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Beauty Labels 101: How To Read The Ingredient List Of Your Beauty Products

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At some point on your journey to finding the best in skincare, it’s important to read labels. We all know that what we see in beauty commercials can be a hoax, right? So, the only sure-shot way to really know what you’re getting into is to read the label on your skincare and makeup products.

It may seem complicated, but there are a few rules you need to know to decode the label, and get the most from your skincare products. We break it down for you.

1. Natural V/s Organic

Natural means that the ingredients come from a natural or plant-based source. However, it could still mean that a lot of chemicals went into the process. This has nothing to do with how the ingredients were treated, extracted, or bottled.

Organic, on the other hand, means that the ingredients have been farmed and processed in a certain way. Organic usually means that plant-based ingredients have been vetted and certified by a higher authority. Look for a seal that certifies it is organic. This means the product’s ingredients are over 95% organic.

2. Exfoliation V/s Peeling

Exfoliating, specifically a scrub or mechanical exfoliator, refers to anything that causes tiny abrasions to the skin, hence removing dead cells from the surface.

Chemical exfoliators, or peels, involve chemically dissolving the top layer of dead skin. Peels are often made up of different acids to make them effective. What you choose is up to you, but scrubs work better on your body (because the skin is thicker), and on those with less sensitive skin. Peels work better on the face, more sensitive skin, and on specific problem areas.

3. Water Resistant V/s Waterproof

It’s simple; water resistant means you can get wet without the product running off. This is a common term when it comes to sunscreens. But, waterproof means you can get down and dirty without sweating or washing your product off. Waterproof can sustain a lot more, so pick your product depending on the kind of activity you’re doing. Lounging by the pool? Go for resistant. Surfing or swimming? Go for waterproof.

4. The Gimmicks

“Non-Comedogenic” and “Hypoallergenic” do not mean squat. It’s completely up to the company how much research they do before putting that on the bottle, so nothing is set in stone. And while we’re at it, “Dermatologist-Tested” does not mean that the dermatologist has approved of the product. The same goes for “Clinically-Tested.” Also, beware of “oil-free” formulas, because oil-free does not mean it won’t clog your pores.

5. Ingredient Lists

Ingredients are always listed in order of the most concentration to the least. That being said, certain chemical exfoliants or peptides, collagen, and other such ingredients, may appear lower down the list, but that doesn’t mean they are not effective. Google these “key” acids, peptides, or enzymes, because very often a product only needs a small percentage of them to have an effect on your skin. In some cases, too much of an ingredient can harm your skin. Remember, fragrances, colourants, and preservatives are the only ingredients that can be listed in any order.

6. Ingredients To Avoid

Fragrances, alcohol, parabens, and propylene glycol are known irritants that can, especially, harm sensitive skin. These ingredients don’t do much for your skin, anyway. It won’t be a bad idea to give beauty products with these ingredients a miss.

7. Unpronounceable Ingredients

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of ingredients are listed and names according to their chemical structure. For example, acetyl hexapeptide-8, is a collagen-boosting ingredient. Just google the ingredient before making a judgement. I still do that! Most ingredients with edta or edds in the name are ingredients that bond other ingredients together. This keeps your product on your skin for longer and allows the ingredients to mix well together.

8. AHAs & BHAs

Glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, are all AHAs (Alpha Hyrdoxy Acids) that chemically exfoliate the skin. They are water-soluble and can increase skin sensitivity, so always use products with these ingredients along with an SPF. AHAs can’t be sold in a concentration of more than 10%, but 8% is usually effective without increasing sensitivity too much. BHA is usually sold as salicylic acid. It’s perfect for oily, acne-prone skin. BHA is perfect in a concentration of 1 to 4%, unless you have persistent acne and want a higher dose.

9. Latin Terms

Very often, oils, plant extracts, and other plant-based ingredients are written in their full Latin form. So, don’t be confused by this the next time you see a term like Lavendula Gastofolia; just Google it!

Did you find Part 1 of our Beauty Label Series interesting? Watch out for Part 2, where we’ll break down some popular and good skincare ingredients.


Our beauty writer is also an amazing makeup artist (check out some of her awesome videos on the site!). This skincare enthusiast is also a bonafide globetrotter and boss babe.

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