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How & Why You Should Read Your Ingredients Label

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“You want me to read the mumbo jumbo on the back of my bottles –– half of which I can’t even pronounce?” Hear me out. It might sound scary, but understanding your product labels and knowing what to look for is beyond worth the extra effort.

When it comes to ingredients, you’ve likely heard of a few big no no’s, including parabens and phthalates. According to organizations and governments across the world, these ingredients have the potential to make a serious impact on your health, as well as your clients’.

The effects can range from slightly annoying hormonal acne and skin irritation to missed periods, infertility and even hormonal cancers.

Seriously.

Luckily, product labels are more than a logo. Where other claims like “natural” and “green” can just be ways to market the product, the label is always serving facts. When you know what to look for, the ingredients list can be the key to keeping you and your clients healthy. 

Although deciphering label language might seem daunting, these categories are an easy place to start.

Parabens

What To Look For: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben

What Are They?

Parabens have preserved product shelf life for years. However, in 2014, the chemical was banned by the EU after research showed the link between parabens and heightened levels of estrogen, which can lead to those scary side effects and illnesses.

In the U.S., only 11 ingredients have been banned by the FDA, versus hundreds in other parts of the world –– and parabens aren’t one of them. The reason? There’s a back-and-forth debate over how the danger of these products, despite agreement by other leading countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Environment Programme.

Do parabens hang out in our body or don’t they? What happens when you combine multiple products with parabens in your daily routine? These are all factors that people on both sides of the argument hem and haw over. While the verdict is still out, why chance it? These chemicals are easy to spot and remove.

Phthalates

What To Look For:  Fragrance, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), DINP (diisononyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate), DMP (dimethyl phthalate), BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate), DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate), DIDP (diisodecyl phthalate)

What Are They?

Phthalates are another potential hormone disruptor that’s used as a binding agent or solvent in cosmetics (A.K.A. It helps gives your product its texture). They are also used as “plasticizers” for bottles and other packaging and can seep from packaging to product.

Like parabens, the EU has banned several phthalates from consumer goods. The CDC has also linked phthalates as a cause of reproductive harm in animals. Still, U.S. organizations broadly refuse to take a stand against the chemicals’ use in cosmetics.

Most of the research that U.S. agencies rely on is decades out of touch (2010 called, and they want their data back). Plus, little has been done to learn more about the effect. With “phthalate-free” labels popping up across the industry, it’s an easy swap to these products from their risky counterparts.

Get A Helping Hand

Finally, friends don’t let friends fight alone. There’s a new wave of good-hearted indie brands joining the clean beauty movement, as well as resources like EWG Verified™ and Think Dirty®️ Shop Clean, which judge ingredients and give you an easy-to-understand rating for their safety.

Of course, product labels will always be difficult to follow. And TBH, avoiding all questionable ingredients is a huge chore. But, cosmetic chemistry is rapidly advancing and tons of healthier alternatives are being created on the reg. So, there’s no reason to run headfirst at the product you find when the ingredients are iffy. By knowing what’s in your HMU lineup, you can limit the amount of harmful ingredients you’re exposed to and protect yourself and your clientele.

Darby Hoffman
Darby Hoffman
Darby Hoffman is a creative and branded content writer based in Chicago, IL. She specializes in topics related to sustainability, beauty technology, and consumer health & safety.