Unless you are a beauty industry insider, demystifying the PR claims and ingredient list on a new beauty product is harder than 1st year Latin. Equilibrio is fortunate. Before we try a new product, we send a copy of the ingredient list to Cosmetics Chemist, Conny Oberrauter. However, not everyone has this resource. Surely there must be SOME way the girl-in-the-street can look at a product and get an idea of whether the marketing claims hold true and if it contains harmful ingredients before making the investment?
“The quick answer is yes,” says Conny “and the first thing we need to look for is a properly compiled ingredient list”. Conny has provided us with these five useful tips.
THERE HAS TO BE AN INGREDIENT LIST
“It is a legal requirement in most countries in the world for cosmetic products to have an ingredient listing. Made with love and some almond oil is NOT an ingredient listing.” This includes South Africa and extends to ALL beauty products. From bath products, soaps, and make-up like eye-shadows to hair products.
Conny further added that in SA, the ingredient list “must appear on the outermost container”. This means it must be immediately visible so that you can read it before purchasing the product.
Why is this important?
Firstly, for transparency and honesty. Without the requirement, manufacturers could make all kinds of unsubstantiated claims about amazing ingredients in their products.
Secondly, and most importantly, there might be allergens or other ingredients we might be sensitive to. These can irritate the skin or otherwise cause potentially severe allergic reactions.
Finally, we want to know if there are any unsafe ingredients we should be concerned about. (We’ll be doing a follow-up piece with Conny about ingredients that are best to avoid and the quantities in which these become a real concern.)
Even 100% “natural” products require an ingredient list. There is “a huge irritant or allergic potential” in the ingredients that are generally used in natural products. If there isn’t an ingredient list, you should pause and ask yourself why. It’s then advisable to do a little more research before purchasing and trying the product.
INGREDIENTS MUST BE LISTED USING THEIR INCI NAME
The INCI name is the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. This is an international system of standardised names for waxes, oils, chemicals, and other ingredients in beauty products. “It’s the universal name (the ingredient) is known by so that it can be properly identified. Sometimes you see ‘emulsifying wax’ on the ingredients list. That is incorrect and doesn’t actually tell you anything” says Conny.
We don’t expect everyone to have a Cosmetics Chemist’s knowledge of what the INCI name stands for. However, the ingredients should be listed using the INCI standards as a demonstration of transparency. Again, it’s a matter of trust and if absent, you need to ask yourself, why you should trust the product.
If you’d like to know a little more about an ingredient, you can google it. Just knowing what it actually is and why its been included in the product can tell you a lot. Here are two very useful and pretty comprehensive online resources that you can refer to:
CosmeticsInfo.org . “Your source for information on personal care products—how they work, their safety, and the science behind their ingredients.”
Paula’s Choice Skincare Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary
EVERYTHING THAT GOES INTO THE PRODUCT MUST BE ON THE LIST
“Even if it is the smallest, tiny, teeny, little drop in a ten-ton vat, it has to be listed.” This principle also applies to “blended” ingredients or “raw materials” that manufacturers of the final product use. One such ingredient will be made up of a number of individual ingredients. All of these need to be listed on the final beauty product ingredient list. “Kind of like buying gram masala instead of the individual spices,” explains Conny.
As Conny pointed out, “Aqueous cream, contains oils and essential oils” is NOT a complete ingredient list. The incomplete disclosure could hide allergens you could react to. Be cautious of beauty products with clearly incomplete ingredient lists.
What about fragrance or parfum?
I’ve often read that manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients of parfum or fragrance. I asked Conny about this and whether we need to avoid beauty products which contain these.
“Perfumes can be made up by hundreds of different ingredients, so realistically it is not feasible to list these individual components.” Instead, Conny says that there is a list of 26 allergens that must be declared by parfum or fragrance suppliers in an allergen declaration certificate. These 26 allergens have been identified by the industry as those that can potentially cause any reactions. “These allergens are also present in essential oils, so the same rules apply for essential oils.”
“The allergen declaration certificate details the exact percentage of allergen in the fragrance. The formulator (of the end product) then calculates the amount of allergen in the final formulation. If the amount exceeds 0.01% in a leave on product, or 0.001% for a rinse off product, it has to be listed in the ingredient listing.”
“Fragrances can be allergen free and safe for use on babies or sensitive skin. Sometimes essential oils can be more problematic. Some products I personally prefer to have fragrance free, like my face wash. But I love playing with different smells for my body lotions or actual perfumes. It all depends on the individual and their concerns or preferences.” So, it turns out, we do not necessarily HAVE to avoid all products with “fragrances”. It’s largely personal and depends on how sensitive you are to allergens.
THE ORDER IN WHICH INGREDIENTS ARE LISTED IS IMPORTANT
Manufacturers are required to order the ingredients in descending order of concentration. Generally, the first five ingredients make up about 80% of the product, of which the majority is water in most creams. Then the rule is that from 1% and lower, the list can be in any order. Standard practice is to list the “claimed” ingredients first, then preservatives, fragrance, colourants and finally, allergens.
This is a VERY USEFUL hint indeed. It’s simple. When the marketing blurb claims that the product is filled with healing oils, and you see it at the bottom of the list, be skeptical.
This being said however, some ingredients only need to be added in small amounts to be effective, like peptides, hyaluronic acid and collagen.
DON’T BELIEVE THE MARKETING
This brings us to the final tip. “Most mass market products compete on price, so they cannot add expensive ingredients at a high percentage because then the product would cost more than the competitors. Creative wording is used to make them more appealing.”
You now read a beauty product label that claims to be “enriched with Jojaba Oil and Vitamin E oil”. However, when you look at the ingredient list, these oils are right at the bottom and in fact, make up less than 2% of the formulation. The majority of the product is water and the claimed “richness” is in actual fact due to inexpensive thickeners and texturisers that have been added to achieve this “feeling of richness”.
We plan on doing a few articles with Conny in a series about demystifying beauty product labels. The next step is looking at the most common and basic ingredients you’ll generally come across in beauty products. We’ll also be doing a piece about the reality of potentially “unsafe” ingredients and the quantities in which these become a real concern. So, keep reading and let us know if there is anything you’d like to learn more about in the comments section below.
Thank-you to Conny Oberrauter, Cosmetic Chemist and author of The Cosmetics Chef.
Visit The Cosmetics Chef website