Skincare 101

How To Read Skincare Product Labels Without Feeling Overwhelmed

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Grown Alchemist

quick advice

Don't judge a product by it's (well designed) cover – flip it around and read the back!

When it comes to food, label reading is almost automatic now, but what about our skincare products? It can be easy to base your facial picks on clever packaging (Ultra moisturizing! For sensitive skin! A healthy, natural, glow!), but it’s always worth flipping the bottle around to see what exactly will be smeared onto and absorbed into your face. While the FDA approves sunscreen products, it isn’t required to approve skincare products (yikes, we know), so it’s best to create your own approval process. We chatted with our Skin Therapist team to get the basics on reading skincare labels. 


Just like food, the ingredients you find on the back of skincare products will directly relate to how much of it is in the product. 80% or more of the product will be in the first five or six ingredients. Before slathering on a cream that promises to be a “mango scrub”, flip the container over to ensure that mango makes the coveted top five spot. We also recommend checking the very last few ingredients on the list, and if they look unfamiliar, do some detective work. Scary sounding words might not be bad – don’t write off science-y sounding words just because. Get the facts (or the Latin!).


Have you ever bought a skincare product simply because you liked the way the packaging looked? We’re with ya... But choosing a product for your face because it’s aesthetically pleasing or would look great in a #shelfie can have you scouring the aisles for the wrong reasons. We’re certainly not at all saying that well-packaged products can’t be trusted, but it may not be right for your needs. If it says things like “good for all types of skin,” check the ingredients for components you know work well for you – and if you’re not sure, you can ask your Skin Therapist – that's why we're here and one of our favorite activities.


While doing research on labels, a Skin Therapist was quick to point out that there should always be a small icon in the bottom right-hand corner that looks like an open cylinder. The number inside is the product’s expiration date in months, like 12M or 6M. While a shorter lifespan may seem like a con, a shorter lifespan can often mean more natural and organic ingredients and a product that most likely contains less preservatives. Preservatives aren’t necessarily all evil either – here’s another case of understanding what they are, where they come from, and their pros and cons. For example, any water-based product has to have a preservative of some kind (natural or synthetic) to keep it from going bad, plain and simple. And while we’re talking expiration dates, if you haven’t used the product in over two years, throw it out! It's never too late for the spirit of spring cleaning...


What would we do without our favorite search engine? When asking around for any additional tips and tricks, most Skin Therapists admitted that they Googled ingredients they were fuzzy on. No shame here, as long as you get multiple sources. There's a lot of good and bad information out there, so we always make sure to separate facts from fake news. Sites like the Environmental Working Group, Paula's Choice, and Think Dirty have great online database tools to help you understand what cocoglycerides actually are (and you'll be relieved that it's an all-natural, coconut oil derivative that emulsifies a skincare product – a fancy way of saying, it holds it all together.)


Taking care of your skin is a responsibility, one Skin Therapists describes, similarly to brushing your teeth. It’s a long-term wellness process that doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but does need to be approached with intentionality. “You don’t have to be paranoid when you read labels. Just be mindful. Take a few minutes to understand what exactly is going on your face. Once you start reading, it becomes habit and the knowledge is power.”

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