One thing we can all agree is that deciphering skincare product labels is daunting and confusing. There are so many labels, symbols, and chemical names on a small, simple-looking product.
We know they’re important somehow, but how can we effectively decode the skincare labels so that we know what each ingredient is and if it’s good for our skin?
What do I look out for when reading the labels
Product labels follow some rules which allow us to dissect them to a certain extent. In general, you will see the following:
INSTRUCTION FOR USE This can be on the product or on a separate leaflet. It tells us more about how this product should be used to give you optimal outcome. If there are precautions that the manufacturers want you to know, it may be written there as well.
OPEN JAR SYMBOL This symbol is universally used in all skincare products. It tells you how long you can use the product once it is open. You should see the symbol of an open jar with a number and capital ‘M’, such as 12M. The reason why there is a guide to how long you can keep the product is because certain products have a shelf life. After certain time, the product may separate, and the oil soluble components may float to the top.
Some active ingredients, especially those that change the skin at the cellular level, may degrade over time, if exposed to air, water, and sunlight. Some of these ingredients include pure vitamin C and hydroquinone, a skin-lightening agent.
FINGER POINTING AT A BOOK SYMBOL This symbol simply means that more information about the product can be found on the accompanying leaflet or inset in the box.
INGREDIENTS ARE LISTED FROM HIGHEST TO LOWEST CONCENTRATION Ingredients are listed according to how much of it there is in a product. Therefore, the first 3 to 5 items you see in the list are of the highest concentration. Very often, you will notice that the first few ingredients are water, aloe vera, glycerine. These are what constitutes the base of your product. Emollients, or commonly known as moisturizer, is also usually found at the top of the list as it helps to hydrate the skin.
On the other hand, ingredients found at the bottom of the list are of very low concentration. These are usually things like preservatives and fragrances. However, if there is an active ingredient which is very low on the list, it means that there is not enough of it to bring about a beneficial outcome for your skin.
Another important point to note is that if you are trying to avoid harsh or drying products, you should avoid products that have alcohol listed in the first 3 ingredients.
PLANT EXTRACTS LISTED ACCORDING TO SCIENTIFIC NAME Do ingredients such as camellia sinensis, avena sativa, curcuma longa, olea europaea oil, cocos nucifera oil sound familiar to you?
They are in fact, green tea, oat kernel, turmeric, olive oil and coconut respectively.
When used in skincare, the ingredients need to be listed in accordance with the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI standards. Understandably, it makes it almost impossible to recognise even the most common ingredients we probably know.
INCI system was established in the early 1970s by the Personal Care Products Council. With few exceptions, the INCI standard is used in all countries for a more standardised naming convention of ingredients in skincare products.