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How to read skincare labels

How to read skincare labels
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Skincare label ingredients how to read MelbourneWith all the focus put on claims of our skincare, it seems useful to know how to figure out what the labels tell us about what’s inside without needing a science degree.

Label-reading 101


Ingredients are listed in order of what is the largest percentage of ingredients down to the smallest percentage. This means that usually the largest element of your product is water, since water acts as a carrier and allows the product to be liquid or cream at the consistency the company desired, when combined with the other ingredients.

When we’re talking tiny portions of specialised ingredients, they are likely to appear near the end of the list because, for example, extracts may only be required for their effect in small amounts. Extracts or essential oils may appear at less than 0.5 per cent of the total product.

 Some ingredients do double the work, for example some ingredients can be used both as a fragrance and a preservative, causing controversy in ‘fragrance-free’ products that still smell good. Conversely, the product may state it is ‘preservative free’, when it isn’t.

These are just backdoor hacks to get a product to market that makes specific claims that appeal to a certain audience – think of all the fragrance free, preservative free, colour free, paraben free, cruelty free, natural, organic, and so on. We make choices as consumers based on things we value, and companies want to tap into that where they can, even if it’s not entirely truthful.

Product claims

Product claims can be some of the most baffling to decipher, since most of them are not in the least bit scientific, or they just don’t mean much. Companies are able to make up anything they like as a word to describe their product – there is no law against making up words.

Then there are the claims regarding how good the cream is. Dermatologist tested, for example, may mean that the company’s dermatologist has tested the product, but not that other dermatologists have endorsed the product or think it’s good. There are many ways to infer something without actually outright saying it. Our human brains are extremely gullible – put a picture of a smiling, young, gorgeous woman in an ad and we’re already sold. We buy concepts and branding, with the actual products usually pretty bog standard.

Claims cannot be made about treating certain skin conditions unless the product or active ingredient has been tested and passed clinical trials as a treatment for that skin condition. This process is long and arduous, not to mention expensive, so effective products may come in more humble packaging. A classic example would be the word ‘acne’ on a cream label. The minute that appears, the FDA requires a drug fact panel box, with specific active ingredients listed with percentages. To avoid having to do this, a company may say ‘clarifying’, which actually doesn’t mean anything at all in scientific or medical terminology, but in our minds, we think, ‘cleanses pores’, which leads us to believe that the product can reduce breakouts, whether it can or not.

Expiry dates and the M symbol

Expiration dates really do matter when it comes to skincare, especially those that contain oils. Oils degrade quite quickly even in preservatives, but the rate of oxidation will depend on the oil. Cold-pressed oils last longer. What this means is that after your product has gone bad, it not only doesn’t work the way you wanted it to, but it could be damaging your skin. You don’t deliberately eat oxidised oils, and nor should you put them on your skin.

The M symbol that some products may have tells you how long the product remains usable for after you open it. The M will come with a number, which might be six or 12 months.

Dermatologist’s products – Melbourne clinic

Dermatologists may have their own range of products that are specific to their patient population. For example a dermatologist whose main patients were older may have a full range of excellent products just for mature skin.

Each dermatologist is able to develop their own products to their specifications and is likely to have a very good selection of effective, high-quality ingredients.

We are expert cosmetic dermatologists.
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