The ultimate guide to reading product labels

Have you ever bought a product just because the packaging looked so pretty? I know I have! I’ll even admit that, sometimes, I choose one brand over the other just because it looks cuter or more luxurious. Our eyes are naturally drawn to things that look good, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that packaging often plays a factor in our beauty buying decisions. However, there is another and more important reason we should be paying attention to product packaging.

Aside from checking for ingredients that you’re allergic to or would rather avoid, reading the fine print on product labels can tell you a lot about the product and what to expect from using it. They may look like hieroglyphics, but they help ensure that you can safely enjoy the product. Check out some of the most commonly used cosmetic packaging symbols listed below!

Period After Opening (PAO). Just because a product has a shelf life of 30 months or more, that doesn't mean that it will continue to keep indefinitely. The open jar illustration features a number that indicates how many months you can safely use the product after it’s been opened. This will help you avoid getting irritations (or worse) from using an expired product, so make sure to take note of the date! If you get a product without this symbol, check out this guide to know when it’s time to toss it out.

Estimated Sign. Contrary to expectations, the lower case “e” isn’t there to indicate that the product was made in Europe, even though it really was produced there. This symbol guarantees that the amount of product listed in the packaging is correct, so you definitely get every bit of what you paid for.

Bunnies. Animal lovers should look out for this cute icon! The Leaping Bunny can only be used on products that have been certified cruelty-free in every stage of production. An international body vets all products that apply to have this logo on their packaging, so you can be sure the lipstick or shampoo you want to buy wasn’t tested on any furry friends.

Refer To Insert. While it looks like an instruction to look something up on the dictionary, the Refer To Insert or Further Information symbol simply means that more product information is available in a provided leaflet. You can usually find this on products with medical-grade ingredients or precise usage instructions. Like any product manual, it pays to read the fine print! There's often a lot of information inside a beauty leaflet that you won't find in the actual packaging.

Recyclable. Cosmetics use up a lot of plastic containers, so it’s always a good thing when your product packaging is identified as recyclable! Sometimes the Mobius loop icon is followed by a percentage number, which means that the packaging was partly developed from recycled waste.

Green Dot. It doesn’t look anything like its name, but more like yin and yang arrows. The Green Dot means that the product manufacturer supports the recovery and recycling of the product,

Flammable. This is pretty self-explanatory. Keep the product away from open flame and high heat!

Resin Identification. For products that come with recyclable plastic packaging, a mini Mobius loop or triangle with a number inside identifies the type of plastic it was made from. Not particularly important to us consumers, unless you process your own recycling and have to sort different types of plastics.

Do you read product labels before making your purchase? What do you usually look for?