and essentially trick you into thinking their product is something natural when it isn’t – this is called greenwashing.

We have put together a list of some of the main keywords you might find on beauty packaging and a few ingredients you need to avoid to make choosing your beauty products a safer experience for you and your family.

When it comes to the word natural on beauty packaging, it doesn’t necessarily mean 100% natural. Natural can mean only some of the ingredients in the product are natural, not all of the ingredients. Products labelled natural can contain just as many harmful chemicals as other conventional products and in fact, some natural brands, including mineral foundation can actually be some of the worst offenders as they often use a higher concentration of ingredients that are contaminated with heavy metals.

Clean labels mean a product is non-toxic, safe and has transparent labelling. Sometimes the ingredients in clean beauty products can be man-made and contain preservatives but that doesn’t mean they are toxic. Essentially, clean beauty is synonymous with non-toxic, safe products.

Organic beauty is often confused with clean beauty. They are not the same. Organic products can have toxic ingredients in them. Organic beauty products mean that the ingredients have been organically farmed, grown without the use of GMO (genetically modified organisms), herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and other chemicals.

For a product to be truly vegan it must contain a Vegan Awareness Foundation logo or a Vegan Action logo. Vegan products must not contain any ingredients derived from animals or their by-products and they cannot be tested on animals.

A cruelty-free product has gone through strict testing to make sure it hasn’t been tested on animals. A true cruelty-free product should have the Leaping Bunny logo or the Certified Cruelty-free logo.

Ingredients to avoid:

Parabens are a common preservative found in beauty products. Essentially, if a beauty product has water in it, it is likely that you will also find parabens in there too, to prevent bacteria from growing. Parabens are nasty, they are known endocrine disruptors – this means that they mimic estrogen in the body, which can lead to hormonal changes in the body and in worst-case scenarios, cause breast cancer. Other common names for Parabens are, Methylparaben, Proplyparaben, Isopropylparaben, and Isobutylparaben.

Sulphates or Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate are also common ingredients in beauty products that you should avoid. These are commonly labelled at SLS or SLES. These are foaming agents and can trigger allergies in the body.

Artificial fragrances
Most conventional beauty products have a form of fragrance. Manufacturers aren’t required to divulge what is in the fragrances so the product will usually only state “Fragrance” or Parfum” on the ingredients list. This can be dangerous as some artificial fragrances can contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergens and irritants.

Formaldehyde is a preservative used in some beauty products. It is a known carcinogen that is linked to asthma, neurotoxicity and developmental toxicity. Other known names for Formaldehyde are Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and Imidazolidinyl urea.

A phthalate is a plasticizer that is added to plastic to keep it from becoming brittle. Phthalates are used in cosmetics primarily in fragrances, hair spray and nail polish. Like parabens, phthalates are endocrine disruptors and can cause hormonal and reproductive problems and birth defects. Look out for other names on the labels such as DBP, DEHP, DEP.

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