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skincare product label how to read an ingredient list sensitive

How to read an ingredient list

It’s great to be ingredient savvy and know exactly what you are putting on your skin, even more so if you have sensitive skin or allergies! Of course, any ingredient can be an allergen to someone, somewhere.  But understanding an ingredient list is a good starting point to truly know what is in the products you are using, and to develop a skincare routine that works for you.  This blog will help you do just that.

What you’ll usually see on a skincare product label

Product labels all look different from one another, but on closer inspection, they contain similar information. Much of this information is a legal requirement; here is general information you’ll find on products made and sold in the EU:

  • brand and product name
  • product type/purpose and brief description
  • ingredient list
  • shelf life
  • product weight or volume g/ml
  • how to use/store the product
  • manufacturers address

The first thing to look out for is the ingredients list.  Here you’ll be able to spot potential irritants and allergens as well as root out products with gimmicky marketing and low percentages of natural ingredients. 

But how do you read one? What are the essentials to look out for when you do?

Cracking these questions can be a bit more of an undertaking, but I’ve got you covered.  When I first began to suffer from severe skin sensitivities, I started a journey to understand what I was putting on my skin, and it all started with decoding the ingredients list.  Let’s start with some definitions and basics of how to read a skincare ingredient list.

Where to find the ingredients

Every product should have its full ingredients listed on the packaging. If the container is tiny, it may be on the outer box or a leaflet attached.  If that’s the case, you will see the open book symbol on the container.  Either way, it should be somewhere you can easily find it—you shouldn’t have to dig around for the information online or elsewhere.

The Order

Ingredients are always listed in order of prominence from the highest percentage to lowest percentage. Typically, the first five or six ingredients in the list make up the majority of the product.  So, if a label claims a product is packed with natural ingredients, for example, looking at the order of ingredients can tell you if that’s true.  At Pamoja, there are no cheap fillers in our products, every ingredient is a star and has a role to play in the product. 

It’s worth knowing that while many ingredients aren’t effective in amounts less than 1%, many are and provide great benefits at this level.  A good example would be Rosmarinis officinalis (Rosemary) leaf extract, which is a powerful antioxidant (not to be confused with Rosemary essential oil).  This extract is often used in natural skincare and is most effective at a quantity of 0.1%.  You’ll see an example of this in the ingredients of Reset Cleansing Balm Essential Oil Free.

The Basics of the Ingredient List

You may have heard an ingredient list referred to as an INCI list, which stands for “international nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients” and is a standardised system used in the European Union, China, Japan, and many other countries.  

On a Pamoja skincare label, you’ll find plain English alongside the INCI listing to help you understand what you are putting on your skin, e.g. Astrocaryum (Murumuru) seed butter.  Listing ingredients in this way is particularly helpful if you have a food allergy and want to avoid cold-pressed and unrefined oils derived from sesame, nuts etc.  Pamoja products do not contain ingredients derived from the major food allergens.

Did you know that the Latin name for hazelnut oil is Corylus Avellana oil?

You can read my blog on how to enjoy natural skincare if you have food allergies.

At Pamoja you’ll also see an explanation of the role that functional ingredients play in the product, e.g. Glycerin (humectant).  You’ll see how this works in the ingredient list of Revive Multi-action Face Cream.  

Bundled Ingredients

Another essentialrule to be aware of is that some cosmetic ingredients are made of several components and each one must be listed separately, and in the correct order based on their percentage of the whole. This often means an ingredient list can look rather long!  For example some plant based extracts are blended to make them more viscous and easier to pour or are mixed with antioxidants to give them a longer shelf life.  

Fragrance

If you see the word ‘parfum’ it’s likely to be an artificial fragrance.  Essential oils which provide natural fragrance will be listed individually e.g. Cananga odorata (Ylang Ylang) flower oil.  You’ll see an example of this in the ingredients of Restore Multi-purpose Beauty Oil.  Essential oils also tend to be used in very small quantities for safety reasons, so you will be likely to see these listed towards the end of an ingredients list.   You may also notice words like linalool, citral, geraniol etc listed at the end of an ingredients list.  These are naturally occurring ingredients within essential oils, known as fragrance allergens and must be declared if they occur over a certain percentage within a product. 

Ingredients to avoid

Perhaps most essential is knowing which ingredients can irritate skin.  All complexions differ and you can become sensitised to any ingredient at any time.  Even the most natural ingredients can be potential allergens so it’s important to always patch test a new product.  However, some common skincare irritants to look out for include:

  • Synthetic colours and fragrances
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Sulphates (SLS, SLES and ALS)

There’s never a bad time to start understanding an ingredient lists.  It's one of the most valuable first steps you can do before you buy a product, and in establishing a routine that works for your skin.  At Pamoja, we want to help you to do just that by being transparent about ingredients and helping you to understand them. With these tips in mind, you’re now ready to do your own fact-finding to select the products that will do the most good for your skin, and you can always practice your skills by reading over the ingredients in our products!

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Thanks for reading, please feel free to share on social!  

Sarah x

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