What Does the Label Mean on Beauty Products?

More than ever, we are hyper aware of what we are putting onto our bodies. But what do the labels actually mean? Unless you’re a chemist you probably can’t make sense of it, I find it confusing ever with some knowledge! It’s important to understand what you are putting onto your body and by reading the label of your products it tells you, legally you have to have this information, so don’t buy products that don’t list the ingredients as they could be fake. Each list is compiled by the order of concentration. Do remember that natural skin compounds are often under the chemical or Latin name.

What should be on a label: the nominal net weight, PAO (Period after Opening) or minimum durability date if applicable, any safety warnings and precautions, the name & address of the Company or Responsible Person that the product is being sold under and most importantly, an ingredients list (INCI) in decreasing order of weight. The 26 most-known allergenic substances must be shown. (There have been discussions to increase this to 90)

Some popular ingredients are listed as; Shea butter-Butyrospermum parkii, Aloe Vera – Aloe Barbadensis Leaf extract, Argan oil -Argania Spinosa, Evening Primrose oil- Oenothera Biennis and olive oil – Olea Europea. All of this are great natural ingredients. But what about the chemicals in your face and body products? There are a huge number of ones to choose from so I have listed the most common and the ones to be aware of most. For more details a great source is the Derma Review glossary which contains accurate information.

Women on average use 12 products a day based on a recent survey. The study found that 12.2 million adults expose their bodies to ingredients that are known to be probable carcinogens.

There are many toxic ingredients to avoid, although some have been banned many are still on the market and in most of the products, we all use. Top of the list are parabens, which can be listed as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, this are used as preservatives. They are thought to mimic oestrogen and can lead to cancer. SLS and SLES is sodium lauryl sulphate which is a forming agent which is used in shampoos and body washes. These strip the skin, can cause irritation, eye problems and respiratory problems. Mineral oil and petroleum jelly are environmentally unkind as they affect climate change, pollution, and greenhouse gases and can block the proper detoxification of the skin. This is what the best-selling Vaseline contains.

Phthalates are listed as dibutyl and diethylhexy and help a fragrance to adhere to the skin and these have been associated with birth defects.

Triclosan is an anti- bacterial ingredient in hand washes, soap and washing powders, the research is ongoing as to its safety but is said to disrupt hormones and create drug resistant bacteria. This chemical can also accumulate in lakes and streams. 

Triethanolamine or TEA helps to mix oil and water-based products to create a smooth, stable formulation, it doesn’t provide any benefits to the skin. When absorbed into the body over a long period of time, it can become toxic. Even short periods of exposure can cause allergic reactions, including eye problems and dry hair and skin. Typically, it’s used in amounts less than 1% in cosmetics and beauty products.

Diethanolamine or DEA Is an organic substance typically used as an emulsifier or wetting agent in skincare products. It produces foam and bubbles when added often to face washes. it can cause mild to moderate skin and eye irritation. More serious is that it over time reacts with other ingredients in formulations causing nitrosodiethanolamine  or NDEA which is a powerful carcinogen that is absorbed through the skin and linked to stomach, liver and bladder cancers. In the UK this is banned.

Dimethicone is used as a skin barrier, emulsifier, to hold ingredients together and to give an easy glide. It can be chemical or natural. According to the FDA and Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), dimethicone is a safe skincare ingredient that calms irritation, minimizes redness, and protects the skin from further damage. One problem is that it seals in oil, sweat, dirt and other things that can clog pores and lead to acne. Also, when washed down the drain, it can feed into aquatic environments and impact fish and plant life.

Phenoxyethanol is a Glycol Ether which is used as a preservative in cosmetic products, which acts as a preservative against germ contamination of bottled products. It’s often used a safer alternative to Parabens. Its side effects can cause skin irritation and can make Eczema worse.

Most antiperspirants are aluminium based. Chemicals like aluminium chlorohydrate and aluminium zirconium tettachlorohydrex, block the sweat ducts so you don’t perspire and have links to breast cancer. Until recently it was very hard to find affordable zinc and Aluminium free deodorants on the market, but these are becoming more available and well- known brands like soft and simple are introducing affordable Aluminium- free anti-perspirants.

I have barely covered this vast subject, so I may come back to it at a later point. But hopefully this has helped to understand labelling a bit more. It’s alarming stuff and something we do need to be aware of, in some cases safer options are available but at a higher cost to the manufacturer. But the consumer does have the power to choose not buy items with could have harmful effects! So learning to understand what a label means is benefiting your health.

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