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Decoding Ingredients and Labels on Your Beauty Products

By HERWriter
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Decoding Labels and Ingredients on Your Beauty Products Daniel Waschnig/PhotoSpin

Decoding the contents and safety of your beauty products can pose a serious challenge for you as a consumer. Are you confused by all the jargon and unpronounceable names found on cosmetic labels? Finding it hard to tell your phthalates from your parabens? Wondering how many words have arcane or hidden meanings such as Fragrance (which doesn't ever just mean a sweet smell on a label)?

You are not alone.

Do you suspect that some of the reassuring sounding words on a label are empty and meaningless? Unfortunately this is true in many instances. Short of throwing out all your cosmetics for safety's sake, is there anything you can do to defend yourself from unhealthy ingredients?

Here are eight familiar buzzwords and phrases we keep hearing and reading on beauty products, decoded and defrocked for your protection.

1) Alcohol-free

How come if the label says alcohol-free, it might still have different types of alcohol listed? Because the one referred to by "alcohol-free" is usually ethanol. Ethanol is the one you want to avoid because it can be drying.

But others such as cetyl, cetearyl, lanolin or stearyl alcohol, known as fatty alcohols, are actually moisturizing. Isopropyl alcohol is hardly ever found in makeup.

2) Cruelty-free or Not Tested on Animals

Things get a little complicated because while a manufacturer may not have used animals in testing for, say, their finished products, they may have used supplies or labs that have performed animal testing. So, are such manufacturers cruelty-free? Well, yes and no. Sort of.

While a particular product may not have had animal testing, chances are testing on animals has been instrumental at some point along the way. What you really want to know is, are animals being used currently? Be on the lookout for "not currently tested" or "no new testing" on a product.

In the long run, though, none of this type of terminology has any actual legal meaning. It can be used to put one over on you, the consumer.

There are no legal restrictions or definitions from the FDA or any other American agency concerning these phrases.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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