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How to Read Skincare Product Labels

Have you ever picked up a moisturiser in Sephora, looked at the product label, and had absolutely no idea whether it was good for you? What were the ingredients? How long does this product last? Will it cause a reaction in my skin? The answer to these questions are important in determining whether you should make a purchase or not. But how would you find the answers if you cannot decode the product label and packaging? Rest assured and read on to find out the ins and outs of product labelling in skincare. 

A skincare product label usually consists of the following elements:

    • Brand name
    • Product name
    • Net contents (volume/quantity)
    • Product description
    • Product direction (How to use)
  • Ingredients list 
    • Manufacturer and distributor
    • Symbols (Period after opening, mobius, etc) 

    Let’s go through the items in bold because those 2 are usually the ones that get people confused.

    Ingredients List

    Starting with the ingredients list, one reason why it’s hard to understand the ingredients list, which is also known as the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), is because ingredients are listed with their scientific and latin names. Instead of water, it has to be listed by its latin name aqua. They might sound scary or harmful especially if you are not familiar with acids and actives, but a quick Google search should put your mind at ease.

    Another thing you should know is that the ingredients are listed in descending order. This means that the first ingredient has the highest concentration while the last ingredient has the lowest. Knowing this is helpful because whenever products claim that they contain organic ingredients, you can skim through the ingredients list and find out how high or low the ingredients are compared to the rest. 


    There are various symbols found on the product labels and here’s the main few you should familiarise yourself with.

    Period after opening (PAO)

    The ‘M’ in the symbol refers to months. Whenever you see this symbol, it is informing you how long the product will last after opening. For example, if you see ‘12M’, the product will last for 1 year after opening. Better check your products and make sure it's not expired yet!


    Unlike PAO, this hourglass symbol signifies that the product will only last for 30 months, regardless of whether you have opened it or not. 


    (Image credit: Glamour Magazine UK)

    This symbol means that the material used can be recycled. 

    Green Dot

    (Image credit: Oxygenetix)

    This green dot symbol means that the producer of the packaging has contributed financially to the recycling of that packaging. 


    Leaping bunny

    (Image credit:

    This cute rabbit symbol is an internationally recognised logo that signifies that there was no animal testing done when manufacturing the product and that the company abided by Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) standards. 


    This is one a no-brainer and simply means that the product is flammable. Keep it away from your candles and any source of high heat.

    There you have it – a crash course on how to read and understand your skincare product labels. Next time you pick up a moisturiser off the shelf, you will know how long your product will last, whether the materials can be recycled and also which ingredient has the highest concentration. 

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