When I started looking into making cosmetic products, I had an inkling that there would be some legal requirements to meet before I could sell anything to the public. I wasn't wrong! While there's a lot to do for small producers, it's great for consumers that anybody selling a cosmetic product in the EU has the same legal responsibilities. From the smallest soap maker to the biggest multi-national makeup company, we all have the same rules to follow and they all benefit you, the consumer.
I'll talk a bit more about making products in a future post, for now let's take a closer look at what's on a label and what it means for you.
There are two main reasons to keep an eye on the ingredients in your cosmetic product.
1/ You have sensitive skin.
I feel your pain. Weather, hormones and diet play a big role, but if a common ingredient in your shampoo or body lotion is irritating your skin, it can spell weeks of trouble trying to work out what's going wrong. Patch test anything new before using it and keep a weather eye out for ingredients cropping up in troublesome products.
2/ You LOVE something.
It's a great feeling when you find something you love using. Maybe a shampoo has made your hair look less like a demented bird's nest for a change, maybe you've finally managed to get rid of scaly shins. Whatever the small victory, take a look at the ingredients list. There might be a hero ingredient in there which you can look out for in other products
Now to the nitty gritty on how to read the label to work out what's going on in there. The first massive clue to finding the ingredients is to look for the word 'Ingredients' followed by a colon (':'). After that there will be a list of words which look like they've come straight out of Harry Potter's copy of Advanced Potion Making. There's a good reason for this. So that customers from all over the world can read a cosmetics label and have the same ingredient referred to using the same word, the cosmetics industry have come up with INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names for cosmetic ingredients. These names are often the latin names of natural ingredients, or more chemical-y sounding words for synthetic ingredients. Here's an example from my 'Base Balm' product.
INGREDIENTS: persea gratissima (avocado) butter, butyospermium parkii (shea) oil, cera alba (beeswax), squalane, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E)
I put the english word for ingredients in brackets next to the INCI name but that's not a requirement. If you're not sure what an ingredient is, google it. Especially if you have allergies. For example 'butyospermium park' (a hero ingredient of mine) is derived from the nut of the shea tree. Although not likely to be a problem, if you have an allergy to tree nuts it's worth being clued up on these things (and patch test patch test patch test!)
2/ Use By Date and Period After Opening.
If you've got a 'mainstream' product. It's quite likely that there won't be a specific use by date. This is because the preservative system is deemed to be good enough that harmful bacteria, yeast and fungi won't thrive in the product as long as it isn't opened. All products without a use by date should have a 'period after opening' symbol which is a jar with an open lid and the number of months use a product should have after it's opened. For example, my lip balms should be used within 6 months of opening so I have this symbol on the label
All products will deteriorate in time. Products with water in them (creams, lotions, shower gels, shampoos) can develop an array of nasty bugs, believe me - you don't want them near your face or body. Products without water don't get a free ride either. Oils (natural or synthetic) can oxidise (go rancid) over time and you don't want to be rubbing rancid oils on yourself. Golden rule, if you find an old mascara/ cream/ lipstick/ lip balm in a drawer and you can't remember how long it's been there, chuck it.
3/ Batch number
A batch number can be just about anything. It's main purpose is to provide traceability. If there's a problem with a cosmetic product, the manufacturer needs to be able to check other products made at the same time. We also keep track of the batch numbers for each and every ingredient we use in each and every batch of products we make in case there's a problem further up the line. Bottom line, if you have a problem with a product, get in touch with the manufacturer and quote the batch number.
4/ Recycling Info
You recycle all of your packaging right? For those of you lucky enough to have kerbside collections, you can probably just rinse out your cosmetic containers and pop them in the recycling bin. Otherwise, you might need to have a sort through first. There should be a symbol on the bottle indicating what it is (glass/ aluminium/ plastic). Put it in the right recycling bin and you're being a big help to your local recycling facility.
5/ Manufacturer Contact Information
If there's a problem with a cosmetic problem you use, particularly if you have a reaction to it, it's a good idea to get in touch with the manufacturer. Apart from the fact you may well be entitled to a refund, manufacturers are duty bound to record complaints and potentially issue a recall if a significant number of people have a problem. The minimum you can expect to find is the postcode and building number of the manufacturer. Many companies will have website addresses and occasionally phone numbers too.