[beyond skin deep] what the heck does this label even mean? (part 2)

If many beauty product labels have you scratching your head, don’t fret! Here are some definitions to help you understand them a little better.


In part 1 of “what the heck does this label even mean”, we explored what it means for a product to be parabens-, sulphates- and silicone-free. That’s not the end; there are many more labels on products that are often confusing. Now, you didn’t hear it from me, but before you take advantage of the ongoing Sephora sale till 4 April and start adding that eyeshadow palette to your cart, read on to find out more about these beauty product labels you might come across!

‘hypoallergenic’ doesn’t mean allergy-proof.

Hypoallergenic labels are typically concerned with ingredients that might cause allergic reactions. However, low in allergens ≠ zero allergic reactions! All that means is, there are fewer chemicals likely to cause a reaction. A hypoallergenic product might not be all that it claims to be, either. Use of the label isn’t regulated, and there aren’t any fixed standards to qualify products as hypoallergenic.

Before you use any new product, test it by applying a small dollop on the inside of your forearm. Monitor the area for any reaction for the next 24 to 48 hours.

how is it ‘vegan’ if it’s not edible in the first place?

Veganism is not only associated with diets, but also applies to abstaining from the use of animal-derived substances. Vegan skincare and makeup products signal that ingredients typically procured from animals have been alternatively sourced. Examples of animal-derived ingredients include beeswax, squalene, and biotin.

are ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ not the same thing?

Products may sometimes contain the vegan or cruelty-free label, or both. While the outcomes may seem similar, the underlying principles between veganism and cruelty-free advocacy are quite different. While complete abstinence from animal-derived substances is at the forefront of veganism, cruelty-free advocacy instead opposes the use of animals as test subjects in the formulation of the product. Ethically sourced, animal-derived ingredients can still be found in cruelty-free products.

Learn more about cruelty-free beauty here.

organic, clean, and natural. same difference, right?

Unfortunately (or not), these three words have very different connotations in context of beauty products. The use of such labels also are not strictly regulated either, and should be taken with a pinch of salt while you research individual brands that proclaim such.

In a nutshell, anything that can be found in nature is considered “natural”, such as essential oils derived from plants and fruits. However, just because it’s something found in nature doesn’t mean it’s absolutely safe to use! For instance, you certainly don’t want to be exfoliating your face with a mix of lemon juice, sugar and olive oil no matter how naturally derived these items are.

Of the three, ‘organic’ is the only term that comes with a USDA certification, which it broadly defines as products produced by “[integrating] cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used”. But here’s a caveat: just like natural products, the source of an ingredient in no way reflects its safety levels.

Of the three, ‘clean’ beauty is the only term concerned with the use of suspected toxic ingredients and unnecessary synthetic chemicals. In the case of some brands, ‘clean’ products can still contain synthetic ingredients. But, once again, there is little regulation surround this label, and definitions remain unclear and subjective.

what now? it seems like I cannot trust these labels at all.

The extent of the beauty industry coupled with the lack of regulation in several areas means that yes, it’s difficult to take many of these values at face value. Our advice? Beauty product labels may not be what they seem, so thoroughly research a brand or product before you commit to the purchase. More often than not, brands that are true advocates of the labels will be transparent with their practices. They also frequently support similar causes, and often come with a customer service team more than happy to abate your concerns. After all, just like other aspects of sustainable living, the journey to transitioning to environmentally sustainability is a personal one! 


Did you know that you can buy environmentally sustainable tech too? Read more about Lenovo’s efforts to offset carbon emissions here.

samantha phua

When she's not busy being the editor of autoapp.sg, Sam has a myriad of unique hobbies to keep life interesting. She also loves cats, bad puns and a good cocktail.

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