Skin Health
Reading Cosmetics Ingredients Lists: Interview
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Tips on Reading Cosmetic Ingredients Lists

As published on Follow her on twitter at

Product Label – Deciphering the Ingredients

I’ve written in this post on how difficult it has been comparing the ingredients across products and make some sense of what they mean. For one, not all products list all their ingredients and even when they do, different companies seem to be giving the same ingredient different names (because they all sound so similar yet not identical!)

Marcie Mom: Laura, thanks again for continuing to help us understand the product label. This interview will focus on getting a broad understanding of labeling ingredients.

i. Is the ‘Ingredient’ list on product packaging Compulsory and Regulated? Does the Ingredient List cover all ingredients? Or can companies pick and choose what they like to reveal?

Laura: In many countries, yes, it is compulsory to list all ingredients, following a specified format, and using only the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names of ingredients. A few countries do not require that ingredients be listed, in full or in part, and/or do not have requirements regarding the names used or formatting.

ii. Why is there no percentage (%) beside each ingredient? That way parents can compare and choose the product with the least % of allergen. Also, I read that certain allergen will not trigger a reaction because its concentration is too low in moisturizers but I also read that some products use an exceptionally high concentration of certain irritants. How can consumer find out the concentration of allergen/irritant in a product?

Laura: This is quite a complex question…love it!

First, % are not included mostly because of proprietary concerns. A company does not want its exact formulation copied by anyone else.

Second, if a product is a DRUG (prescription or over-the-counter), it does, actually, have to disclose the % of the active ingredient.

Third, an easy way to get an idea of how much of an ingredient is in the formulation is to look at WHERE it is on the ingredients list. Most regulatory bodies require that ingredients be listed from MOST to LEAST.

Fourth: the % of an irritant or allergen is relevant mostly if someone only has irritant reactions to it. Irritant reactions do have a relationship to concentration of ingredient, frequency of exposure, time on skin, etc. For example, you could be using an allergen most of your life and not really react to it or just have mild irritant reactions like dryness. But if you are ALLERGIC to a substance or develop an allergy to it, any % of it for any amount of time on the skin will cause a reaction. Again, this is why a patch test is so important.

Marcie Mom: Thanks so much Laura for your help in helping us understand the big picture on ingredient labeling. In our next interview, we will learn in greater detail about reading ingredients on the label.

This is part of a 13-part series focused on understanding and using products for sensitive skin, an important topic given the generous amount of moisturizers that go onto the skin of a child with eczema. Marcie Mom met Laura Verallo Rowell Bertotto, the CEO of VMVGroup, on twitter and learnt that her company is the only hypoallergenic brand that validates its hypoallergenicity. VMV Hypoallergenics is founded in 1979 by a world renowned dermatologist-dermatopathologist (Laura's mother) who also created the VH-Rating System. The only validated hypoallergenic rating system in the world, the VH-Rating System is used across all the products at VMV, significantly decreasing the risk of reactions (a study published in a leading contact dermatitis journal showed less than 0.1% of reactions in 30 years). In this interview, Laura (with VMV's founding physician) answers Marcie Mom’s questions on understanding the product label.