A Comprehensive Guide To Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

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Ingredients don’t lie, and when it comes to skincare — ingredients list matters a lot. Infact, it should be the number one thing you should consider before purchasing a skincare product.


But sadly, some folkes tends to pay less attention to what is contained in their skincare product, they go straight to using the product regardless. Ewww!, that’s a costly mistake.

You must be extremely cautious of what you put on your skin, because whatever you put on your skin goes into your skin pores and tissues, and when a harmful ingredient is absorbed into the skin, it can cause more harm than good — I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.  So, if you want to know how to read skincare ingredient list label, keep reading this article from the very beginning to the end.

How To Read A Skincare Ingredient List Label. 

Before making that product purchase, first thing first, be Ingredients-List-conscious. Below is how to read a skincare ingredient list label. Plus other things to look out for.

1. Ingredients Are Listed From The Highest To The Lowest. 

Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

Yea, you read right. Ingredients are being listed from the highest to the lowest, depending on each product formulation. That’s to say, the first few ingredients you see at the top list has higher concentration than the ones at the medium and bottom list. This means if a really great ingredient is listed at the bottom, you’re not going to get much benefit from it, and if it’s listed at the top, you’re definitely going to enjoy more benefits.

2. Go Through The Ingredients List.

Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

As aforementioned, ingredients don’t lie. Before going all out for a product, first thing first, go thoroughly through the ingredients list, as this is very important to check for ingredients which doesn’t go well with your skin and also to spot if the product in question contains any nasty ingredient that can induce irritation.

And if after satisfactorily going through the ingredients list and detect no nasties, don’t forget to perform a patch test prior to commencing product application to test for allergies.

3. Don’t Go For The Product If It Doesn’t Reveal Its Ingredient List. 

Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

We all love honesty and transparency, and when a skincare brand tends to deprive its customers that by hiding their ingredients list, then it’s a red flag. Why shouldn’t the consumers know what they are using on their skin? Sounds hideous right? So, you’re better off staying off any skincare product that doesn’t reveal its ingredients list. It doesn’t worth the risk.

There are three categories of skincare ingredients in every formulation. 

  • Functional Ingredients: These ingredients are the main actives in a skincare product. They’re regarded as the product-backbone, as they enable the product work. Example: skincare care actives like alpha arbutin, kojic acid, tranexamic acid, vitamin C, retinoids, etc are categorized under this section.
  • Aesthetic Ingredients: These category of ingredients are what makes skincare products feel nice and comfortable on the skin. Example: hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin, honey, etc.
  • Marketing Ingredients: These are skincare ingredients used in marketing skincare products because of the profuse hype or buzz around it. Examples of such ingredients are vitamin C, alpha arbutin, niacinamide, retinol, tranexamic acid and azelaic acid, because these ingredients are so popularly used by skincare addicts/users, skincare brands includes them in almost all their skincare product formulations.

4. Stay-Off, If “Active” Ingredient Percentage Isn’t Revealed.

Read ingredients list label

You should know the concentration of the “active” ingredient you’re putting on your skin, to know if it’s way too much for your skin or way too less. Brand transparency isn’t only about revealing ingredients list, but also revealing their concentration, especially for the active ingredients contained. This will enable consumers make decisive decision.

5. Check Out For The Open-Jar Symbol On The Product. 

Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

If you should take a good look around your skincare products, you’ll see an open-jar symbol drawn on the product container, with numbers like 6M, 12M, 24M.

This jar symbol represents how long the product is good for once it’s opened. Example 12M means product is likely going to go bad after 12 months. Use those numbers as a guide for when to replace your product If it’s expired.

This symbol can be located anywhere around the product packaging, but you mostly see it at the back of the product packaging or under it.

6. If You’re A Vegan, Look For Where It’s Written “Vegan”. 

Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

If you’re interested in solely plant-based skincare products, look for where it says “vegan” on the container or packaging of your skincare products. Vegan skincare is made from plant-based ingredients to help to nourish, hydrate, and protect your skin without any harsh chemicals.

7. Ensure The Product Is Cruelty-Free.

Read Skincare Ingredient List Label

To ascertain this, look for a drawn picture of a bunny on the label to indicate the product is cruelty-free.

Cruelty free skincare products are much gentler on the skin, rather than harsh and artificial chemical ingredients that are usually found in commercial skin care products. And because cruelty-free products tend to be gentler on the skin, they can be excellent choices for people with chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Ingredients List That Aren’t Safe For Your Skin. 

There are lots of ingredients that aren’t safe for the skin, as they can compromise your skin-health. So if you happen to see any of them while going through a skincare ingredient list label, do well to stay off it.

1. Parabens.

Examples of parabens:

  • Germaben II.
  • Methylparaben.
  • Propylparaben.
  • Butylparaben.

Parabens are inexpensive chemical preservatives that are mostly used in preserving and prolonging the life shelf of products. They are added to food, drug and cosmetic products to prevent the growth of mold harmful bacteria and yeast, it is also said to deter the growth of fungal in skincare products and food.

Studies have shown that paraben preservatives mimics estrogen, which is responsible for causing breast cancer tumors and also increasing prevalence of early puberty in girls. Though the study at this time has no conclusive or clear evidence.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are still conducting research to investigate the safety of parabens preservatives. But so far there hasn’t been any clear or conclusive evidence. Though there have been cases of individuals who have had negative reaction from using paraben based products.

The FDA continues to allow the use of parabens preservative in skincare, drug and food products, this is because parabens doesn’t accumulate in the body, the body flushes it out quickly. But despite this many individuals are concerned about the safety of parabens because of its claims to cancer risk.

But the FDA are still conducting their research, but for now, they haven’t still come across any evidence that shows parabens are harmful to use in cosmetics food and drugs.

The study of parabens causing cancer is still unknown, as researchers still continue to conduct their research. But until then, it’s advised to keep off cosmetics, drugs and foods products preserved with parabens until a clear and final evidence is revealed.

2. Alcohols.

Alcohols are used in skincare products because it helps makes the skin not to feel greasy because of its light texture and also helps breaks down the skin barrier to enable skincare products penetrate better.

But there are good and bad alcohols, the bad alcohols are merhanol, isopropyl alcohol, propanol, benzy alcohol and sd alcohol.

The bad alcohols can be extremely drying and irritating to the skin, they can also cause inflammation, this is because they strip the skin off its natural protection. Thereby leading to an increase of acne causing bacteria and worsening inflammation.

3. Sulphates.

Sulphates are used as foaming agents or detergent which is found in facial cleansers, shampoo, bubble bath products and bathing soap.

Sulphates can be harmful because depending on its manufacturing process it can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Although there is no direct evidence linking sulphates to cancer, infertility and development issues, but the highest risk of using products with SLS and SLES is irritation to your eyes, skin, mouth, and lungs. For people with sensitive skin, sulfates may also clog pores and cause acne.

4. Formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a preservative used in cosmetics, mostly found in baby soap, nail polish, eyelash adhesive and hair dyes.

Studies have shown that formaldehyde can be harmful because prolonged used can cause adverse health issues including immune system toxicity, respiratory irritation and also cancer tumors, because formaldehyde is a recognized human carcinogen.

5. BHA & BHT.

BHA and BHT are known as a synthetic antioxidants mostly used in skincare products and also used as food preservatives.

These synthetic antioxidants are mostly used in lip sticks, moisturizers and hair creams.

BHA and BHT mimic estrogen which makes it very toxic to the immune system and can also have an adverse impact on reproduction.

6. Mecury.

Mecury is a metalic chemical element most used in devices such as thermometers and fluorescent lights.

Some skincare companies uses mecury as a lightening ingredient in their products, although mecury has the ability to lighten the skin making it look more fairer, but mecury can be harmful and toxic to both the skin and health. The U.S FDA has banned skincare and cosmetic products that contains mecury because of its toxicity to the skin and health.

Mecury toxicity can cause skin cancer, skin rashes, inflammation (dermatitis), large amount of ingested mecury can cause bloody diarrhea, accidentally absorbed mecury can spread to other organ systems of the body resulting to serious health issues such as memory loss, renal damage, muscle weakness and mood swings.

7. Steroids.

Steroids are used in creams and lotions as a medication and mostly used in treating skin conditions such as eczema, rashes, and reduce skin inflammation.

Steroids becomes harmful and dangerous when used for a long-term. Skincare experts (dermatologists) have warned against long-term use of steroidal based products.

Long-term use of steroids can cause bad skin reactions such as:

  • Stinging or burning of the skin: this normally occurs during the first week of application.
  • Skin thinning: This mostly occurs when using the highest strength of a steroid-based skincare product.
  • Stretch mark: This is because steroids break down connective tissue in the skin. Long-term and misuse of steroid based creams and lotions can also cause skin bruising, discoloration, and spider blood vessels or veins.
  • Enlarged blood vessels (Telangiectasia).
  • Increment of hair thickness and length (hypertrichosis).

Names Of Steroids.

  • Clobetasol propionate.
  • Betamethasone dipropionate.
  • Betamethasone valerate.
  • Diflucortolone valerate.
  • Hydrocortisone 17-butyrate.
  • Methylprednisolone aceponate.
  • Mometasone furoate.
  • Clobetasone butyrate.
  • Triamcinolone acetonide.

8. Coal-tar Dyes.

Coal-tar belongs to the polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) family. These are Group of chemicals that naturally occurs in coal, crude oil, and gasoline.

Some cosmetics and shampoo products are made with coal-tar and therefore may contain PAHs.

A laboratory tests conducted by the U.S. national cancer institute and National Toxicology program has proven that coal tar is recognized as a human carcinogen, which is also contaminated with low levels of heavy metals and contains aluminum (a neurotoxin) which is very harmful to the skin.

9. DEA compounds.

DEA compounds are used in cosmetics, its main function is making cosmetics textures turn creamy or sudsy.

Exposure to high dose of this chemicals has been proven to cause liver cancers and pre-cancerous changes in the skin and thyroid.

DEA compounds also causes mild skin and eye irritation. It’s also responsible for hormone disruptor, depletes the body of choline needed for brain development.

10. Fragrance/Perfume.

Fragrance are mostly used in cosmetics products such as, deodorants, lotions shampoos etc.

Fragrance has been proven to irritate the skin and triggers allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms.

11. PEG Compounds ( Polyethylene Glycols).

PEGs are mostly used in cosmetics products, they are used as solvents, thickners, softeners, more especially requiring a cream base and also in laxatives.

According to a report in the International Journal of Toxicology by the cosmetic industry’s own Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) committee, impurities found in various PEG compounds include ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and heavy metals such as lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic has been linked to cancer tumors.

PEG compounds often contain small amounts of ethylene oxide.

Ethylene oxide (found in PEG-4, PEG-7, PEG4-dilaurate, and PEG 100) is highly toxic — even in small doses — and was used in World War I nerve gas. Exposure to ethylene glycol during its production, processing and clinical use has been linked to increased incidents of leukemia as well as several types of cancer.

12. Petrolatum.

This is a mineral oil jelly that is used in skincare products to lock moisture in the skin in varieties of skin moisturizers. It is also used in hair care products to keep the hair moisturized and makes it shine.

A research has proven that petrochemical can be contaminated with cancer – causing polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The European Union considers petrolatum a carcinogen and have restricted its use in cosmetics products.

The international agency for research on cancer (IARC) has ranked it as a possible carcinogen, same with National Toxicology program.

13. Siloxane.

Siloxane are also used in moisturizers and also facial treatments for the aim of softening & smoothening the skin.

Cyclotetransiloxane and cylcopentasiloxane – D4 and D5 (or siloxane) has been proven to be endocrine disruptors, which interfere with human hormone function.

It can also tamper the reproductive system that may impair human fertility causing uterine tumors and harm the immune system.

14. Triclosan.

Triclosan are mostly used in deodorants, cleansers (especially facial cleanser) and hand sanitizer as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent. It is also used in laundry detergent & soaps, facial tissues and antiseptic for wounds.

Triclosan can pass through the skin and can affect the body’s hormone system more especially thyroid hormones which regulates metabolism.

In September 2016, TCS was banned by the FDA in soap products (liquid, gel, foam, bar); however, TCS still remains allowed in toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and mouthwash [1].

The European Union (EU) banned TCS from all human hygiene biocidal products starting January 2017 [2].

In Conclusion.

Ingredients are the backbone of your skincare products. And to ensure you’re putting the right product on your skin, you have to read the ingredient list label carefully. This will go along to ensure you’re using the real-deal Ingredient at the right concentration (or percentage) and also help to prevent you from putting nasties on your skin which can lead to inflammatory-irritation, breakouts (due to clogged pores) and allergies.

Possible Questions & Answers.

Q: Where do I find the Ingredient list of skincare products?

A: Ingredients list can be mentioned in different places such as:

  • Back of the packaging (very common).
  • On the box.
  • In the leaflet.
  • Underneath the product label or barcode (follow the arrow – it will point you directly to it).
UP NEXT: According To Dermatologists, These Are The Ingredients To Avoid During Pregnancy.

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