top of page

But I Don't Want to Read The Label! Part 1

magnifying glass looking at harmful skincare ingredients

Navigating the label landscape

Have you ever paused, skin care product in hand, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ingredients listed on the back? You’re not alone. In a world were the average consumer is exposed to over 126 different ingredients in their daily personal skincare routine, understanding what goes onto our skin is more important than ever. Yet, the prospect of deciphering skin care labels can seem daunting. Who wants to wade through the dozens of ingredients, grapple with hard to pronounce names, and navigate the maze of online research? We get it: it’s confusing. But as we grow more conscious of what we put on our bodies, reading these labels becomes crucial. 

The importance of knowing

Despite the hassle, there’s a burgeoning interest in understandings skincare labels. Concerns about harmful ingredients, and their effects on our health and the environment drive this curiosity. Terms like hormone disruptors, synthetics, and dirty ingredients have become all too familiar, underlining the need for awareness in choices – from the products we use to clean our homes to those we use on our skin and even our babies. 

The journey to empowerment

We’ve devoted considerable time this winter to dissecting the myriad of ways that we can empower not only our customers, but anyone wishing for an easier path to become knowledgeable about the ingredients we want to avoid, and discovering those we can’t live without.

Starting with safe skincare

So, where do we begin our quest for safe skincare and personal care products? How can we become proficient and confident in our choices, focusing on the ingredients that matter to us? Our goal is to demystify the process, offering straightforward insights on how to quickly assess skincare, makeup, deodorant, and sunscreen while shopping.

Beyond the market claim

The journey begins by looking beyond the claims, promoted on product packaging. Savvy consumers, already know which products they prefer, and understand their benefits, including their scents and perceived advantages.


"This is our first installment of this transformative journey. We aim to change how you view the products lining your bathroom shelves, and equipping you with the knowledge to make informed decisions that align with your values and needs."


First steps to label literacy

So how do we start? Our approach involves a few initial steps: Take a quick peek at the front of the product for certifications and highlighted ingredients. Understand these basics, and look for misleading marketing. Becoming proficient at reading labels doesn’t mean becoming an expert overnight, but rather knowing enough to make informed decisions about what’s important to you.

The Mystique of Skincare Labels

For too long, skincare labels looked like cryptic codes. But what if learning to decipher these codes could be your new superpower? Every day we face choices, inundated with beautifully packaged products, claiming miraculous benefits. However, the real story is often hidden in the small print – the ingredient list.

The journey ahead

By the end of the series, you won’t be reading labels: you’ll be interpreting them like a pro, and power to make a swift, informed decision in the aisle.

Let’s go!

Understanding the order of ingredients

The order in which ingredients are listed on personal care products, including cosmetics, skincare, and sunscreens, provides vital information for consumers looking to understand more about what they are applying to their skin. In the cosmetics industry, the rule is that ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. This regulation help consumers gauge the concentration of each ingredient in the product.

Points about the order of ingredients:

  1. Concentration matters: The first ingredient listed is usually the one that constitutes the largest portion of the product. Many skincare and personal care items, this is often water parentheses listed as aqua parentheses, particularly in products like lotions, creams, and serums. The concentration decreases with each subsequent ingredient. The few ingredients generally make up the majority of the product. By the time you reach the bottom of the list, each of these ingredients typically represents less than one percent of the total formula.

  2. Hierarchy of listed Ingredients: Regulatory requirements say that ingredients must be listed in order of concentration. This is part of the regulatory efforts to ensure transparency and safety and cosmetics. This helps consumers make informed decisions, especially those with allergies or those sensitive to specific ingredients.

  3. Product Base: Understanding the primary ingredients can give you insights into the product's base. For example: Water listed as the first ingredient indicates a water-based product, which may be lightweight and hydrating, but will require preservatives to prevent microbial growth. Oils and butters (like Shea, butter or coconut oil) indicate a more emollient texture, suitable for dry skin. Alcohol (such as cetyl alcohol) in the top spots can suggest a formulation that helps with the consistency and feel of the product on the skin.

Active ingredients

In products like sunscreens and acne treatments, active ingredients are sometimes listed separately at the top of the ingredient list, regardless of the concentration. This is because their therapeutic effect is more significant than their quantity would suggest.

Functional ingredients

Some ingredients are included in small amounts, but play crucial roles, such as preservatives, pH adjusters, and fragrances. Even though they appear at the end of the list, their impact in the product's safety and stability is critical.

Marketing versus reality

Products might highlight certain trendy ingredients like vitamins, or plant extract, which may appear near the end of the ingredient list. The placement often indicates that these ingredients are present the minimal amounts, sometimes making their actual benefit to the skin negligible.

Practical tips for consumers

Prioritize the first three: pay attention to the first three ingredients, as they will have the most significant impact on your skin.

Check for allergens: even if an allergy is listed, it can still cause reactions and sensitive individuals.

Familiarize yourself: Know the common ingredients and their functions to interpret  product labels and choose products that align with your skin care needs.

Understanding the order of ingredients

This not only empowers consumers to choose products wisely, but also helps in identifying potential irritants or beneficial ingredients based on their skin types or concerns. Here are some of the most common "first ingredients":

  1. First 3 ingredients listed on skincare labels: Water (aqua) - indicates a water-based formula suggesting the need for preservatives to prevent microbial growth. Alcohol - While certain alcohols serve as emollients and thickeners and are safe, the presence of dry alcohol early in the list can be a concern. Dimethicone - a silicone based polymer that acts as an emollient and barrier, locking moisture into the skin. It’s often used in primers, moisturizers, and barrier creams.

  2. First 3 ingredients listed on deodorant and anti-perspirant labels: Aluminum Compounds (e.g., Aluminum Chlorohydrate) - Active ingredients that help control sweat by temporarily blocking sweat glands. Propylene Glycol - A humectant and skin-conditioning agent that helps absorb water and maintain moisture in products. Ethanol (or Denatured Alcohol) - Used in deodorants for its quick-drying properties, which help reduce the feeling of wetness and also serve as a solvent for other ingredients.

  3. First 3 ingredients listed on sunscreen labels: Zinc Oxide - A mineral sunscreen ingredient that provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. It works by physically blocking UV radiation from penetrating the skin.Titanium Dioxide - Another mineral sunscreen ingredient, titanium dioxide protects against UVB and short UVA rays. Like zinc oxide, it works by reflecting and scattering UV radiation. Avobenzone - A chemical sunscreen ingredient that offers broad-spectrum protection by absorbing UV rays, particularly UVA rays, converting them into energy that is less harmful to the skin.

The Takeaway

Understanding the ingredients in your personal care products isn't just smart—it's empowering. Ready to get a little more savvy about what you're putting on your skin? We’ve got two super simple goals for you to kickstart your journey into label reading.

First up, remember to take a look at the first three ingredients on your go-to products. Let those ingredient names roll around in your mind, introducing you to some crucial insights about your wellbeing—no memorization required! We'll keep bringing you easy tips in our label reading series to gradually boost your knowledge without overwhelming you!

Next, have a little fun counting how many ingredients are listed on the label. Easy, right? We'll dive deeper into what all those ingredients mean down the line, but for now these small steps are your first leap towards making more informed and confident choices in your skincare and personal care product choices.

Who knew learning about your products could be this engaging?

Stay tuned for our next segment: Navigating The Label Landscape With Vermont Skincare Company: Do we need to learn Latin to decipher labels?

Have thoughts or topics on labels and ingredients you’d like us to write about? Please reach out at:


bottom of page