How To Decipher Skincare Labels Like an Expert!

How To Decipher Skincare Labels Like an Expert!

It’s a minefield out there!  Finding skincare that works for your skin is challenging by itself, let alone pressure to look great all the time, whilst working out what ingredients are “safe” and not going to destroy the rainforest, suddenly it’s a lot more complicated than you thought.

Most skincare labels are a mystery of unpronounceable names.  Where to begin in deciding what to buy?

The Legal Stuff

Companies selling skincare products sold in Europe are required by law to list ingredients in a standardised format.  This is known as International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).  The intention is to help consumers avoid ingredients they’d rather not put on their skin or notice ones they may be allergic to.

The INCI list though isn’t in plain English.  It’s a bit of a mixture of Latin, English and science thrown in.  It’s unlikely that many of us would use our mobiles for example to “Google” each ingredient to find out what they are in our given language, whilst standing in a shopping aisle.

Largest First

Also, the ingredients must be listed in order of volume/weight; the largest at the top of the list. Although you won’t know the exact formulation, you will know that the biggest components are listed first and are less as you go down the list.  This will help you decide whether you feel the price asked for the product seems appropriate.

Ingredients that are fairly potent will be nearer the bottom of the list (essential oils for example).  This makes sense as too strong and they would be harmful to the body.

If the product is a cream, then water, flower water etc will be high in the list.  You will get an idea of value with practice and looking at what other ingredients are in the product to work out if it is worth the price tag.

Time’s Up

You’ll notice an expiry date on the product, or a best before date.  Especially with natural skincare, the oils will be at their best up to this time.  Many butters and balms will go rancid after this date.  Also, there is a picture of a jar and lid with a number in it – this tells you how long the product will be usable for, once opened.  Discard any unused product after this time or by the use by date.


Once air comes in to contact with the product it begins the process of oxidising.  Keep the containers somewhere cool and dark.  Often, the containers are dark in colour which helps maintain shelf life.

How to find trusted brands

If you were a producer of a skincare or cosmetic brand and wanted to let your customers know what you were selling, here are some things that you would be keen to do if you wished to be open and authentic.

When listing the ingredients in your product, include each one in English as well as the INCI name

Indicate which of the ingredients are natural or organic perhaps with a percentage calculation

Make a declaration about “not tested on animals”; “no petrochemicals”; “Free from alcohols”

Make it easy for the customer to find all the details about your product at the point of sale.  If you were purchasing in a store and had to go on the internet and search through pages of information to find the complete ingredient list, this would not be very helpful.

If you wanted to display the “key ingredients” as a bold statement that’s fine if they are particularly important to emphasise, but still list ALL the OTHER ingredients.

Be open – make it easy for your customer to understand FULLY what they are buying.  That may mean providing some education.

Integrity – put the interests of the customer at heart.  What is best for them, not your profit first.  Using a quality ingredient because it is right for the customer, rather than a cheap ingredient to improve your bottom line.

Use wording that doesn’t set out to mislead.  “Full of 100% natural raspberry extract”….but the remainder of the product is synthetic  “Organic”, when only 1% of the formulation is organic.  These terms and others like them are not breaking the law but are playing with words.  Be authentic.

Carol Aplin


Pink&Green Skincare


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