How to Read Labels

How to Read Labels

“Natural. Hypoallergenic. Unscented. BPA-Free. Eco-Friendly.”

We, as consumers, see these cheerful words printed on everything we buy - from food and drinks, to skin care products, even clothing. But does anyone know what they actually mean? Look no further! Here at Skinny, we’ve done our research to define them for you in our Skinny Guide of Labels. 

Natural, Organic, Eco-Friendly, Biodegradable, Hypoallergenic:

NEWS FLASH - The FDA never regulates makeup/skin care companies who use any of these words on their products. There is no “definition” that companies must adhere to when making these claims about their products. Shocking, right? Essentially, these words are used purely for marketing purposes - to catch your eye, appeal to your desire to be more earth-friendly, or to just stand apart from the other products on the shelf. 

So, now that you know which words to overlook, let’s talk about some of the legitimate terms you will see on labels, and what they mean about the product they describe.


These terms (loosely) mean that the product is made of natural, renewable raw materials, and is packaged in materials that are environmentally-friendly.


This term is used to declare that the product is free of synthetic chemicals - as far as the manufacturer knows - and is environmentally friendly in its ingredients list. A good rule of thumb is to refer to the ingredients list, and make sure you recognize and can pronounce all the ingredients.


Both of these terms have to do with the ingredients in the product. Vegetarian cosmetics contain no ingredients that were part of an animal, but they may contain ingredients that were made by an animal (honey, for instance). Vegan cosmetics do not contain any ingredients that were part of an animal or made from animals.


To be certified cruelty-free, a product should never be tested on animals in any way. However, because this term is largely unregulated, look for a specific certification, not just the brand touting this status.


Both of these words are typically used to describe oils. In coconut oil, virgin means that no chemicals are used to remove obtain the fresh coconut meat from the shell, or in the manufacturing of the oil. Raw coconut oil means that no heat is used in the process, keeping all enzymes, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and lauric acid intact. (Read more in a previous blog here.)


A product described as hypoallergenic means it is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However, use discretion and read the product labels, as this is yet another term not regulated by the FDA.

Non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism):

This label means that the product was made without ingredients that came from anything that was genetically-engineered. However, again, there is no standard for this term, so be sure to look for a third-party verification.


These labels are not interchangeable. “Unscented” products typically have chemicals added to neutralize or mask any fragrance or smell that occurs in the creation or manufacturing of a product. “Fragrance-Free” products contain no fragrances as well as no fragrance-masking chemicals. If the product displays the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Fragrance-Free Certification, you can be sure that: 1) The product meets EPA’s Safer Choice Standard, a set of strict safety criteria for both human health and the environment; and 2) The product has also been verified to be free of chemicals that impart or mask a scent. This is especially important for consumers with sensitive skin or allergies.

Clean Beauty:

This is just the tip of the iceberg in the Clean Beauty/Chemical-Free movement! To learn more, you can:

    (This is Part 1 of a three-part series about decoding labels, lists, and ingredients and understanding Clean Beauty. Read Part 2 and Part 3 for the full story.)

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