How to Read and Understand Skin Care Labels as a Beginner

Manufacturers are required to specify all their ingredients in the product label, listed in order of predominance. Ingredients of the most amount will be listed first, with the least concentrations towards the end. Manufacturers are also required to issue warnings, contraindications, and instructions for safe use on their labels.

Understanding what sound like bizarre scientific terms in your skin care products like Tony Moly may seem like a daunting task, but it’s important to have a basic knowledge of common skin care labels, so you are aware of its health risks and benefits.

Evaluate trendy labels

Manufacturers often use trendy labels to get more attention. Many products are advertised as natural, organic, cruelty-free, and the like. However, these marketing strategies may be deceptive if you don t know how to properly distinguish labels. Here are guidelines to know what these labels really mean:

1. Organic

 The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues guidelines when using the organic label. According to the USDA, a product is if it contains or is comprised of, at least 95% organic ingredients. The remaining non-organic ingredients must come from a USDA approved a list of additional items.

On the other hand, a product may be labeled made with organic ingredients if it contains at least 70% organic ingredients. Organic means that the way the product was farmed or manufactured has undergone strict standards set by the USDA. These standards include self-sustaining farming cycles, avoiding synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics, among others. 

2. Natural

Products labeled as natural mean that it does not contain artificial ingredients, chemicals, and preservatives. However, it is not the same as organic, since the natural ingredients used may not have gone through rigorous quality standards (e.g. sustainably-farmed, pesticide-free). For example, shampoo may be advertised as containing natural orange extracts, but the orange extracts may have come from pesticide-laden oranges.

3. Herbal or botanical 

It means that a product contains herbal extracts or ingredients, but still may be mixed with artificial preservatives and chemicals. For example, soap may be labeled as containing rosemary and lavender extracts, but may still contain chemical preservatives like parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

4. Alcohol-free

This means the absence of ethyl alcohol as per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. However, a product may still contain alcohol in the form of cetyl, stearyl, or lanolin alcohol. 

5. Fragrance-free

Although a product is labeled fragrance-free, it does not mean that it does not contain fragrance chemicals, which may be used for other purposes (e.g. moisturizing ingredient) instead of fragrance. Moreover, the term unscented may be used to refer to products that use substances to mask odors.

6. Cruelty-free

This means that a product has not used animals for testing product safety levels. However, this does not guarantee that each ingredient did not go through cruelty-free tests, especially for multi-ingredient products. Moreover, this label does not exclude ingredients that may have been sourced from countries with unregulated animal protection laws.

7. Hypo-allergenic

There are currently no standard definitions and proper usage of this term, and it is solely up to the manufacturers to interpret and use this label, which could potentially be very inaccurate and misleading. Doing an allergy test is the only way to determine if a product is allergenic (to you) or not.

Common toxic skin care ingredients

Although it may be challenging to know every single property of each product ingredient, it helps to know which common product ingredients are the most harmful so you can avoid them.

      Parabens - Parabens are a commonly used preservative, and about 90% of cosmetic products have them. Parabens have been linked to breast and reproductive cancers.
      Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) - PEGs are petroleum-based compounds used to improve product consistency. It is a carcinogen and negatively affects the nervous system.
      Mineral oil - Mineral oil, or petrolatum, is a byproduct of distilling gasoline from crude oil. It has been classified as a carcinogenic, but many cosmetic products continue to use petrolatum as the main ingredient, especially in lip balms, lotions, and makeup.
      Talc - Who would have thought baby powders were actually dangerous? Unfortunately, talc has been documented to cause cancerous tumors and is toxic to breathe.

Understanding skin care labels is a useful skill in effectively taking charge of your health. By having a basic working knowledge of common labels and product ingredients, you are now aware of how safe or harmful the ingredients are, the purpose and function of each ingredient, and how the ingredients could interact and affect other skin

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