“is this product okay?” : how to read ingredient labels

hey crunchies! i hope you’re doing well.

this post is going to get back to one of the main reasons i even started a green beauty blog – TO EMPOWER YOU as a consumer.

ingredient labels can be long and can contain ingredients that are completely foreign to us as consumers. hopefully this post will be a good start to your journey as a more informed consumer.


i typically like to head straight for a company’s cream products, because they involve both emulsifiers and preservatives, whereas straight hydrosols and oil blends do not. these two usually give a good indication of where a company stands on the “purity” scale and how they think through product formulation. where YOU stand on that scale is up to you.

you have to decide for yourself what is okay and what is not okay. for me personally, i lean more “purist,” which i know has been kind of dragged in the community lately. wherever you fall on the scale is fine.

a quick google on common preservatives and emulsifiers should be a good way to start learning. yes, it takes time, but the feeling of being more informed always made it worth it to me. you’ll soon find that you can quickly scan a label and identify the emulsifiers and preservatives, and be able to tell if the product is a good fit for you.

examples of common emulsifiers:

  • cetearyl alcohol
  • lecithin

examples of common stabilizers/thickeners:

  • xanthan gum
  • candellia wax

examples of common preservatives:

  • alcohol
  • sodium levulinate and sodium anisate
  • tocopherol (which should not be used alone)

another thing i look to is a rough idea of the formulation itself – aka, what are you putting your money towards? is the company listing a “key” ingredient, but it’s far down on the ingredient list? is being far down on the ingredient list really indicative of blend weight or percentage? let’s explore that.


this is a rough guide and in no way meant to be definitive or 100% accurate. there are so many factors that go into formulation of products, and they all are dependent on blend ratios and type of emulsifiers and preservatives used.

in a cream, the emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives can add up to be a total of 5% to 20% of the total product blend. see how variable it can be? even 5% is sometimes a higher concentration of active ingredients used in the blend, and that’s why i personally think it’s important to care about what a company uses. sometimes an ingredient is truly effective at a 1-3% concentration, so knowing your ingredients is important, too.

let’s check out a couple examples. i have intentionally removed brand names and product names, as this is meant to be purely educational and in NO way a review of the brands or products. don’t come for me.

example 1:

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 9.48.22 AM

here we have a cream product. you can tell that by seeing they are using both aloe juice (aqueous) and oils/butters.

their preservative is alcohol, which is an interesting choice for a cream product meant to hydrate and moisturize. when used as a preservative, you need a lot more alcohol in the blend by percentage than you would another “natural” (what does that mean?) preservative, further making it an interesting choice. in this case, we can assume the alcohol is roughly 20% of the total formulation. this means the aloe is >20% and the rest of the total ingredients are at <20% concentration.

for the overall formulation, a cream product like this is usually 50-60% water, 20-30% oil, and 20% preservative/emulsification. here you can see that everything after the alcohol will make up roughly 30% of the total formulation, descending in contributive percentages as you read further down the list.

the emulsifier they’re using is lecithin, a common natural emulsifier even used in foods, with xanthan gum as their stabilizer, a sort of helping hand to the emulsifier. xanthan gum is typically used around 1% and lecithin around 3%, so the order of these is out of the norm but clearly acceptable. for the purpose of this exploration, let’s assume everything listed after the xanthan gum is individually less than a 2% contribution to the overall formula. this means the acai fruit oil, maca root extract, and comfrey root extract, which are typically great ingredients to add, are at very small concentrations and may not yield impactful differences in skin appearance. they are also the most expensive ingredients to add in this formulation.

depending on what this product actually is, which i will not disclose, you can make your judgement on if it will be a good fit for you. it’s mostly aloe, shea butter, and cupuacu butter.

example 2:

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 10.17.42 AM

here we have another cream product, and we know that again from the mix of aloe and oils/butters.

the emulsifiers and thickeners used here are cetearyl alcohol, cetearyl glucoside, euphorbia cerifera wax, lecithin, and xanthan gum. from the varied ingredients, you can tell this company opted for a blend of emulsifiers to increase performance and skin feel. lecithin and xanthan gum are often used in food, so generally considered safe for use on skin. as for cetearyl alcohol, it is often derived from palm, so i personally do not use products with it, but it’s a personal choice.

tocopherol, sodium levulinate, and sodium anisate are used as preservatives. again, this company opted to blend multiple components to increase performance.

you can use tocopherol anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of your total formula. since it’s listed with the emulsifiers, let’s assume this is closer to the 5% range. so what does that mean? it means anything listed after tocopherol is 5% or less of a contributive percentage to the total formulation, listed in descending order.

sodium levulinate and sodium anisate are sold as a pre-blended preservation product. it’s relatively new to the market, close to it’s “natural” state, and vegan. i would use this on my skin and actually contemplated using it for my own product with Kieta Botanicals.

overall, this product is mostly aloe, rosehip oil, jojoba oil, macadamia oil, and shea butter. depending on what this product actually is, you can decide if it is suitable for you to use.


what did i miss? what questions do you have? let me know in the comments below or on instagram. you can find me at @alexraye_ae