Should you trust the ingredient list?

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Eating healthy is one of the growing trends,

we would go all the way to understand food ingredients and their benefits (big shout out to @salonbyjess on her #healthyshit movement!).

But how many of us would pause and read ingredients label on products we use on our skin? Turns out very few of us do – it might be because we don’t care, or because we don’t know HOW TO care. Scroll down for some tips you’ll definitely be interested to know!

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How to decipher the ingredient list

The ingredient list is perhaps the most trustworthy source of information you can find on the packaging, but it is also most ‘unreadable’ because most of us aren’t chemists, and even if we are, it’s difficult to really tell whether the formula works because it does not specify the amount used & the processes behind.

But there are ways to get a glimpse into what the product is, if you know how.

US and EU have different ways of listing the ingredients in cosmetics, skincare and personal care products. One interesting thing:

  • for products from EU countries, ingredients are listed from the highest weight to lowest weight [1].
  • In the US context, ingredients are listed [ACTIVE INGREDIENTS – ingredients from most % to lowest % - any order of ingredients at less than 1% of the product and/or colour additives] [2]. So, what appears at the beginning of the ingredient list in the US doesn’t necessarily mean it is of highest proportion in the product.
 US labeling of sunscreen - see titanium dioxide & zinc oxide is at the top of the list. If this product is from the EU, it will not differentiate between active and non-active ingredient. Titanium dioxide, only with 4.9%, should fall back in the ingredient list.

US labeling of sunscreen - see titanium dioxide & zinc oxide is at the top of the list. If this product is from the EU, it will not differentiate between active and non-active ingredient. Titanium dioxide, only with 4.9%, should fall back in the ingredient list.

In Hong Kong, we do not have our own labelling requirements. Instead, we follow standards in Japan, the US, the EU and China. The only requirement we have is that both Chinese & English have to be present on the label [3]. This means that if we want to decipher the ingredients list, we need to know whether the list follows the US or UK order.

 

What about Korean cosmetics?

The rule is that ingredients also have to be listed in descending order, and those less than 1%, colour additives, flavours etc. can be listed in any order at the end of the list, just like the US. However, if the source [4] is accurate, the sneaky thing will be that Korea allows the compounds (made with multiple ingredients) to simply be listed as it breaks down, but doesn’t have to be at descending order [4]. For example, if a product is made with A (70%), B compound made with (B1 – 19%, B2 – 1%), C (10%), then in the Korean list, it can go with the order, A, B1, B2, C. If the ‘star’ ingredient is B2, then you would be misled into thinking that there’s more B2 than C. (I tried to verify, but google translate on the Korean law website doesn't really work on that particular page!)

 

Intended ingredients

Just another note - only intended ingredients will be listed. Hence, any byproduct or contaminants in the production process, e.g. lead or mercury, etc. won't be listed. Usually we find out the product is contaminated only after the product is launched in the market :(, as there are no pre-launch testing required by the government, say in US or in HK [5]. 

What are 'active ingredients' anyway?

In the next post, I will answer this very tricky question!

Why are 'active ingredients' listed at the beginning of the list for products sold in US?

Are products without 'active ingredients' less effective than the others?

 

Stay tuned!