Safe Cosmetics Beginner Guide – Part 2: How to Read Labels in a Systematic Way

safe cosmetics part 2

Welcome back to the series. Last time, you learned some behind-the-scenes in the beauty industry; we also discussed that it is actually safe and necessary to add preservatives in natural cosmetics products.

Your curious mind may start asking: what kinds of preservatives should I expect to see in the ingredients? You will find an answer to that very soon today.

By the way, did you miss Part 1? If yes, here is the link back to Safe Cosmetics Beginner Guide – Part 1: Watch Out! The Danger of Natural Ingredients. If not, I’m so glad that you are with me along the way! Let’s move on.

safe cosmetics part 2

How to Read Labels

The process of reading labels is very rewarding because you may dig out dirty little secrets about a product you were planning to buy. Then you might feel blessed for choosing not to make the purchase, as it keeps your body from toxins or potential health risks.

Filtering out inferior products and selecting the high-quality ones is like treasure hunting. You need a map as your navigation to find the gems. Below is a basic road map to help you walk through the forest of cosmetics offerings and keep you protected:

1. Always set it as a high priority to go to the back labels for the list of ingredients

Make it as a habit and a top priority to examine the ingredients on the back labels before you spare your attention and energy to appreciate the packaging or the design of the bottle. Design and packaging have nothing to do with the health of your skin; however, ingredients do.

I am a huge fan of creativity and great design. But when it comes to selecting a product which you may put on your skin every day, priority should definitely go to evaluating of all ingredients.


Tweet: When buying a cosmetics product, always go to the back label first to check with the ingredients via @SkinInitiativeWhen buying a cosmetics product, always go to the back label first to check with the ingredients.


2. Pay attention to the order in which ingredients are listed

Ingredients are listed in descending order of concentration. Knowing this helps you find out if a product is really worth the price you need to pay for. For example, if key ingredients are listed towards to end of the ingredient list, then you know the product only contains a low concentration of what you are looking for. You will also know that you would be ripped off if the company charges you a high fee.

3. Check with the quantity of the ingredients

This is probably the universal truth: less is more. Simplicity is king. So, the shorter the ingredient list, the better.


Tweet: Usually, the fewer ingredients a product has, the better via @SkinInitiativeUsually, the fewer ingredients a product has, the better.


4. Check with the quality of the ingredients

Pay special attention to ingredients whose names you cannot pronounce properly, as this may be some kind of chemicals with hidden harm. Take the example of phthalates, known hormone disruptors and suspected carcinogens.

For more details, stay tuned for Part 3 – “Detect Harmful Ingredients”, which is coming up next week.


Tweet: Raise a red flag for names of the ingredients you cannot pronounce via @SkinInitiativeRaise a red flag for names of the ingredients you cannot pronounce.


5. Look for preservatives in natural ingredients

As mentioned earlier, a product with natural ingredients without any preservatives can cause it to expire or become moldy and disgusting very early. Therefore, make sure you avoid “preservative-free” natural products. Instead, look for preservatives in the ingredients and avoid those that link to health issues, of course.

Here is a sample list of safer preservatives according to Women’s Voices:  sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, phenoxyethanol, caprylhydroxamic acid, polyaminopropyl biguanide, and ethylhexylglycerin. 


Tweet: It is a good sign to see preservatives in a natural product via @SkinInitiativeIt is a good sign to see preservatives in a natural product.


6. Watch out for contaminants

Some chemicals are not intentionally added to products, but are formed as the result of chemical reactions in the manufacturing process. Companies usually know that the toxic chemicals exist; yet, they may choose to not disclose them.

For example, I’ve recently found out that a product that contains Cetyl Peg/Ppg-10/1 Dimethicone may be contaminated by ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, both of which are labeled as “high hazard” by Environmental Working Group.

As you see, even reading the ingredient labels might not allow you to tell the whole story. If that’s the case, how can you find fully disclosed ingredients? That’s what I cover in the next and last point.

7. Look for fully-disclosed ingredients

First, get to know different companies’ ingredient policies and pick a few you can trust. For companies dedicated to using toxic free natural ingredients, they would list their ingredients on the website. For example, Beautycounter is an example. Additionally, I found that checking out their FAQ sections also help you understand company values as well. Here is an example from Dermae.

Then, look for fully disclosed natural fragrances and avoid synthetic fragrances. The former are derived from essential oils (or oil constituents like “linalool”).

At last, when a company only displays “key ingredients” on the labels, you might want to follow up with the company via customer service and ask them for a full list of ingredients.


Tweet: Look for fully-disclosed ingredients when you shop for cosmetics products. Here's how via @SkinInitiativeLook for fully-disclosed ingredients when you shop for cosmetics products.


There you have it – seven tips to help you read labels in a systematic way. I hope you will not only find them useful, but start taking actions to practice these rules from today. Simply grab a product at home and activate your investigative antenna right away. 

The first thing I picked up was my makeup remover from CVS, which apparently has a lot of ingredients that I don’t know how to pronounce. In that case, how did I proceed to investigate further? In my post next week, I will share three types of resources I am using to help me evaluate ingredients. Stay tuned.

safe cosmetics investigation on cvs makeup remover

Last time, I invited you to share with me your biggest insight after reading Part 1. Today, I’ve got another fun exercise for you: what is the first product in your bathroom you’ll pick up to investigate on?


Talk again soon,


P.S. Feel free to subscribe, if you don’t want to miss out on future posts from the series.



Safe Cosmetics Beginner Guide – Part 1: Watch Out! The Danger of Natural Ingredients



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