Forget Product Labels, Read the Ingredient Listings


We’ve talked about which cosmetic ingredients are important to avoid, but what about reading product ingredient listings?  This can be quite confusing itself.

To determine whether or not a beauty or personal care product is safe, you need to know what’s in it.  So…you need to learn how to read product labels.

In the US, cosmetic labeling can be very difficult decipher.  A manufacturer of less-than-pure products often makes their product ingredient listings difficult to read just to take the consumer’s attention off of all the junky ingredients they use.

Use these tips to read cosmetic product ingredient listings like a pro:

Cosmetics and personal care products list ingredients in order of concentration, from greatest to least.  The first ingredient on the listing makes up the majority of the product, and so on.  So flip that product over and let’s get started.

First, ignore what’s on the front and skip straight to the back.  Where ingredients are concerned, the back is where you will find exactly what is in the product.  Terms like “natural”, “pure” and “paraben-free” do not tell the story.

Next, scan for harmful ingredients.  Use our Cosmetic Ingredient Cheat Sheet to make this step easier.  This may seem time consuming at first, but a little practice will have you toxic ingredient savvy in no time.

In a time crunch check the first 5 and the last 5 ingredients on the ingredient listing.  The first 5 ingredients make up the majority of the product, the last are usually fragrance and preservatives.  If these look good, you are most likely ok to buy the product.

If you are searching for organic ingredients, these are usually marked with an asterisk.  Remember, the mere presence of some organic ingredients does not render a product safe.  It also has to be free from harmful ingredients.  Organic standards for cosmetics are the same as for foods:  100% Organic means a product contains only organically produced ingredients, Certified Organic means the product is made of at least 95% organically produced ingredients, Made with Organic Ingredients means the product contains at least 70% organically produced ingredients.  That remaining percentage is left up to the manufacturer.

Having trouble finding an ingredient listing for a product you are considering for purchase?  This is a good reason to leave the product behind.  No obvious ingredient listing and I suggest you don’t bother buying the product.

Take these tips along with you while you shop to ensure you are purchasing nontoxic products.  Have questions?  We’d love to answer them!


Written by Liz Thompson

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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