How To Understand The Ingredients On The Back Of Your Cosmetics Products

As we all become a bit more concerned about what we put on our skin, in our hair and on our bodies, understanding what makes up our favourite beauty products becomes even more of a priority. Ingredients labels on the reverse of products are there to provide clarity and transparency to the consumer, but they’re actually incredibly confusing. Here are my top tips on getting to grips with what’s in your shampoo/lipgloss/deodorant and actually understanding the ingredients list.

1. Ingredients are always listed in order of quantity, so the ones at the top of the list will always be most prominent in the formula. This is often where ingredients like surfactants (foaming agents) come into play or the percentage of water comes to light. If you’re trying to avoid certain ingredients, then make sure they’re not in the top 50% of the ingredient list; any lower down and their concentration is so limited it may not actually make a difference.

2. Ingredients lists must conform to the INCI (International Nomenclature
of Cosmetic Ingredients) standards of identification, a system of names
for ingredients in cosmetics that is based on their
scientific origin (i.e. Latin!) However, many companies want you to
understand their ingredient list and will put both the INCI name and the
commonly recognised name on the bottle in brackets, i.e. Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange)
Peel Oil.

3. Preservatives are present in non-organic products as they help to keep the formula fresh. Ingredients such as Formaldehyde, Salicylic acid, Benzoic acid and Calcium Benzoate are simply present to keep the other ingredients stable and performing as they should be. However, they can cause irritation if you’re extra sensitive, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with these names and doing your research on ones to avoid.

4. Organic ingredients are often marked with a star after them (*) for clarity. If a brand is claiming to be organic, or simply infers their ‘natural’ roots through product names or branding, then it’s definitely worth having a look and seeing how much of the ingredient list is ‘starred’.

5. If that revolutionary active ingredient that claims to change the world is lingering by the bottom, then it’s probably not in a high enough concentration to really do anything at all. The majority of formulas will be made up of water, surfactants, lubricants, emollients and other ‘bases’, so the level of active ingredients can be incredibly low. A lot of ingredients will be included just for a point of different or to provide a marketing story to sell the product; be wary!

6. Ecocert are a body that provide a ‘stamp of approval’ to brands
that use organic ingredients. However, this can be as little as 10% of
the overall formula so it’s to be taken with a pinch of salt. Their
little stamp often appears next to one from The Soil Association (the UK’s independent organic body that campaigns for healthy, humane and sustainable farming,) which brands like to add for credibility when claiming to be clean. These are ones to watch out for, but they don’t mean that the product is completely organic or as pure as a home-grown carrot. 

7. The individual ingredients that make up a fragrance or flavour don’t have to be disclosed due to privacy laws, only the addition of a fragrance or oil. These are classified as ‘trade secrets’ so the brand has to make no disclosure as to what individual components make up the taste or smell, only comply to legal classifications and include approved ingredients.

I hope this helped a little! Do the backs of bottles in your bathroom confuse you, or are you wised up to the tricks of the trade?



  1. Abracadabra Girl
    June 23, 2014 / 1:41 pm

    my blog is focused on natural no nastie beauty products so i am aware of the labels a post explaining what some of these chemicals do may also be nice ? hi from london

  2. Prettygreentea
    June 23, 2014 / 2:05 pm

    This is a very useful post. I'll be keeping an eye out.

  3. becky sumner
    June 23, 2014 / 5:05 pm

    This was such a useful post, as many of your posts are. I love the ones that explain things like this because I'm always quite conscious of ingredients and being tricked by brands! Thanks x–beckyisobel xox

  4. amynmore
    June 23, 2014 / 6:30 pm

    I didn't know ingredients were listed in quantity order, makes sense I suppose! Incidentally the Nivea in-shower moisturiser is that a new fragrance as I have only seen the original around?

  5. Jenny
    June 24, 2014 / 8:29 am

    Best post I've read in a while – I still feel like companies need to disclose "fragrance" ingredients, as it can be a minefield for allergy suffers. I find that I will quite often avoid a floral scented product incase it contains rose, which I'm allergic to, and the ingredients don't disclose its inclusion!

  6. dellilah
    June 24, 2014 / 8:37 am

    what a helpful post lovely. I am always the confused one when it comes to ingredients . Regards x

  7. Jade Harris
    June 27, 2014 / 6:21 pm

    Very helpful LBQ! Thanks so much for your advice! Will keep a lookout for these when I go shopping next! Jade x

  8. Alice Yeh
    July 23, 2014 / 5:31 pm

    Such a helpful post. Absolutely loved it! Alice x {My Beauty Blog}

  9. Isabel
    July 27, 2014 / 3:00 am

    Thanks for this post. It definitely helped me to understand ingredient labels much better even though I'm already careful about checking the lists for ingredients that irritate my skin.

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