Read a Label Like a Pro in 5 Minutes


Before you pop that super new glow getter mask in your cart, you might just want to check that the ingredients inside it are doing your skin justice. Sounds easy enough, but many people come unstuck when faced with a long list of unfamiliar names and hard to read label type.

To simplify this for you, we have created our guide to reading labels like a pro.

Beauty Speak.

Is that fancy new skin care you’ve seen on your favourite insta account really natural? Australia offers a fairly self-regulated system, meaning brands are able to use words like ‘natural’ to market their product, even when the ingredients are anything but. Don’t get caught up with fancy marketing, or assume the big companies are looking after you. You need to be vigilant about what it is you are putting on your skin and check the full ingredient list.

The Label.

Front labels are the show piece, and often include the brand, logo, product name, purpose, and volume/weight. On the reverse is typically an ingredient list, symbols, directions of use, cautions, and manufacturer details.

Top Down Label.

The ACCC standard for cosmetic labelling requires a top down approach, with the biggest amount of any ingredient at the start of the list, and the least at the bottom. Make sure you are not paying top dollar for skin care with water at the top of the list, making up the bulk of your product. You don’t want tiny percentages of the good stuff at the very end of the product either.

  • Ingredients can be listed by their INCI name (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) or their English name.

  • Ingredients must be listed on the product container and big enough that someone with normal vision can read it.

  • If the container is too small, it must be on the packaging accompanying the product.

  • Plant-based ingredients are listed in their latin names with their common names in brackets, like Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera). This makes them easy to spot 🍃

  • Chemicals that add fragrance are allowed to be listed as fragrance, fragrances, parfum, or parfums. Alternatively, they can be listed individually. Unfortunately not many do, and with over 3,000 chemicals on the International Fragrance Association register, these can be a big problem for us sensitive skin types.

  • Colour additives are allowed to be listed as ‘may contain’ or ‘+/- ‘ and the name of the additive.

  • Flavours must be listed as flavour, flavours, aroma, or aromas. Alternatively, they can be listed individually.

  • Confidentiality may be granted to any ingredient that is deemed a trade secret, and where the ingredient is unlikely to cause harm to the consumer. This is listed as ‘other ingredient’ and continues to strike up many profit versus health debates. What does unlikely even mean??

Label Symbols.

It’s a great idea to familiarise yourself with the key organic, vegan, cruelty free and natural certifications available. These certifications mean a high level of testing and standards have been obtained by a brand or product. Keep in mind that some brands may meet all the criteria but haven’t completed the process yet, or are choosing to spend their valuable dollars elsewhere. Keep an eye out for the fraudsters using fake symbols to mimic these.

Here are some logos to get familiar with:

 Certification labels to be familiar with.

Ingredients To Be Wary Of.

Safe Cosmetics Australia highlight chemicals with key issues or that are known to be allergens on their website. They give a helpful break down of where other countries sit with those chemicals and their derivatives too. You can also read up at Safe Cosmetics Org for more detailed information on each of the following and more:

  • 1,4-Dioxane - Found in products that create foam such as shampoo and soap.

  • Acrylates (ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, and methyl methacrylate) - Found in artificial nail products.

  • Benzophenone - Found in cosmetics such as lip balm and nail polish.

  • BHA and BHT (Butylated) - Found in lip products, hair product, makeup, sunscreen, antiperspirant/deodorant, fragrance, and cream.

  • Carbon Black - Found in eyeliner, mascara and lipstick.

  • Coal Tar - Found in shampoo, soap, hair dye, and lotion.

  • Ethanolamine compounds (MEA, DEA, TEA) - Found in soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, hair dye, lotions, shaving creams, waxes, household cleaning products, eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases, foundations, fragrance, sunscreens.

  • Formaldehyde - Found in Shampoo, body wash and bubble bath.

  • Fragrance - Found in sunscreen, hair products, soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, makeup, skin care, exfoliating scrubs, wax and perfume.

  • Hydroquinone - Found in skin care products that aim to lighten skin.

  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT) - Found in shampoo, conditioner, hair colour, body wash, lotion, sunscreen, mascara, shaving cream, baby lotion, baby shampoo, hairspray, makeup remover, liquid soaps and detergents.

  • Parabens - Found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial and shower cleansers and scrubs.

  • Petroleum derivatives (mineral oil, petrolatum, isoparaffin) - Found in mascara, creams and lotions, nail manicure products, skin, hair and baby products.

  • Phthalates (DPB, DEHP, DEP) - Found in synthetic fragrance, nail polish, and hairspray.

  • Phenoxyethanol - Found in moisturiser, eye shadow, foundation, sunscreen, conditioner, mascara, eye liner, shampoo, lip gloss, concealer, body wash, hand cream, blush, hair colour, hair spray, lip balm, lotion, nail polish, baby wipes, baby lotions and soaps, shaving cream, deodorant, toothpaste, fragrance, waxes, hand sanitiser and ultrasound gel.

  • Phthalates - Found in colour cosmetics, fragranced lotions, body wash, hair care, and nail polish.

  • Polycrylamide - Found in skin care, anti-aging products and more.

  • Polyethanol glycol (PEG compounds) - Found in moisturiser, sunscreen and shampoo.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS, SLES) - Found in shampoo, body wash and bubble bath.

  • Toluene - Found in nail polish.

  • Triclosan - Found in soaps, detergents, toothpastes, deodorants and more.


These ingredients have concerned discussion, have been tested, and/or are banned in some countries. There are a lot more, but this gives you an idea of what to look out for. We need to be more mindful of what we are exposing ourselves to. If this is all a bit overwhelming, Apps such as Think Dirty or the database Skin Deep offer a helping hand to decode ingredients and labels too.

Let’s spend our hard earned dollars on brands that are honest, who are producing products that not only work, but are actually good for us. Let’s strive to do better and check the label. 💚


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