How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels X

A few weeks ago, I set out to test my own Label Poise.  I decided to look for a lotion with high quality ingredients, so no fillers and of course very limited, low risk chemicals.  My Label Poise standards are relatively high so I was curious to see if any of the lotions in the store I went to would pass my evaluation.  There were at least 50 lotions.  I avoided brands I already knew had ingredients I wanted to avoid.  I was a bit shocked to see that even some of the “natural” brands had less than favorable ingredients.  I did find what my Label Poise determined to be the best product.   How did I do?

The Label


The Ingredients

Asterisk (*) Denotes a certified organic ingredient.

Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*: Safe! Coconut oil is used for is skin conditioning and moisturizing properties. It is high in vitamins E and K.

Deionized Water:  Safe!  Deionized water has had the ions of minerals found in soil or pipes removed.

Butyrospermium Parkii (Shea Butter)*:  Safe!  This ingredient is derived from the nut of the Shea Tree and is used for its moisturizing properties.

Stearyl Alcohol (Palm Kernel):  Safe!   This is also a fatty alcohol that is often used as an emollient and emulsifier in conditioner.  This ingredient indicated that is was derivered from palm kernel.

Vegetable Emulsifying Wax:  Beware!  This ingredient is a combination of 4 ingredients, which may vary by manufacturer: Cetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 60, PEG-150 Stearate, Steareth-20. Despite its name it is not all natural.  Of its four components Cetearyl Alcohol is of minimal concern, nor is Polysorbate 60 at low doses.  However there is significant concern about  PEG-150 Stearate, which is a polyethlyene glycol derivative, may be contaminated with ethlyene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, and is linked to carcinogenicity, endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, and skin irritation.   Steareth-20 is believed to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane if not properly purified.  It is not listed as a skin irritant, though it may be an eye irritant.  There is no information on carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, or developmental toxicity.  It is typically used as 5-10% of the formulation.  (MSDS)

Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter*:  Safe!  Cocoa butter is used for its skin conditioning properties.  It is high in antioxidants and are high in saturated fats. It is also used as an emollient.

Vegetable Glycerin:  Safe!  This ingredient is derived from palm, coconut, soy, or other vegetable fats.  It is used as an emollient and has the ability to draw moisture and oxygen to the skin.  There is no information in mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, developmental toxicity, or teratogenic effects.  In pure form is can be a skin, eye, and lung irritant, and may be toxic to the kidneys with prolonged exposure.  It is typically used in concentrations of 2 – 5% of the formula and is a minimal concern.  (MSDS)

Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil*:  Safe!  Olive oil is used for its skin conditioning and anti-inflammatory properties.  It is rich in vitamins E and A, as well as antioxidants.

Essential Oil Blend:  Safe!/Beware!  This is a blend of various essential oils that likely acts as a fragrance and may also have other beneficial properties for the hair.  It is listed generically, similar to parfum or fragrance, because the blend is likely considered a “trade secret.”  If you have sensitive skin or are known to be allergic to some essential oils Beware!

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (Aloe Vera):  Safe!  This ingredient is used for its nutrient content and moisturizing properties.

Tocopherol (Vitamin E):  Safe! Also known as Vitamin E, Tocopherol is a chemical alcohol with antioxidant properties.  This ingredient is not known to have carcinogenic or toxic effects (via MSDS).  It can also be used as a preservative for oils.

Hibiscus Sabdariffa Flower Extract:  Safe!  Also known as Roselle, this extract is used for its antioxidant properties.  It is also believed to stop degradation of the skins elastin and is beneficial in products made for skin tone, anti-cellulite and refirming.  It is typically used in concentrations of 0.1-4%.  It is not known as a skin or eye irritant. There is no available information on carcinogenicity. (MSDS)

Papain (Papaya Extract): Safe! This ingredient is used for its anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, and anti-aging properties.  It is believe to improve the tone and texture of the skin, increase blood circulation, and exfoliate dead and damaged skin.  It is typically used in concentrations of 5-10% of the weight of the formula.  It is not a skin irritant, though there is limited information carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, developmental toxicity, or teratogenic effects. (MSDS)

Allantoin (Comfrey Root Extract): Safe!/Beware! This ingredient is the synthetic derivative of the comfrey root, which is botanical urea (oxidation of uric acid).  It is used for its hydrating, soothing, and skin repairing properties, and is regarded as safe by the FDA.  It is typically used in concentrations between 0.2 – 2 % by weight of the formula.  It is not a skin or lung irritant, though it can be an eye irritant in pure form.  There is limited information on carcinogenicity, however, it is not expected to be toxic via skin.  It can be toxic to lungs and mucous membranes via inhalation, eye contact, and ingestion. (MSDS; MSDS ; MSDS)

Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower [Extract]: Beware! This ingredient can be used as a fragrant and is believed to have cleansing properties, however, it is primarily used in conjunction with Japanese Honeysuckle as a preservative.  Used alone it can be in concentration of 5-10% of the formula by weight, but in this product it is used between 0.5-2% as a mixture with Japanese Honeysuckle.  It is not known to be toxic or an irritant in small quantities.  It should be noted that parabens are very similar in structure (essentially the synthetic version) to p-hydrobenzoic acid, the active ingredient in Japanese Honeysuckle extract.  It is believed to act similarly to parabens in the body.  (MSDS)

Lonicera Japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) Flower Extract:  Beware!  This ingredient is used in conjunction with Honeysuckle extract as a preservative.  It is not known to be toxic or an irritant in small quantities.  It should be noted that parabens are very similar in structure (essentially the synthetic version) to p-hydrobenzoic acid, the active ingredient in Japanese Honeysuckle extract.  It is believed to act similarly to parabens in the body.  (MSDS)

Songyi Mushroom Extract:  Beware!  This ingredient is used for gently lightening and evening the skin. It is typically used in concentrations of 0.10 – 0.5% by weight of the formulation.  Very limited information on toxicity.

Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Milk:  Safe!  This ingredient is the liquid from the grated milk of brown coconuts.  It is high in saturated fat and is used for its moisturizing and soothing properties.  It is not toxic.  (MSDS)

Nature’s Pulchritude’s Verdict:  The only ingredient that surprised me was the Vegetable Emulsifying Wax.  Though it sounds natural, it is not in any way.  The primary concern with that ingredient is contamination of carcinogens, which may or may not be present in this product.  Additionally, the formula of VEW can vary so it may not contain the 2 constituents that make it a concern.  Songyi Mushroom Extract is listed as beware because it lightens skin but there is limited information on it.  The surprise ingredient to many of you is likely the Honeysuckle Flower Extract and Japanese Honeysuckle Extract which are similar in structure to parabens, which are the synthetic version of the primary active in the extracts, p-hydrobenzoic acid.  Parabens have not been confirmed to cause cancer, but they were shown to accumulate in human tissues, though it was not determined what the source was as many fruits contain p-hydrobenzoic acid naturally.  Using a product with parabens or Honeysuckle or Japanese Honeysuckle Flower Extract is absolutely subjective.  I personally do not use products with parabens, but I do use some of the products this brand makes containing these ingredients and am not very concerned though it is not my ideal.  This product is labeled as containing no parabens, which is true, but is slightly misleading given that the 2 preservatives are very similar in chemical structure.  Overall, this was the best lotion that I found and it has great ingredients including several that are certified organic, including 2 of the top 5 ingredients.  I would not purchase this particular product because I am not interesting in brightening and toning (how this product is formulated and marketed) my skin, however, I would use some of the other lotions this company makes.


Would you buy this product?


9 thoughts on “How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels X”

  1. I love this post and to answer the question: I’ve looked at this exact product in Target but hadn’t purchased it yet. The vegetable emulsifying wax is a big surprise and the “vegetable” makes it misleading. I guess that’s why it’s important to do your homework. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!

  2. In a pinch i would buy this, but I normally use a coconut and Crisco combo or just grape seed oil for lotion. The more i read the less I trust products. Besides it seems like the ingredients you want are cheaper in raw form, so you might as well cut out the middle man. One day companies may wise up and improve

    1. I agree. I typically make my own ‘lotion’ from raw ingredients and it is cheaper and I know exactly what is in it. The industry as a whole needs a big change. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  3. Thanks for this post, there are alot of natural sounding ingredients that its difficult for the average shopper to decipher. One of my peeves is brands claiming to be natural only to find out they lack any conviction or true desire to provide healthy quality products. This is one of the main reasons I decided to launch my own “no gimmick” line.

    1. You’re quite welcome! I agree. So many of the brands that people associate with being natural (and better) are not natural in the slightest! I started making some of my own mixtures for that reason. I’ll check out your line. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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