Ever wondered why beauty products have such long lists of ingredients? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have detailed labeling regulations that cosmetic companies must follow. "Ingredient names for cosmetics were a mess in the '70s,". "There was no consistency or organization. It was a mix of trade, common, and chemical names." "The FDA eventually recognized the list as the controlling compendium for ingredient labeling and it became known as the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook."
HOW TO READ THE LABELS
Ingredients on the labels of cosmetics are formatted in decreasing order of predominance, down to 1%. Below this, they can appear in any order—including colorants. These percentages correlate to the amount of a product, not its potency. Water, for example, is a typical solvent for other ingredients, and is often listed first.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Companies Generalize Chemical Names
The industry standardizes one name for each chemical, but one chemical can have many derivatives. "Stearic acid has more than 200 versions obtained from both animal fat and vegetable oil". "Unfortunately, it’s still listed the same way on every label, regardless of its origin."
2. You Can't Always Trust The Supplier
The Nomenclature Committee trusts the ingredient's supplier when the supplier is applying for an official ingredient name. If they don't disclose truthful information on their application, the committee still has to take their word.
3. Chemicals Are Impure, Naturally
Approximately 98% of chemicals are naturally-formed mixtures. "These complex formulations aren’t created in the lab,"Mother nature makes them this way.“
4. The FDA Doesn't Regulate
In its history, the FDA has never been aggressive about a mislabeled product. "International regulation is much stricter,".
5. Companies Sometimes Don't Follow the Rules
Because the FDA has such a lax policy on labels, many companies take advantage. Brands list water with terms such as “purified water” and “ionized water”, which are both illegal terms. It's also illegal to put vitamins such as tocopherol (more commonly known as vitamin E) on a label without claiming the product is a drug.
6. Remember International Exceptions
When the European Union adopted the FDA's labeling system, standards became even more complex. The European Union assigned Latin words to many products which complicated the system. We now have universal standards, but some countries (such as Canada) still have exceptions.
7. "Fragrance" Is Made Up of Multiple Chemicals
It would be impossible to label each chemical component of a fragrance. "The box would be as long as a toilet paper roll!”.
8. Geography Affects Formula
Companies understand that different markets have different climates and consumer preferences, so many brands formulate their products by region or country.
9. Ingredient Quantity Doesn't Matter
A product with a long list of ingredients is just as safe and effective as a product with a shorter list. The combination of ingredients is more important than how many are used.
10. Consumers Need to Research
The cosmetics labeling world is a very complex environment. Consumers are better off evaluating a product’s claims on their own and researching different ingredients. But if a company mislabels its ingredients, ask yourself what else it's violating. When in doubt about a product or ingredient.