Don’t Be Fooled By Cosmetic Claims

The label on a cosmetic product may reassure you that the product is natural and caring, free of harsh and unwanted ingredients, or has special or gentle properties, but the terms used can be downright misleading as they have no standard meaning. We decode some questionable claims to reveal the plain truth.

“Natural” or “Organic”

“NATURAL” can mean anything to anybody. Some manufacturers may use the term to imply that the product will not moldy, or is harmless.

The term however, is more commonly used to describe ingredients which are extracted directly from plants or animal products, as opposed to being produced synthetically.

But in what concentration the “natural” ingredient occurs- whether it’s 100%, 80% or just 50%- is anyone’s guess. As far as allergies or irritations go, “natural” is no better than synthetic.

Some natural ingredients in cosmetics can cause allergic reactions. If you have an allergy to certain plants or animals, you could have an allergic reaction to cosmetics, containing these ingredients. For instance, lanolin, extracted from sheep wool, is an ingredient in many moisturizers and is a common cause of allergies.

According to a 1996 Danish survey, 35% of “natural” cosmetics have allergenic fragrances and it is common for “natural” perfumes to have the most allergenic fragrance.

Impure and unsafe

And “natural” plant extracts does not mean pure, clean of perfect either. According to the cosmetic trade journal, Drug and Cosmetic Industry, “all plants (including those used in cosmetics) can be heavily contaminated with bacteria, and pesticides and chemical fertilizers are widely used to improve crop yields”.

Some plants can also contain toxin ingredients. For example, comfrey (an ingredient in certain herbal cosmetics) which contains substances known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids , is potentially poisonous if absorbed through cracked or broken skin.


Because natural beauty and hygiene items are becoming big business, some not-so-natural manufacturers are trying to capitalize on the market and putting the word “natural” on their product labels.

Their products may sound natural, with their jojoba oil, honey, herbs and wheatgerm oil for example, but they may also contain such unnatural ingredients as artificial colours, fragrances and preservatives.

“Natural” products which use natural preservatives, like naturally occurring Vitamins E and C, are not any safer either. According to Alexander Fischer, M.D author of Contact Dermatitis, “Topical Vitamin E is a potent sensitizer which can produce both delayed allergenic contact dermatitis and immediate allergic hives.”

Gerald McKnight, author of The Skin Game, warns that organic essences and ingredients which are being increasingly used in cosmetics today, are not only more likely to set up allergic reactions, they also tend to deteriorate more quickly.

“Cruelty free” or “Not tested on animals”

THERE are no legal definitions for these or other similar terms used on product labels. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some companies product may apply such claims solely to their finished cosmetic products. However, these companies may rely on raw material suppliers or contract laboratories to perform any animal testing necessary to substantiate product or ingredient safety.

Many raw materials used in cosmetics today were tested on animals years ago when they were first introduced. A cosmetic manufacturer might use only those raw materials and base their “crulty free” claims on the fact that the materials or products are not “currently” tested on animals.

Hence while claims that a product has not been tested on animals are basically true, the inished products- labeled or not- rarely are. According to experts, the term “cruelty free” is also used rather loosely. While for some companies it can mean that the product is not tested on animals, for others it means the product contains no animal ingredients.

For still others, it could mean that the company has declared a moratorium on animal testing, or didn’t test on that particular product, but still tests other products on animals, or at least hasn’t ruled out testing in the future.

(see also separate topics on safety of animal tests, and animal by-products in cosmetics)

“Unscented” & “Fragrance free”

THESE two terms sound alike but they are not. “Unscented” means that nothing has been added to a product to “enhance” its smell. However, something could have been added to mask another smell e.g: the fatty odor of soap, or other unpleasant odors in “unscented” antiperspirants and vaginal lubricants)

“Fragrance free” usually means that no perfumes, oils or scents have been added toa product. However, even this definition is not foolproof. A small amount could still have been added to mask unpleasant base odors or chemical smells.

According to the US FDA, the above expressions have no legal definitions and are presently used by the cosmetic industry virtually without restriction. Beware of “non-fragranced” or “without perfume” products too. These often have aromatics such as sandalwood oil and lavender essence that create a slight scent. Other similarly suspicious terms are “lightly scented” and “non-lingering” fragrance.

“Oil free”

DOES “oil free” mean that a product contains no oil? It depends on how you define oil free, and unfortunately, the cosmetics industry defines “oil” differently than a consumer might. In the cosmetics industry, an oil is defined as having a specific chemical formula. If an ingredient does not have this formula, it does not have to be called an oil, even if it behaves like an oil.

In other words, a product can obtain a substance that clogs pores (just like an oil), but if it does not have the chemical formula for oil, it is not considered an oil. Unless you have oily or acne-prone skin, there is nothing wrong with oils in cosmetics- they are fundamental ingredients that have been used for centuries to care for the skin.

Some manufacturers will state their product is “non-greasy”, although it may contain mineral oil for instance- it comes down to a subjective judgment about how you think the product feels. “Oil free” may be a desirable factor in a cleanser for instance, if you have oily skin. But don’t be misled. According to Face Facts, a 1994 book published by the Australian Consumer’s Association, the phrase has been spotted describing products such as toners which you wouldn’t expect to contain oil anyway.


“100%” of something is another popular labeling trick used to describe a cosmetic product. There is no standard use of this claim. A product may be promoted as containing “100%” aloe vera. However, this does not necessarily mean that the entire product is aloe vera.

It could mean that the amount of aloe vera used in the product is 100% (ie pure aloe vera which has not been diluted with anything). But the product itself is not wholly made up of aloe vera, and has other ingredients as well. It is also questionable whether the “100%” ingredient has been included in an amount that is sufficient to have any effect. Or is it there just to help sell the product?

“Non-comedogenic” or “Non-acnegenic”

“NON-COMEDOGENIC” is an unnecessarily big word with a simple meaning- that a product will not clog pores. A clogged pore causes comedones (white heads which may eventually become blackheads and then pimples)

This term (another variation is “non-acnegenic”) on a product means that the manufacturer has tried to eliminate the chemicals that have been known or tested in a laboratory animal to have comedones. Besides being an ethical question in itself, animals do not necessarily react as humans do- so the results may not be totally accurate.

In addition, a product could have oils in it that are comedogenic, but if the product passes certain tests, it can be labeled “non-comedogenic”.

“Alcohol free”

“ALCOHOL FREE” products are believed to be gentler on the skin or hair, and less dryng. Cosmetic products claimed to be “alcohol free” usually not contain ethyl alcohol (also known as grain alcohol) which has a drying effect.

But according to the US FDA, cosmetic products, whether labeled “alcohol free” or not, may contain other alcohols suc as cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, or lanolin- all of which are called fatty alcohols- although these have a different set of effects on the skin or body. The bottom line is “alcohol free” is also a misleading term.

‘pH balanced”

THIS is a meaningless phrase. pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity. If it’s “balanced”, balanced with what? And at what pH? “pH buffered” would at least mean more- that the product has got chemicals in it which will maintain it at the same pH. Our skin is naturally slightly acidic. Even if substances are applied to it that change its pH, this is only temporary as the skin’s secretions will soon turn it back to acidic.

Short Beauty and Makeup Tips

Charlie Chaplin said “I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born.” This quote reflects the importance of beauty and makeup and that it can change the perception of people.

There are certain things that require prior knowledge. These include: foundations, eye shadows, eye liners, concealers, lipsticks and many more. Foundations are flesh-toned cosmetics applied to facial skin for creating an even and uniform complexion. Concealers are used to hide pimples and blemishes. Eye shadows and eyeliners are used to darken the eyelids to make them prominent. And lipsticks are used to make the lips prominent and reflect the beauty of the lips.

There are hundreds of beauty and makeup tips. Some of the more prominent and widely used beauty tips include the proper application of foundation on face, the use of eye shadows and eye liners, the proper use of lipsticks and how to conceal blemishes and pimples. Using foundation is important as it helps in unifying and smoothen the color of the facial skin. Use a foundation-powder of a renowned company which has been tested for any side effects. This will help in preventing allergies.

Apply the foundation-powder on your arm to get a match for your skin. Sometimes the foundation-powder seems to have the same color while there is a difference. Apply the foundation smoothly and gently on your facial skin. As the facial skin is very sensitive, a hard rub can cause skin damage. Don’t keep on applying the foundation-powder again and again to match the skin color instead use another one which is a closer for your skin color. Using too much foundation powder can cause skin damage because foundation is a cosmetic made of different elements. Gentle rub and less quantity of foundation-powder is the best way.

In order to portray a darker look of the eyebrows, the eyeliners are used. Be sure to use eyeliner that is well-known and is tested for side effects. Eye is the most delicate and sensitive part of the body, the eyeliner should be appropriately used. Use a sponge applicator for eye lining. Tilt your head and keep your eyes half open so that you can see yourself in the mirror while applying the eyeliner. Using a pencil eyeliner is much easier then the liquid eyeliner although the liquid eyeliner provides a brighter and bolder look to the eye.

One main part of a simple makeup includes the use of lipstick. Choose the lipstick that best matches your skin tone and the color of the cloths you are wearing. Matching a lipstick can be a little hectic. Clean your lips with a tissue paper before applying the lipstick. Apply the lipstick to the lower lip first and then press the lips together to transfer some part of the lipstick to the upper lip. This will help in smoothing the surface of the lip. Now cover the remaining part of the lips and then place a tissue paper in between the lips and press them together. This will help in creating a uniform layer of lipstick. All these tips are for a basic and simple makeup and are very effective.