My 5-Point Guide to Reading Cosmetics Labels at a Glance

By Michèle Duquet


Read any good labels lately?

Did you know that… formaldehyde and thousands of other toxic chemicals can be hidden from the ingredients list if included in ‘Fragrance’?

Yesterday while filling out a Health Canada form for a new product, I had to refer to the hotlist where all the ingredients not permitted by Health Canada are listed.

Formaldehyde is listed in Health Canada’s hotlist as permissible in certain concentrations.

It is incomprehensible to me that formaldehyde is even permitted, let alone that it exists as a preservative for living beings.

While most consumers know by now that many products contain toxic ingredients, an average person can easily become overwhelmed when looking at a label.  Heck, even a savvy label reader needs help. Who has time these days to stand in the aisles and decipher the good from the bad in teeny tiny print at the end of a long day.

So here’s my 5-point guide for reading labels and what to look for at a glance:

(1) Certified Organic / Organic:

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Look for a Canadian, USDA or International organic certification logo on the front label, or, on the  back label look for markers beside each ingredients indicating which are certified organic or organic.

This gives you a good indication of the percentage organic content, or if it is a small company not yet certified, it tells you that their suppliers’ organic certificates are valid & verifiable.

(2) Parfum / Perfume / Fragrance:

In one word, avoid.

Many products that claim to be ‘Natural’ or ‘Made from Botanicals’ are not trustworthy if they include this in their list of ingredients.

The reason is that perfumes are considered to be trade secrets, and companies are under no obligation to divulge their perfume or fragrance ingredient content. That is how a preservative like formaldehyde can end up in your product without your knowledge.

(3) Ksllsmfoiujwlkdlkfjroitjlkdjfslsikhdfkd:

If you see too many ingredients that look like this, AVOID!  (Or run out of the store!)

(4) BIG capital LETTERS + numbers:


They are made to fool you by looking innocuous, but they are anything but that. Here’s what a few look like so you can recognize them at a glance:








(5) Look for (layman terms) in parentheses:

All ingredients for cosmetics must be listed in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), which can turn a simple ingredient like olive oil into Olea Europaea oil.

An honest company wants their customers to be knowledgeable about ingredients but it also understands that most people won’t know that Lavandula Angustifolia  is the Latin name for Lavender essential oil and will therefore include the easy-to-read version on the labels. So look for the layman term in parenthesis that helps you understand what you are putting into your body.

An easy to read label should look like this:

Olea Europaea (olive) oil*, Lavandula Angustifolia (lavender) oil**, Tocopherol (vitamin E).

*Certified Organic   **Organic

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to reading labels, but at the very least it can help you recognize a questionable product by its highly questionable ingredients.

On the brighter side, you’ll now be able to recognize at a glance a good product label when you read one!