Label reading in cosmetics

The European Cosmetics Regulation obliges cosmetic products to provide the list of ingredients and, among other information, indicate what they are for, how to use them safely and how to obtain the best results.
To help you find and understand this and other information, we have reproduced an example of a typical cosmetic product label, as required by the European regulation.

1. Identification of the type of product (shower gel, body moisturizer, shampoo, etc.).
2. A finger pointing at a book: this symbol means that you should refer to additional information available, for example, in an information leaflet inside the package.
3. Name, contact of the manufacturer or distributor and lot number: if a problem or question arises, you can, therefore, contact the responsible entity and identify the product.
4. Country of origin (if not from the European Union).
5. Weight (in grams or milliliters, depending on whether the product is solid or liquid). This information is not mandatory for contents of less than five grams or five milliliters or in single-use packages (eg samples).
6. Symbol indicates that it is responsible for recycling the packaging at the end of the product's life.
7. Warnings that may be relevant for safety reasons (for example, keep out of the reach of children or store in a cool, dry place).
8. List of ingredients: these are presented in descending order of concentration. The ingredients are written in accordance with the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (or INCI). For example, dyes are always referred to by an international code preceded by the letters CI (the initials of colour index), such as “CI 15580”.
9. PAO symbol (period after opening): within the design of an open jar, the period (in months) during which the product must be used once opened is indicated, provided that it is kept in the proper conditions. Alternatively, the minimum durability date, generally known as the expiration date, may appear, with an “hourglass” symbol followed by the use-by date or the expression “Preferably use before (date)”.


Composition of the ingredients list

All substances that are included in the composition of cosmetic products must be mentioned in the list of ingredients. In the European Union, as in most countries in the world, the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI (in its acronym in English), is used today to designate the various ingredients in the same way.

Ingredient lists should always have the same format and use the same conventions:
  • they must have the title “Ingredients”;
  • Ingredients must be listed in descending order of concentration, with those present in a concentration lower than 1% being mentioned, in no particular order, after those with a concentration greater than 1 percent;
  • designations must be in accordance with the INCI;
  • odoriferous and aromatic compounds must be labeled as "perfume" or "aroma", with the exception of a set of fragrances, and must also respect their INCI designation.
  • Colorants, with the exception of those intended for hair dyes, are referred to by a number and must be preceded by “CI”, according to the CI nomenclature (colour index).

In the ingredients can essentially be water, perfume, coloring.


It is in most cases the main ingredient, which is why it is always at the top of the list, the components appear in descending order of quantity, except those with a concentration of less than 1% (they appear randomly, after all with more than 1%) . The first third of the list, in general, corresponds to the majority of the composition.

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Avoid the ones that have fragrances at the beginning of the component list.

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The dyes appear at the end and always start with CI followed by a number.

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The expression “paraben-free” gives the impression that it has no preservatives. In fact, all cosmetics contain preservatives.

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Additional Information

Some cosmetic products, such as sunscreens and fluoride toothpastes, must include additional information on the labeling.
Sunscreens are essential to protect the skin from radiation. The label of these products must indicate the sun protection factor (SPF) index, which reveals the level of protection against type B ultraviolet rays (UVB). This index indicates its ability to filter UVB rays. An FPS 30 filters about 96.7% while an FPS 50 filters approximately 98 percent. The Directorate-General for Health recommends using a product with an SPF of at least 30. It is also essential that it offers UVA protection.
Next to the SPF index, the label must also mention the level of protection conferred (low, medium, high, very high).

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