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How to Read Clean Beauty Labels

Smiling woman with a towel on her head holding a jar of cream in front of her eye is happy the clean beauty claims of her product are true

Are your clean beauty products truly “clean?”

Key takeaways:

  • Use a credible source to find the meanings of unfamiliar ingredients

  • Just because an ingredient is long and hard to pronounce doesn’t mean it’s unsafe

  • The earlier the ingredient is listed on the label, the greater the concentration

  • Check for the product’s preservation method

  • A “natural” product doesn’t mean 100% of the ingredients are natural

  • “Clean” is an unregulated term

  • The term “parfum” can mean natural or synthetic fragrances

  • Natural fragrances don’t last as long as synthetic ones

  • Products with the label “fragrance-free” cannot add any chemicals to mask a smell

  • Products labeled “unscented” are misleading and may have fragrance added

Have you ever looked at the label of a beauty product? It can be a confusing mishmash of vague or deliberately deceptive marketing. There’s a big push for clean, natural, and pure products now, but understanding what’s really inside can be difficult. The clean beauty claims can be hard to decipher.

Some companies use vague terms when they describe their products to come off as healthy or organic. Other companies take advantage of laws to obscure the true nature of their products. They want to hide that their products aren’t as natural or clean as they claim.

You can protect yourself from these tactics by knowing how to read the ingredients on a label. Here’s a guide to reading cosmetic labels, what to look for in clean products, and how to know if it’s a pretend clean product.

Don’t know what an ingredient is? Go to a credible source

If you don’t understand what some labels’ incomprehensible ingredients mean, whip out your phone and Google them! Use a credible source like the FDA’s page on Cosmetic Products & Ingredients. Companies are required to list their ingredients on the package, but they aren’t required to help you understand it.

Even if a term sounds innocent, Google it if you’re not 100% sure what it means. Make sure to read trusted academic and scientific sources. Some innocent-sounding terms may hide harmful side effects or allergens.