How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels XXXVI

You decided to finally try a product from a brand a friend has been raving about for months. The products are marketed as being 95+% natural, are available at your local pharmacy, and are at a good price point, all of which appeals to you. Is this product really as natural as it claims? 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.  For instructions on Label Poise visit our Label Poise page.

The Label


The Ingredients

Water (Aqua):  Safe!   Water is the ultimate moisturizer and is a key ingredient in many moisturizing products.

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.  In pure form,  this ingredient can be a slight skin irritant and permeator, and is toxic to mucous membranes.  The is no data available on human toxicity, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, developmental toxicity, and teratogenicity.  (MSDS)

Behentrimonium Chloride:  Beware! Also known as Docosyltrimethylammonium chloride, Behentrimonium Chloride Is a “quaternary ammonium compound” made from corn (likely GMO) or canola oil. It is used as an antistatic, detangling aid, 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. In pure form Behentrimonium Chloride is also an eye irritant that can cause severe and permanent damage with prolonged exposure. In the U.S. it is used in concentrations of 0.2 – 7% by weight of the formula, depending on the product. It is banned by the European Union in concentrations over 0.1% in “ready to use” products. There is no data available regarding mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. (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.) (MSDS)

Cetyl Esters:  Beware!  This ingredient is derived from vegetable sources, such as coconuts, and is typically used as a thickener in cosmetics.  It is comprised of various fatty alcohols and fatty acids.  It is typically 1 to 3% of the weight of the formula.  There is no data regarding toxicity, carcinogenicity, or mutagenicity.  (MSDS)

Vaccinium Angustifolium (Blueberry) Fruit Extract:  Beware! This ingredient is used as a skin protecting and soothing agent. Blueberry Fruit Extract is typically used in concentrations of 5-10% by weight of a formulation. It can be an eye irritant in pure form. There is no toxicological information available for this ingredient. (MSDS)

Stearyl Dihydroxypropyldimonium Oligosaccharides:  Avoid!  This ingredient is used as a hair conditioning agent.  No Additional information available.  No MSDS.

Lupine Amino Acids:  Beware!  Lupine amino acids are used as skin and hair conditioning agents and humectants. This ingredient may be the same as Lupine Protein, which is a hydrolyzed protein from the seeds of the lupine plant. Lupine protein is not known to be toxic, though there is limited information available. (MSDS)

Fragrance (Parfum)**:  Safe!/Beware!  This is a generic listing of fragrance similar to other labels, however, they clearly indicate that the fragrance is ‘natural.’ This is just as ambiguous as other fragrance listings so Beware! if you are prone to allergic reactions from fragrances.

Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Extract:  Beware!  This ingredient may be an extract of the seeds or petals of the sunflower. Both extracts are used as skin conditioning agents to promote soothing and softening effects. Sunflower extract has a high vitamin F content. It can be an irritant to skin, lungs, and eyes, though it is not known to be carcinogenic. Very limited toxicological information available. (MSDS)

Trifolium Pratense (Clover) Flower Extract:  Beware!  This ingredient is an extract of Red Clover flower, which is native to Europe, west Asia, and northern Africa. It is believe to prevent hair loss and improve the elasticity and strength of hair. It is also used as an astringent and masking agent. Red Clover is a phytoestrogen and is believed to have estrogen-like effects and has been used as a treatment for menopause symptoms.  (MSDS; NIH Research)

Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil*:  Safe!  Carrot seed oil is used as an emollient and skin conditioning agent.  It is high in omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and nutrients such as Beta Carotene, vitamin A and Stigmasterol.  It is not known to be toxic, an irritant, or sensitizer.  (MSDS ; MSDS)

Ipomoea Batatas Root Lees Extract:  Avoid!  This ingredient is made from white or purple sweet potatoes grown in Japan.  Sweet potatoes are very high in beta carotene, it is believed the nutrient quantity will translate to skin benefits. Very limited information available; no MSDS.

Glycerin:  Safe!  Glycerin is a humectant that attracts moisture in the skin. Glycerine can be derived from fats and oils, or synthetically–which is not indicated here.  (MSDS)

Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride:  Safe!  Also known as cationic guar gum, this ingredient is a quarternary ammonium (positively charged polyatomic ions) derivative of guar gum (a natural substance). It is added to shampoos for its conditioning and anti-static properties. In pure form, the dusts of this ingredient may be an irritant, however, it is not toxic to the skin and is not known to be carcinogenic. Information on mutagenicity is not available. (MSDS; MSDS)

Trimethylolpropane Tricaprylate/Tricaprate:  Avoid! This ingredient is used as a skin conditioning agent and emollient. No additional information available. No MSDS.

Phenoxyethanol:  Beware!/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.  In pure form phenoxyethanol is toxic to kidneys, the nervous system, and liver; it is an extremely hazardous eye irritant and a very hazardous eye irritant, though information on carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity, and developmental toxicity are not available.  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 the remaining ingredients 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!‘.  (MSDS)

Caprylyl Glycol:  Beware!  Caprylyl Glycol is used as a humectant, emollient, and wetting agent that also has anti-microbial properties. This ingredient can be synthetic or naturally derived though that information is not indicated on the bottle. It is not believed to be a skin or eye irritant, nor is it considered a mutagen. (MSDS)

Sorbic Acid:  Safe! This ingredient is a natural organic compound (C6H8O2) that is used as a preservative. It is typically produced via condensation of malonic acid and transbutenal. It is most active as an antimicrobial agent in acidic environments. It is a skin, eye, and lung irritant in pure form. It is not known to be carcinogenic. Other toxicological information is not available, though it is listed as “Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS)” by the FDA and is considered safe by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review.  (MSDS)



Nature’s Pulchritude Verdict: Though this ingredient is marketed as being natural, there are quite a few “natural” ingredients in this product that have not been tested toxicologically. Some of the other non-natural looking ingredients also lack toxicological information. This product may be worth a try, but it is not as natural as it claims to be.


2 thoughts on “How to Read Cosmetic Ingredient Labels XXXVI”

  1. Thanks this was an excellent guide! there are many things on the back of bottles im like uhhhh what does that mean! so this is a great resource

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