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How to Decode Makeup Product Labels


Even if you’re a pro at reading food labels, reading beauty product labels can be a whole new ball game. Most of the beauty product ingredients look like a whole new language and you can’t necessarily go by the philosophy of “don’t touch it if you can’t pronounce it” because some ingredients can be another name for a vitamin or mineral. But some of these weird sounding words can be a dangerous chemical you want to avoid. Here are some of the most common beauty product ingredients and how to decode them.

Synthetic Fragrance

Avoid anything labeled as fragrance or parfum. These are synthetic fragrances that can be an allergen or worse. Because of certain laws, companies can describe certain ingredients as fragrance or parfum and not disclose what the ingredient actually is. So fragrance usually just means chemicals. Check to see if the fragrance ingredient is sourced from natural ingredients or if the company won’t disclose what it is to determine if it could be a harmful chemical or not.


Parabens are synthetic preservatives used to make products last longer. Look for paraben-free products just to be safe because parabens have been linked to hormone disruption, DNA damage, skin aging and even cancer. Avoid anything ending in paraben (methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben) and any variations of hydroxybenzoic acid, hydroxybenzoate, or ester.


You might assume you want to avoid anything containing alcohol because it can be drying, but some vitamins can be alcohols. Avoid SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol. The rest are safe.


Formaldeyhde is a dangerous chemical that is linked to skin irritation and cancers. Avoid DD hydatoin, diazolidinyl urea, methanamin, and quarterium-15, as these ingredients release formaldehyde and damage skin.


You’ll find sulfates in any products that generate a lather and instead of cleansing your skin, they can cut oil from your skin. They’re just too strong to be used in beauty products. Look for and avoid anything that ends in sulfate: ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and sodium lauryl sulfate. Most products now will say sulfate-free on the label.


Phthalates are most commonly found in lotions, hairspray and fragrances. They can be linked to cancer and fertility issues. Avoid DBP, DEHP, DMP, DEP, dibutyl/diethyl ester, and 2-benzenedicarboxylate.

Do you read the ingredient lists on your beauty products? Did you know to avoid these ingredients? Share with us your story!

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Lauren Stewart
By: Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart is a freelancer writer from Michigan. She enjoys writing about beauty, health and fitness! She is passionate about learning new ways to take control of her health and wellness and is a makeup and skincare junkie! You can contact her by emailing