Decoding the Jar - Part 2

In Decoding the Jar-Part 1, we talked about some of the ingredients to look for (and look out for) in your skincare products. Today we’ll discuss the difference in ingredient grades and a few steps on how to easily understand the ingredient label to help you when selecting the right product for your skin.

Ingredient Grading: A product’s formulation could contain the same group of ingredients as a product from another line, and in very similar concentrations but deliver very different results. That has to do with grading.

There are five grades of ingredients: pharmaceutical, food, cosmetic, reagent, and technical. Cosmetic grade is the most common (no surprise) in skincare products. These are not as refined (pure) as pharmaceutical grade ingredients. The FDA approves up to 30% impurities in cosmetic-grade ingredients. This is perfectly fine as far as it goes, but if you’re looking for a higher quality product, a pharmaceutical grade is required to be 99.9% pure.

For the most part, products that use pharmaceutical-grade ingredients will say so on the ingredient list (it’s a great benefit for you and good marketing for them). If it’s not listed, you would have to check with the company’s customer service department for information on grading.

Ingredient Lists: Although there are no FDA rules regarding approval for skincare products and their ingredients, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act does give you some protection. It requires the manufacturer to follow certain guidelines on product labels, including listing product ingredients in the order of concentration. All ingredients must be listed by their INCI name (The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). This assures that product labeling is consistent across the board for everyone regardless of language differences.

Example: The ingredient coconut oil would be listed as “cocos nucifera (coconut oil)”.

The following steps are guidelines to translating any product’s ingredient list:

1. What is the first item (the base ingredient) on the list? In most cases it will be either water or aloe vera (which is a healing agent). Aloe vera is considered a higher grade.

2. What (if any) active ingredients are listed? The closer to the top of the list the ingredient is placed, the higher the concentration in the formula. A product may market that it contains hyaluronic acid, but if the actual ingredient is number 15 on the list, there isn’t a significant amount to deliver any appreciable results. Also, be aware that certain active ingredients (like retinol) may irritate in higher concentrations until the skin adapts.