How to Read Cosmetic Labels Like A Pro

Women spend upwards of seven billion dollars on cosmetics annually, most however aren't really aware of what they are buying. A simple remedy to this is to become educated as a consumer and learn to read cosmetic labels like a true professional.


The FDA mandates that all cosmetics be labeled with a list of their ingredients, in order from the greatest amount to the least. There are no regulations governing descriptions or most scientific claims and unfortunately, no minimum size set for print.


A front label or high-profile pitch summarizing what the manufacturer would like to present to the consumer. Especially when purchasing cosmetics online where a shopper can't turn the item around, call-outs are used to influence the buying decision without additional information. While the call-out may be factual, it alone is often not sufficient evidence on which a consumer should base a decision.


Parabens are chemical preservatives commonly used in cosmetics and considerable speculation has been given to their potentially harmful properties, including causing irritation and illness. They are not legal in all countries. Avoiding them on labels and refrigerating products with natural and less threatening ingredients may benefit consumers immensely.

Dermatologist Tested

Although these words would logically imply professional support has been given to a product, the results of said testing are unknown and not required to be published. Hence, a thorough dermatological investigation could reveal problems with the product, yet the label may still boast about having been tested.


Manufacturers often claim their product does not commonly produce an allergic reaction, however; no industry standard or scientific specifications exist for clarity or quantity. A consumer should be aware of their own allergies and reactions to specific ingredients and carefully watch labels for them.

Not Tested on Animals

One of the most popular labels on cosmetics, most consumers realize that nearly all products were at one time or another tested on animals, perhaps with questionable consideration to the creatures given. Cosmetics that specifically state no current or new testing is being conducted on animals are often the safest buy.

Alcohol Free

For cosmetic labeling, "alcohol" is usually meant to indicate ethyl alcohol and not isopropyl, the common household type. Other kinds like cetyl and lanolin alcohol, also known as fatty alcohols, may also be listed and will have a more nourishing effect on skin than those that quickly evaporate.


This claim simply means that the product doesn't contain ingredients that clog pores, resulting in a breakout of acne. As a general rule, noncomedogenic will apply to most consumer skin types, although exceptions exist.

Expiration Date

An expiration date can be somewhat of a mystery; specific storage and temperature conditions may accelerate expiration and alter the chemical properties of the product and many consumers fail to adhere to expiration guidelines. Particularly with important ingredients such as SPF, the date a product becomes ineffective can be crucial.

Whether buying cosmetics online, in a department, drug or beauty store, consumers would be wise to learn how to read labels correctly and identify ingredients of value or to the contrary. Considering the cost of cosmetics and their direct impact on appearance and skin health, it's vital that consumers understand exactly what they are buying.

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