how to read beauty product labels


How to Read Beauty Product Labels

When you are standing in front of so many beauty products at a store, how do you decide to pick one? Is it the color, package design, brand name, or marketing message caught your attention? Or, was someone you know recommended the product?


Here’s another way to approach it, read the ingredients list and understand if the product will be suitable for you. Just like foods in a package, every beauty product should and must have a full list of ingredients available before you purchase.


I know it is challenging to understand what the individual ingredients in the list because their names are scientific name, not common name we are familiar with. Don’t give up! If you know how to read them, you will save a lot of money for trying many products until you find the one works for you long time.


skincare product label

The Order Matters

The ingredients in the list are listed from the highest to the lowest amount used in the product. This means that the item at the beginning of the list has the highest concentration. You will most likely see “Water” or “Aqua” on the top of liquid products. Preservatives, colorants, and fragrances are usually listed at the end.



In many leave-on skincare products, water can dilute ingredients that are very potent in their concentrated form. For example, essential oils are very potent, and they are not safe to apply on the skin directly. Water also helps distribute small amount of the ingredients on the skin evenly.


Hero Ingredients

Often “hero ingredients” are shown on the best place on the packaging. However, you can get a better idea of how much of the hero ingredients are actually in the product by looking at the ingredients list.



It is ideal to have fragrance (or perfume) at the end of the list. There is no evidence that natural ingredients are better than synthetic ones. Natural sounds good, but you need to be aware that fragrance from natural ingredients contains not only good substances to our skin but also many bad ones that can cause irritation and other troubles to the skin. Synthetic fragrances usually have only specific substances that safeness is tested.



“Alcohol” is a bit complicating as it falls into different groups. There are simple alcohols such as ethanol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol. These are used for their antibacterial or solvent properties, but they can also have a dehydrating effect on the skin depending on the concentration.

There is another type of alcohol, known as “fatty acid”. This type of alcohol is usually listed as cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, or isostearyl alcohol. These help to keep the skin hydrated which is very different effect on the skin from simple alcohol.


Impossible to Pronounce Names

There are so many ingredients used for beauty products and so many of them have a long name we can’t even pronounce. Don’t dismiss them by the unfamiliar name because there are many doing a great jog to the skin. For example, hydroxypinacolone retinoate is an exciting new form of Vitamin A that maximizes results while minimizing adverse reactions.


Some Examples

  • Fatty Alcohol (Fatty Acid): Helps keep skin looking and feeling hydrated (e.g. Cetearyl alcohol, Cetyl alcohol, Isostearyl alcohol, etc)
  • Vitamin B3: Benefits almost every aspect of the skin complexion (e.g. Niacinamide)
  • Vitamin E: Antioxidant helps the skin retain moisture and protects against environmental pollution (e.g. Tocopherol, Tocopherol acetate)
  • Vitamin A: Helps plump up the skin and visibly reduces fine lines. Due to its potency, it should be listed towards the end of the ingredients list (e.g. Retinol, Retinyl acetate, Retinyl palmitate, Retinoic acid)
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Hydrates skin by drawing in and holding moisture (e.g. Sodium hyaluronate, Hyaluronan)


How about Organic and Natural ingredients? Check What Natural And Organic Mean In Beauty Products

    Be a part of the solution to our environment

    Join our newsletter and get 15% off on your first purchase

    Thanks for subscribing