2. How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels (Follow-Up)

Today we’re in the store looking for a new conditioner.  There are so many options in [insert your favorite store here].  What should you get?  You start looking at labels, and you remember many of the tips I have given you to aid in finding quality products.  You still aren’t confident enough to shop with ‘Label Poise,’ so I’ll help steer you in the right direction.  Remember, I am teaching you Label Poise–how to walk the walk, talk the talk, and buy products that meet YOUR standards, whether natural, organic, or safe enough.

The Label


I want you to pay attention not only to the ingredient list, but the rest of the bottle as well.  Check back tomorrow for an analysis of the ingredient list.

Here are the tips I gave you in my first two posts (original and follow-up) on how to read ingredient labels:

  1. Ingredients are listed by quantity in the formula, from greatest to least, based on standards by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  2. Ingredients are listed using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients (INCI), therefore they are listed using scientific nomenclature, or    binomial nomenclature (latin; taxonomy) for ingredients derived from plants.
  3. How ingredients are derived is seldom listed on the label (the same chemical can be derived synthetically or naturally).
  4. Fragrances are generically listed because they are considered trade secrets; typically naturally derived fragrances do not use “Fragrance (Parfum)” but a specific naming system.
  5. If it looks like a “chemical” it probably is, if you don’t want chemicals don’t buy it!  **Everything is a chemical, I’m referring to ‘bad’ chemicals here.

Quick Tip:  Aside from avoiding synthetic chemicals as much as possible, have an idea of what ingredients don’t work for you.  Pay attention to the ingredients in the products you use.  If you notice every time you use a product with [insert ingredient here] you get an allergic reaction or your hair/skin responds negatively, make a note and steer clear!  In my last post I told you mineral oil and silicones don’t work for me so I don’t buy them, irrelevant of the fact that they are synthetic or petrochemicals.

The Ingredients

Aqua/Water/Eau:  Safe!

Cetearyl Alcohol:  Safe!  Typically naturally derived from Coconut and Palm Oils (though it can be derived synthetically), it is a mixture of Cetyl and Stearyl fatty alcohols.  This ingredient acts as a thickener and moisturizer in personal care products.

Behentrimonium ChlorideBeware!  Is a “quaternary ammonium compound” made from corn oil (likely GMO).  It is used as an antistatic, conditioning agent, and disinfectant.  This product is toxic to aquatic animals, however, the concentrations in the product are likely less than 3% and should not be harmful.  This product can cause skin irritation upon prolonged or repeated exposure (via MSDS), though concentrations and exposure length is not likely enough to be harmful.  (Author’s Note: Avoid if you are averse to GMOs, I don’t recall using this ingredient in a product so err on the side of caution.)

AmodimethiconeBeware!  This ingredient is a silicone (polymerized siloxane) and is used in products as an anti-static and conditioner.  I don’t use product with silicones (coats hair and causes breakage) but if you are not adverse to them, feel free to use products with silicones as they are not known to be toxic.

Parfum/FragranceBeware!  Fragrances are often synthetic. Though they are low in concentration in the product, here is still a small chance of having an allergic reaction

Isopropyl AlcoholBeware! This is a drying alcohol (unlike fatty alcohols).  Isopropyl Alcohol is a solvent, and if the name sounds familiar it is because it is commonly sold as rubbing alcohol.  I am not sure what purpose this ingredient serves in this product, supposedly to assist in spreading the product.  Isopropyl Alcohol in hair products is supposedly very drying, which is ironic considering how this product is marketed.  This product typically is not toxic, therefore I will not solidly classify this as ‘Avoid!

PhenoxyethanolBeware!/Avoid!  This is a preservative.  You will notice it is very high on the list of ingredients.  It is used because it is safer than formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, though the FDA released a warning about how it can impact the central nervous system and induce vomiting in infants.  It is also suspected to be a xenoestrogen (mimics estrogen), a cause of contact dermatitis and skin irritant.  I am not sure what concentration is in this product, but you should know it is banned in the EU and Japan in concentrations over 1%.  Therefore, one would assume it is either greater than the EU concentration restraint or it is in accordance, and all the nice oils and butters in this product are at very low concentrations.  This ingredient is made from 2 carcinogens (benzene and ethylene oxide), though it itself is not known to be carcinogenic.  People around small children should ‘Avoid!’ this ingredient, others should ‘Beware!’.  I have seen this ingredient and derivatives in quite a few products, more on this later.

Pyrus Malus (Apple Fruit) Extract:  Safe! This ingredient is used as a skin conditioning agent, and is rich in vitamins, amino acids and trace elements.

Benzoic AcidBeware!  This ingredient can be used as a preservative, pH adjuster, and/or fragrance ingredient, and is banned in the EU in concentrations over 2.5% in rinse out (non-oral) products.  It is produced naturally by bitter almonds and other fruits, but is also produced synthetically.  An MSDS states that it can be toxic to the central nervous system, mucous membranes, and lungs, and can be a mild skin irritant, though it is generally regarded as safe below 5%.

Trideceth-6Beware!  This ingredient is described as a polyethylene glycol (PEG) ether of Tridecyl Alcohol.  Trideceth-6 can be used as an emulsifier or surfactant.  It is generally regarded as safe, though there are concerns of organ toxicity.  (Please reference my previous post about PEGs)

Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) OilSafe!  

Butyrospermium Parkii (Shea) ButterSafe!

Olea Europaea (Olive Fruit) OilSafe!

Potassium HydroxideBeware!  This ingredient is often caused caustic potash, and is made via chemical reactions.  It is used as a pH adjuster and buffering agent.  It attracts water molecules from its environment before dissolving in the same water, balancing the formula.  This ingredient can be damaging to the cuticle of the hair shaft and is often used in hair removal products or to weaken the hair before shaving.  Concentrations are likely low in this product, however, pure Potassium Hydroxide is mutagenic to mammalian somatic cells, and may be toxic to  the upper respiratory tract, skin, and eyes.  It can also cause dermatitis after prolonged exposure (via MSDS).

NiacinamideSafe!  This ingredient is the amide of nicotinic acid (vitamin B3/niacin).  It is used to improve the appearance and feel of hair.  This ingredient is generally considered safe, but can be a skin irritant in pure form (via MSDS).

Pyridoxine HClSafe!  Pyridoxine hydrochlorine is the hydrochlorine salt of pyridoxine, both known as vitamin B6.  It is naturally occurring in various foods such as bananas, spinach, and sardines.  It is used in cosmetics as a conditioning agent for hair and skin, as well as being an anti-static agent.  It is non-toxic, and generally regarded as safe though it can be a skin irritant in pure form.  (Author’s Note: There is some concern over this ingredient being carcinogenic, and toxic developmentally and reproductively.  I did not find this information on its MSDS, so Beware! if this is a concern.)

Hexyl Cinnamal:   Beware!  This ingredient is banned in rinse off products above a concentration of 0.01% (or 0.001% in leave-on products).  It is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and is found naturally in the essential oil of chamomile, but it is also synthetically derived.  Also known as Hexyl Cinnamaldehyde, it is a known allergen and skin irritant.

Cetrimonium ChlorideBeware!  Cetrimonium Chloride is a positively charged quaternary ammonium salt.  It is used as a conditioning agent and softener, it also improves wet and dry combing of hair.  It is also listed as a topical antiseptic and preservative.  It is listed as a skin irritant and allergen in a small portion of individuals; it is not a carcinogen (via MSDS).

Citric AcidSafe!  This ingredient is naturally occurring in citrus fruits, but is typically produced by feeding sucrose or glucose to mold and additional chemical treatment.  It is used in cosmetics as a pH adjuster.  It is generally considered safe, though it is a skin and eye irritant in pure form.

Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil:  Safe!  This oil contains Vitamin E and contains antioxidants.

Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) ExtractSafe!  This extract is generally considered safe and is used as a moisturizer and skin conditioning agent.

Benzyl Alcohol:   Beware!  This ingredient is made naturally by many plants or can be synthetically derived.  It is used as a preservative and based on its placement on the list is the lowest quantity.  This can be slightly hazardous with skin contact, but due to its concentration it should be okay.

LinaloolBeware!  This ingredient is used as a fragrance and is banned in rinse off products above a concentration of 0.01% (or 0.001% in leave-on products).  It is naturally occurring in various plants and spices, though it may also be made synthetically.  It is considered a skin irritant and allergen, though pure linalool can have anti-cancer properties.  Given that the concentration is likely quite low is should be fine unless you are allergic to it.

Amyl CinnamalBeware!  This ingredient is used as a fragrance and is banned in rinse off products above a concentration of 0.01% (or 0.001% in leave-on products).  It is produced naturally in plants, but is also produced synthetically.  It is a known skin irritant.

Ribes Nigrum (Black Currant Seed) OilSafe!  This oil is high in gamma-linolenic acid, which is good for skin renewal.

Cl 19140/Yellow 5Beware!  This is a synthetic yellow dye (food coloring) also known as Tartrazine and FD&C Yellow 5.  Tartrazine is a known allergen and has various impacts on the immune system from dermal contact or ingestion.  It is not known to be toxic.

Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract:  Safe!  This extract is said to have anti-bacterial properties

Cl 15985/Yellow 6Beware!  This is a synthetic yellow dye (food coloring) also known as FD&C Yellow 6 or Sunset Yellow FCF.  This dye in manufactured from the aromatic hydrocarbons of petroleum.  It is not known to be toxic and there are low instances of allergic reaction (aspiring intolerant should avoid this ingredient).

Camellia Sinensis (Tea) Extract: Safe!  This extract is believed to have antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties.

F.I.L. D160416/2Avoid!  This ingredient yielded no information.

Many of the ingredients are categorized as Beware! and are quite questionable.  To start, parfum/fragrance is one of the top 5 ingredients which is unsavory.  I am also not a fan of any silicones, so that further dissuades me from purchasing or recommending this product.  Isopropyl Alcohol is also very high on the ingredient list (6th ingredient), which is interesting considering that it is considered to be very drying.  After looking through some of my hair conditioners, I found that one of my favorites has denatured alcohol so I won’t completely disregard this product (check back soon for more information on alcohols in personal care products).  Another very questionable ingredient is Phenoxyethanol, which after research I found to be used as a preservative in various products despite various suspected impacts (more on this in a future post).  This ingredient is also very high on the list considering it is a preservative.

I also asked you to look at the remaining information on the bottle other than the ingredients.  It is marketed as containing 3 oils (olive, avocado, and almond) that are supposed to nourish hair, however, they are the 11th, 13th, and 20th ingredients, respectively.  Using the EU concentration restrictions as a guideline, it is very questionable whether these oils have that much of an impact in such small quantities.  You should have also noticed that there is a section directly above the ingredients list that talks about ‘Eco’ bottles and a commitment to ‘green.’  This may falsely persuade consumers to believe this is an ‘okay’ product, despite its ingredients.  I have never used this product to make concrete claims about its efficacy, therefore this product may very well work great for people.  I would not purchase this product.


7 thoughts on “2. How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels (Follow-Up)”

  1. I loved this post, so much information. Your blog is amazing, thank you for so much information. I try to eat clean, stay away from GMOs, and use safe personal and household products as much as I can. But is great to have this list of ingredients and really understand what they are, because most people think that because the product is labeled natural then it might be good for you, but some of us are not aware of all the additives that can really harm us.

    1. Thank you! I’m truly flattered!! I am really glad to get this information out there because a lot of people just don’t know or have been misled. Thank you for letting me know I am on my way to fulfilling the purpose of this blog! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s