If you enjoy grocery shopping, you probably spend time browsing the aisles looking for great new products. Discovering them isn't difficult; you just have to look for the special "NEW" or "IMPROVED" flashes on the labels. In fact, as any consumer goods marketer will tell you, a product's label is one of the most powerful selling tools they have. It's also one of the most efficient.
When it comes to skin care and cosmetics, manufacturers have become quite good at making their labels work for them. As
No small order, selling hope. Let's start with the label: You may see phrases like "Softer, smoother looking skin." "Younger looking skin from the first use." "Eliminates the look of lines and wrinkles." "For a more beautiful you." "You're worth it." Hope, it seems, springs eternal.
While producing cosmetics labels that "sell" may seem like an art, it's actually a combination of art and government-regulated science. In virtually every developed country, there's a government agency responsible for regulating the content of cosmetics labels. And there's likely more there than initially meets the eye.
Here's a quick guide to navigating the complex waters of cosmetics product labeling:
Generally, all the information can be grouped into four categories:
1. Product Identity
In addition to the brand name (for example, ACME) and descriptive name (Face Cream) of the product, manufacturers must list the legal name of their company, their head office address, and the country in which the product was produced. You should always be able to directly contact the manufacturer of any cosmetic product you buy.
2. Product Description, Features, Benefits, Usage Instructions
While there is some regulation around this content, there's lots of wiggle room for manufacturers. In theory, product performance claims must be true and accurate. In practice, they are often vague enough to be misleading. Read this information carefully to understand what the manufacturer is really saying. "Eliminates the look of fine lines and wrinkles" does not mean the product eliminates lines and wrinkles -- just the look of lines and wrinkles. Typically, when you stop using the product, those lines and wrinkles come back.
Always read any warnings and special instructions to determine if the product is contraindicated for certain skin types, ages or conditions. Regardless of what the label says, every time you use a new product on yourself or a family member, test a small amount on the inside skin of your wrist or elbow. Any sensitivity caused by the product should be noticeable after just a few minutes.
3. Product Ingredients
All personal care products must list ingredients in standard, INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients) format. By this standard, ingredients are listed in descending order of concentration using the scientific name.
Remember that some ingredients, such as "Fragrance," are catchall terms for groups of ingredients. Unfortunately, manufacturers aren't obligated to disclose the composition of these ingredients, so some ingredients may be hidden. Learn which ingredients in turn are made up of these hidden ingredients so you can avoid some of the more toxic ones like phthalates, commonly found in "Fragrance."
4. Weights and Measures
In addition to the size of the product, typically measured in volume, you'll also find other important product information symbols on labels. The most common ones are:
Jar Icon: Consider this a "best before" symbol. The number inside the open jar icon is the length of time in months the product will stay fresh after it has been opened. Typically, the longer the product will stay fresh, the more synthetic it is. More natural products typically have a shelf life of approximately 12 months.
Triangular Recycling Symbol: This is a standard recycling symbol found on virtually all plastic cosmetics containers, and is important for two reasons. First, it tells you what type of recycling program is required for this particular container, and second, it tells you what kind of plastic the container is made from (PVC, LDPE, HDPE, etc). Some types of plastic should be avoided because they are thought to leach chemicals into the products inside.
Certified Organic Logo: Increasingly common are symbols representing organic, natural product, or soil management certification programs. Each of these programs has different criteria for certifying products, so familiarize yourself as best you can with their guidelines so you know what you're buying.
Tree With Checkmark: A product that's certified organic, for example, is not necessarily all natural.
e: The large 'e' symbol found following the size means the product was filled using
With just a bit of label sleuthing, you can save yourself from building up mountains of half-used products at home. Knowing what to look for (and what to avoid) can help separate the ones that really deliver from the pretenders. Because while hope itself costs nothing, that wrinkle cream doesn't.
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