Beauty Armor – How to read an ingredient list

Many times you will see us refer to a product’s ingredient statement. In the business it’s called an LOI or List of Ingredients. To arm you with all the knowledge we can, we thought it would be useful to tell you a little bit about these LOIs and how you might read them.

In the United States, cosmetic manufacturers are compelled by the governing industry trade organization known as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association or CTFA to include a list of ingredients on their labels. They maintain a book known as the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook which the names of nearly all the ingredients used in cosmetic products worldwide. It’s quite a tome that makes groovy bedtime reading.

Why have the labels?

The labels are required because the industry wants consumers to know exactly what chemicals they are putting on their bodies. This will allow you to make choices as to what chemicals you want to be exposed to.

Of course, that assumes you know what any of the chemicals are, which for most consumers is not the case. Fortunately, with the internet you can simply look up chemical names using a search engine to get more information about the compounds. Be careful however, there are plenty of sites loaded with misinformation about perfectly safe chemicals. Compounds like propylene glycol, mineral oil, and sodium lauryl sulfate have been slandered by biased sources all over the internet. Read all things on the internet with a skeptical eye. (Even the stuff you find here at the Beauty Brains).

What does the label mean?

When properly written, the labels can provide you with a lot of useful information. In the United States, any chemical above 1% by weight in the formula is required to be listed in order of concentration. Below 1% the order can be anything they like. Typically, preservatives, fragrances, and colors are listed at the end. Let’s look at this Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer product as an example.

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceteareth 20, Dimethicone, Glyceryl Dilaurate, Erythrulose, Persea Gratissima Fruit Extract (Avocado), Avena Sativa Meal Extract (Oat), Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Extract (Jojoba), Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil (Olive), Tocopherol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearic Acid, Acrylates/C10 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide, DMDM Hydantoin, BHT, Fragrance, Caramel, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Dihydroxyacetone

The first ingredient is water which means this formula is mostly water. Based on this Brain’s knowledge of lotions, it is about 80% water. Glycerin is the next most abundant ingredient probably in there at about 5%. The next few ingredients are anywhere from 1-3%. Look at other skin lotions. I bet you find many of the same ingredients listed in the first line.

Now, when you get to a “natural” sounding ingredient like Persea Gratissima Fruit Extract you know you’ve dropped below the magic 1% level. This is where manufacturers can start to make things look different. Generally, natural ingredients are so expensive and ineffective that only a very small amount is in there.

Most manufacturers like to throw lots of these “feature” ingredients in the formula just so they have something to talk about and to show their formula are different. The truth is the real functional work of the product is done by the ingredients above this 1% line. This isn’t strictly true as there are many ingredients that give quite good benefits below the 1% level, but generally it’s true. The more abundant a material, the more function it will have.

Beauty Brain’s Bottom Line

Ingredient lists are included on your cosmetics to give you useful information about the products you use everyday. They are put together following specific rules and if you know these, you can learn a lot about a product. The next time you’re thinking of spending $25 on that upscale hair conditioner, compare the ingredient list to the $3 bottle. You might be surprised by the striking similarities.