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Here's How to Read Skincare Product Labels Like a Pro

The packaging may be cute, but don't forget to check the product label, too!
Here's How to Read Skincare Product Labels Like a Pro
ILLUSTRATOR Igi Talao
The packaging may be cute, but don't forget to check the product label, too!

Before we decide to purchase a new skincare product, we typically look at a product's packaging and marketing claims first. While those are fair points to consider in your decision-making process, you might want to choose based on a product's ingredients list as well. Admittedly, it can be intimidating to go through all the unfamiliar ingredient names, but inspecting a skincare label is crucial to determining whether a product actually fits your specific skincare concerns and needs.

What should you keep in mind when examining a beauty product label? Keep reading to find out!

Tips for Reading Beauty Product Labels

1. Check the order of the ingredients.

Skincare ingredients are listed in descending order on the label, with the most potent ingredients at the top. However, ingredients that are formulated in less than 1% can be listed in any order, given that they're listed after those with more than 1% concentration.

For example, if a product is formulated with numerous essential oils with less than 1% concentration, those oils can be listed in any order as long as they're at the bottom of the list. This entails that ingredients enumerated towards the end of the label may not be as beneficial (or as harmful!) because of their low concentration. Still, some ingredients like chemical exfoliants are effective even in low concentrations, so don't judge too quickly! What you can do is read the product's marketing claims and verify if the expected results match the ingredients listed. 

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2. Watch out for potential allergens.

When reading a product label, you should always be on the lookout for unnecessary ingredients that do more harm than good, including ingredients you're personally allergic to. Dermatologists usually recommend avoiding skincare products that contain artificial fragrances or parfum, as well as artificial dyes. Another ingredient you should watch out for, especially if it's at the top of the ingredients list, is denatured alcohol or SD alcohol. Although this ingredient can degrease your skin temporarily and allow for a cosmetically elegant formulation, it can still irritate your skin barrier if used in high concentrations. But not all alcohols are bad for you, so don’t be afraid of alcohols strategically formulated in appropriate concentrations. 

3. Don't be afraid of complicated names.

Let’s do away with the old saying that goes, "If you can't pronounce it, dont put it on your skin." Some people feel intimidated to use certain products just because they contain scientific-sounding names, though some of the best skincare ingredients out there have long names. For instance, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate may initially look scary on the label, but it's actually just a form of everyone's favorite antioxidant—vitamin C! So don't feel overwhelmed right away; remember that you can always do a quick Google search for the ingredients that sound unfamiliar to you.

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4. Use online databases to guide you.

Speaking of online research, there are various skincare websites that give you useful interpretations of product ingredients. One example is INCIDecoder, a cosmetics database that provides you with an overview of a specific product’s ingredients and their purpose. If you’re concerned about an ingredient’s comedogenic rating, you can also check out CosDNA to identify possible skin irritants! Some of the many other sites you can bookmark include SkinCarisma, Beautypedia, and EWG’s Skin Deep.

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5. Take note of the symbols and logos.

That open-jar symbol you see in your products is the Period After Opening logo, which actually stands for a product's expiration date. Let's say the jar symbol says 24M, that means you can safely use that product for 24 months upon first opening it. Meanwhile, a bunny illustration may indicate that a product is cruelty-free (though different organizations have different logos). There's also the common recycling sign to denote that a product’s packaging is reusable, but some products also use resin identification codes for specific information on various plastics.

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