How to Read Cosmetic Labels

May 13, 2016

It is the age of transparency and consumer knowledge. With the exponential boom of information available at our fingertips (quite literally with smartphones), anyone can essentially “Google” anything at any time. People want to know what goes into their cosmetics and people have a right to know. This is why in the United States the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has created standards for cosmetic labeling.

There are numerous regulations and sub-regulations which could turn this blog post into a book, and Marie Gale did by writing Soap and Cosmetic LabelingBut unless you are a manufacturer of cosmetic goods, it is pretty simple to follow along with appropriate labeling.

The front label of a cosmetic should list 1) Company name2) Product name3) Product type4) Net weight in imperial and metric measurements


The first element is the front of any packaging. The front label of a cosmetic should clearly state: 1) Company name, 2) Product name, 3) Product type, and 4) Net weight in the imperial and metric systems. A consumer should immediately be able to identify what the product is, what it’s used for, and the weight of the actual contents (without counting the jar/bottle). Taking a look at the example of our Butter Me Up above, you can clearly see our company’s logo, the name of the product, the product type, and weight.

You may also notice the small logo in the upper right-hand corner. This is a license we purchased from PETA when our company was relegated as cruelty-free and vegan. While our company is listed under both PETA and Leaping Bunny, because we only purchased a license from PETA, we use their logo. Be mindful to actually look up companies that use these types of purchased licenses to ensure they are actually part of the program.

The back of the packaging (or sides, as you can see above), will list other detailed information, such as 1) Directions, 2) Ingredients, 3) Company name, 4) Batch numbers, 5) Company address.

back or side labels

It’s important to note the directions. The manufacturer should have clear directions on how the product is intended to be used for purposes of safety and clarity. Sometimes with the directions, and sometimes as a separate entity, the manufacturer will also list any possible warnings for safety purposes. For most people, this is truly common sense, but it helps protect the consumer from accidental misuse, and protect the manufacturer from liability.

One of the first points conscientious consumers look for are the list of ingredients. As per the FDA, ingredient labels (for items sold in the United States) must be listed in plain English, in descending order of content weight in the recipe, followed by fragrance and colorant. A manufacturer does not have to specifically list the name of the fragrance (or combination of fragrances) used, as this is usually proprietary information. In the example above, we specifically list that we use lavender and lemongrass essential oils because we believe most of our customers would find it desirable, but it’s not required to be so specific.

While it is not required under the FDA, many companies will also list “batch numbers.” Batch numbers serve to regulate specific batches of product made so the manufacturer will know exactly which grouping (or batch) your specific product came from. Because this is not a mandate, but instead part of generally good manufacturing practices, each business will have its own way of maintaining batch numbers. For example, as you can see above on our scrub sample, we use the date the product was made as our batch number.

Finally, a company needs to list their name and address. Companies cannot use PO Boxes on their labels. However, it is accepted to leave the address out ONLY in the circumstance that the address of the company is publically published, such as in Yellow Pages.

box labeling

Sometimes cosmetic packaging is far too small to list all of the required information directly on the bottle or jar, or sometimes it’s just not aesthetic. Think of your favorite perfume or lipstick. In this case, it is perfectly acceptable to list the required information on the outside packaging, such as a box or container. We do this, for example, on our essential oil roll ons; we list all of the required info on the containing box.


balance soap

As mentioned above, not all products require the same regulations. For example, “true” soap does not need to list any ingredients. Even though our soap is considered “true” soap, because we also claim it is fragrant and has moisturizing properties, it is considered a cosmetic, we must follow the same regulations as other cosmetics for our soap.See the example of our Balance Soap above.

Note that if a company makes any claims to cure, prevent, or alleviate symptoms, this is considered a drug under the FDA, and must be filed with the FDA. Be leery of any cosmetic company who claims to “cure eczema” or “act as a sunscreen” that is not filed with the FDA. Their intentions may be good; however, such bad form is a detriment to both consumers and small business.

One of the best ways to stay informed and check the integrity of a company is to see if they follow these rules on their packaging.

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