Close this search box.


How to read a beauty product label

Shopping for any beauty products n Australia can be a luxury and a lot of fun. It’s your way of practicing self-care, and finding ways to pamper and nurture your skin.

As you browse the shelves physically or virtually, you notice there’s a tonne of information on a beauty product label. You ponder to yourself, “Am I really expected to read and understand it all?

Here are the 5 most important pieces of information to locate on a beauty product sold in Australia. They relate to the beauty product’s safety and could help you to minimise the likelihood of developing a full-blown skin allergy or irritation.


Look for a description on your beauty product label which addresses what the product is and who is best suited to using it.

For example, “This creamy cleanser is gentle and effective at removing makeup, dirt and debris. Suitable for dry, mature and sensitive skin, and leaves skin feeling soft.


In Australia, it is mandatory for your beauty products to have the full set of ingredients listed on the label, unless they’re free samples or testers.

Ingredients can be listed by either their English or International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) name.

They appear on your beauty product label in one of the following sequences:

Option 1:
ALL ingredients are listed in descending order by volume or mass.

Option 2:
Ingredients (except colour additives) with a concentration of 1% or more are listed in descending order by volume or mass. This is followed by ingredients (except colour additives) with a concentration below 1% which can be listed in any order. Colour additives can be listed in any order, regardless of their concentration.

If you divide the full ingredients listing into thirds, the top third generally accounts for 80% of the contents of the beauty product.

Common ingredients that may be irritating are fragrances (including essential oils) alcohols, preservatives, actives, soaps, dyes and even good old Vitamins A and C.


Look for directions and warnings on your beauty product label.

For example, “Dispense a pea-sized amount and gently massage onto clean skin twice a day. Do not use on broken skin. Avoid contact with eyes. Do not ingest.

The directions for use are usually derived from the beauty product manufacturer’s performance and efficacy test results. They specify the maximum, and not the minimum amount you can use. This is particularly important if your beauty product is highly concentrated or contains powerful actives.

The warnings could also be derived from the performance and efficacy test results. If the ingredients in the beauty product meet specific criteria, the beauty product label must also include a warning phrase, safety direction and/or a first aid instruction as required by law under the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP).

Listen to your body. Yes, the beauty product may smell divine, have a velvety, smooth texture and come in gorgeous packaging. But stop using it immediately if you experience anything that makes your skin burn, sting, tingle or itch, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Similarly, avoid anything that makes your skin feel tight, uncomfortable or abraded. Skin sensitivities and reactions can build up over time. If you are regularly subjecting your skin to these minor pains, it can result in chronic damage.

La Prairie Cellular Night Repair Cream $270
La Prairie Cellular Night Repair Cream $270

Always seek the advice of a medical practitioner if you experience a negative reaction to a beauty product.


Look for storage instructions on your beauty product label.

For example, “Store in a dry place away from direct sunlight, below 30°C and upright with the lid firmly in place.

Beauty product manufacturers determine the appropriate storage instructions by reviewing the results of their safety and stability testing performed in the beauty product’s final packaging. Prior to being made available for sale, beauty products must pass these tests, as defined by its release specifications.

Dr Lewinn's Eternal Youth Day & Night Cream  $69.95
Dr Lewinn’s Eternal Youth Day & Night Cream $69.95

Whilst your beauty product should be able to withstand temporary deviations from the prescribed storage instructions, prolonged exposure to light, heat and air can cause active ingredients to degrade and the pH to change, both of which could render the beauty product dangerous to use. These changes can occur months before you notice any adverse changes to the appearance, aroma, texture or viscosity.


The Australian Cosmetics Standard states an expiry date is required on a beauty product label when manufacturers make: (1) a moisturising product with sunscreen OR a sunbathing product with a SPF between 4 and 15, AND (2) the product is not stable for at least 36 months.

Expiry dates may also be listed in other circumstances to comply with international cosmetic regulations.

An expiry date is usually represented as: EXP MM/YY. For example, EXP 03/18 means this product expires on 31 March 2018.

If your beauty product is also sold in the EU and the product is stable for more than 30 months, you’ll also see a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol represented by a container with an open lid and a number followed by the letter M. For example, 6M means the product is suitable to use for up to 6M from when you first opened (not purchased) the beauty product.

The expiry date and PAO symbol are required by different cosmetic regulations around the world, so it’s possible to see both or neither of these attributes on the label.

If you see both an expiry date and PAO container on your label, go with the earliest date.

For example, you open a beauty product on 1 November 2017, its PAO is 6M and EXP is 03/18. Because the expiry date of 31 March 2018 is earlier than its PAO (6 months from 1 November 2017 is 1 May 2018) you would stop using the product on 31 March 2018.

Of course, if you notice the ingredients separating, the product seeming to be “off” or the aroma, texture or colour changing before 31 March 2018, stop using it immediately and refer to the beauty product manufacturer or retailer to address.

Hopefully, these tips help you to understand the safety information on a beauty product label and how to get the most out of the product. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to comment below.


Geraldine Phua is the founder of Geraldine Pierre Skin Care and offers cosmetic regulatory services to beauty artisans who create natural products. She relieves time-poor artisans of the burden of trying to find and interpret the Australian cosmetic regulations on their own, and empowers them with the regulatory knowledge to create a solid and compliant foundation for their business.

Geraldine is an advocate for defining beauty on your own terms. Inspired by her own 17-year pursuit of healthy skin and her companion Pierre, a stray Poodle adopted from a local animal shelter, Geraldine encourages you to embrace life the way Pierre does: by living in the present, loving without judgement and exuding wholehearted curiosity and enthusiasm in every activity you undertake.



Share This

Most Read Stories

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, just updates on new articles and reviews.


Related Posts