Decoding the labels of skincare products



Founder of Beauty Brand Biologi decodes skincare labels and what they really mean.

When it comes to skincare turning back the clock is the ultimate goal for most beauty consumers, so it’s no surprise many brands have become experts at selling ever-elusive hope in most of their products.

With many brands in the beauty industry selling bottles of miracle cures for wrinkles, as well as anti-ageing and skincare products promising to make us all look ten years younger, in under a week.

Of course, many of us are pretty clued up about these claims. Although we trust some products to help fight the signs of ageing by keeping skin well-hydrated, plump and moisturised, the idea of looking younger in a week is a far stretch from reality. It may take a minim of a month to see any real noticeable differences.

When repairing any long-term damage to the skin caused from wearing no sunscreen, or using soap to clean the skin, instead of a hydrating cleanser it can take even longer.

To add further to the confusion, here has also been a rise in many brands marketing their products as being dermatology tested, fragrance free, natural or organic. Yet many consumers are left pondering what these really mean.

To de-code the common skincare labels seen in your bathroom cabinet, we spoke to Biologi Founder Ross Macdougald. 


“Sounds good right? Well, it’s definitely on the right track. However, the word natural is often misused, and in some cases can mean only a small percentage of a product is natural or contains natural ingredients which have been put through a chemical process.

Before making a purchase on a product just because it is natural, do some more research into the brand and the product first. Find out how much of the product is actually natural and if you see any scary looking scientific words, ask someone what they mean. Or look them up online first to be sure of what you’re actually placing on your skin.”


“This is another term used a lot in the beauty industry and it sounds completely positive. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

The term naturally derived was created by some clever marketing folk who understand the power of clean and green beauty. In a basic sense naturally derived usually refers to ingredients which have been sourced from nature but have gone through a process which means they can no longer claim to be natural. The ingredients have usually gone through a chemically enhanced process to deliver an unnatural form of the natural ingredient.”


“This term is widely used in the industry and makes for a great claim. However, unfortunately it typically means a dermatologist has been commissioned (paid) to approve a product and nothing more than that.

It does not mean standardised testing has gone into the product to make the claim, nor does it mean that the product does what it claims. Dermatologist tested is another term used to confuse consumers. In a basic sense it means the product was evaluated by a Dermatologist, but that doesn’t mean any testing went into it.”


“Fragrance or parfum labelling on a bottle is basically code word for chemicals. Brands do not need to disclose the ingredients used to make a fragrance, therefore, unless stated otherwise, it’s usually a mixture of chemical components in order to create the parfum of the fragrance.

Unless you are purchasing perfume, best to steer clear from any products containing scents and go with Fragrance Free instead to be safe.”


“If you’re a fan of a drink or two the word ‘alcohol’ isn’t likely to scare you. However, different types of alcohol used on the outside of your body can affect your skin differently.

Typically, alcohol is associated with drying the skin out which you should avoid, such as denatured alcohol or ethanol. However, there are some alcohols which are beneficial to the skin, such as Vitamin A and Vitamin E which not only help to dry out any infections on the skin, they also nourish, protect and hydrate the skin also.”


“There has been a surge of brands producing paraben free products, and rightly so. These are synthetic preservatives which can have harmful outcomes, especially since they have been connected to things like cancer and hormone disruption, DNA damage and increased skin ageing.

To confuse things even further, you’ll want to avoid any ingredients ending with the word paraben, such as methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and isobutylparaben. Where some claim these are not harmful, long-term use of products containing these ingredients are incredibly harmful and may cause problems in the future.”


“This label often refers to a product which will likely cause fewer allergies to the skin, compared with other products. However, it only implies it will not cause irritation and is not considered a legally binding term. Meaning, there are no guarantees whatsoever there will be no irritation caused from using the product.

If your skin is particularly sensitive, see a dermatologist who can properly test your skin and determine what might be causing any allergies before using anything labelled with Hypoallergenic.”


“This is another one of those beauty phrases which pops up often, and unless you’re a dermatologist or in the skincare industry, it’s likely you won’t understand exactly what it means for a product.

A variety of products can be deemed non-comedogenic and it basically refers to not containing ingredients which are known to clog pores. Hence, reducing the likeliness of getting acne. If you are prone to acne, non-comedogenic can provide a good option for preventing break outs.”


“This is a great tactic employed by marketers to shift the focus from what’s actually in the product.

We’ve seen many labels stating free from parabens, sulphates and a variety of other ingredients, however, what they don’t state is what is actually in the products. And more often than not, many Free From products still contain many harmful ingredients, such as synthetic emulsifiers or preservatives. 

Whilst there are mandatory standards in Australia for ingredient labelling, some ingredients can be called something else, or under a banner term, as mentioned earlier when talking about fragrances.”


“In addition to important words and phrases used on product labels, you may also want to consider why you are buying the product. Just because it’s a ‘cult product’, has the cool factor or comes with pseudoscientific claims, doesn’t mean it will be right for your skin. Don’t get caught up in the allure of marketing claims and if a product sounds too good to be true, there’s a strong chance it is.”

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Rebecca Wilkinson


Say hello to Bondi Beauty's Beauty Columnist. Rebecca is a pescatarian, who may yet become vegan. She loves all things beauty, health & travel with a weakness for coffee. If she's not answering her mobile - it's probably because she's trying out the latest beauty craze like ice baths or rubbing smashed avo on her face. We know, what a waste of smashed avo. Reach out to her with your beauty questions.

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