The real truth of a product’s efficacy lies in the ingredients listing found on the back of the box or on the product itself. In Australia, we are lucky that labels are highly regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. This means ‘what you see is what you get’. Under Australian laws, any products that are sold to consumers (via stores or online) must follow these basic rules:
  • A clear ingredients listing must be displayed on the product packaging or the product itself. If it is not displayed, then a clear list must be given to the consumer (along with the product) at the point of sale. Labels have been mandatory in Australia since 1995.
  • The ingredients listing must be legible in an easy-to-read font style and size.
  • All ingredients contained must be listed, even non active ingredients such as bulking agents, fragrance or colourants.
  • The ingredients must be listed in order of concentration. The first ingredients listed contain the highest concentration and the last ingredients listed the smallest.
  • All ingredients must be listed by their official chemical or common name. The name used is determined by the TGA. Plant extracts are usually listed in their Latin name followed by their common name in brackets.
  • All ingredients must be listed in English.
  • Proprietary blends, patents, trademarks or compounds must be declared by their proper chemical name and not a trademark. The wrinkle reducing peptide Syn-ake™ for example, is listed as Dipeptide Diaminobutyroyl.
Unless you are a chemist, trying to decipher and understand an ingredients list can be quite a challenging exercise. Non active ingredients that provide a base to the product usually include water, fatty acids, thickeners and oils. These are generally the first 5 or so, on the list. Active ingredients such as AHAs, vitamins, peptides and minerals ideally should be the next round of ingredients. The further towards the end they are, the less active they will be. Results may not be as good as what they should. Preservatives, fragrance and colourants are usually at the end of any list. Whilst the idea of a preservative free, natural product may sound appealing to many, any product that contains water must have some form of preservative to prevent the proliferation of bacteria and the product going off. The role of fragrance (often listed as Parfum) is not just about creating an overall experience, their addition is often used to mask the odour of pungent ingredients such as Lactic Acid or certain botanical extracts.

Here are ten tips to get your cosmetic chemistry skills started:
  • Cetyl alcohol and Cetearyl alcohol are not the same as ethanol or SD alcohol. They are emollient agents used to moisturise the skin.
  • Vitamin C is often listed as L-Ascorbic Acid or Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate. It is a potent antioxidant that fades unwanted pigmentation.
  • A botanical extract is a diluted distillate of a plant and not the whole plant.
  • Essential oils (such as orange, lemon, rose or lavender) are often used in place of synthetic fragrance to make a product smell nice.
  • Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are all broadspectrum sunscreens.
  • FDC or DC stands for Food Dye & Colour and refers to colouring agents.
  • Hyaluronic, Lactic and Glycolic acids are naturally found in the body and are not the same harsh acids you may have seen in science class. Hyaluronic acid is a potent hydrator, whilst glycolic acid delivers gentle exfoliation.
  • Vitamin A derivatives include Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. Vitamin A is known as the anti-ageing vitamin, it corrects bad cell behaviour whilst renewing and refreshing the complexion.
  • PVP refers to a group of film forming agents that create a smooth feel.
  • Vitamin E is commonly called tocopherol. Vitamin E is a super powerful antioxidant and is also naturally produced by the skin.
By: Andrew R. Christie
Beauty & Skin Industry Specialist