Consumer Tips Skincare

Maximize Your Routine without Maxing Out Your Budget: Learn to Read the Label

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted a photo of a new product she had sampled and wanted advice on finding a similar product (because the one she liked was pricey!) I took one look at her product and said, “Can you flip the bottle around and post a photo of the back? I need to see the ingredients.”

Surprised, my friend replied, “Well, it’s a squalane product. I’m just looking for something similar.”

I grinned (but she couldn’t see me because this exchange happened over Facebook, of course.) “It touts itself as a squalane product. Someone in marketing says it’s a squalane product. But until we check out what’s actually in it, we can’t know for sure.”

Turns out, the product in question didn’t even have squalane listed in the top 5 ingredients, which indicated that even though she liked the product, it wasn’t necessarily the squalane she liked.

Skincare products can call themselves pretty much whatever they want and neither product names, taglines, or package copy can be trusted when it comes to knowing what’s actually in your skincare. So if you want to know what you’re actually putting on your skin and where your money is really going, you have to read the label. The last thing you want to do is buy an expensive product only to find out its primary ingredients are nothing but filler.

What Do These Ingredients Even Mean?

Unless you’re using nothing but farm-fresh, hippie-approved, organic DIY potions, you’ll probably run across ingredients whose names you can’t pronounce, let alone know what they are or what they do. So how are you supposed to make informed decisions about words like Isohexadecane or Octyldodecanol and choose the right combination for your skin?

Get to Know CosDNA

My FAVORITE website for understanding and evaluating skincare ingredients is It’s essentially a database where you can search for a product by name and see a list of its ingredients as well as what those ingredients do and a rating of how irritating it is.

A screenshot of the ingredients in the Cosrx snail mucin power essence as provided by

In the above screenshot, I’ve searched for Cosrx ADVANCED SNAIL 96 MUCIN POWER ESSENCE. The first column shows the ingredient, the second shows what that ingredient’s primary function/characteristics are, and the remaining columns summarize how irritating or likely to encourage acne the ingredient is.

Additionally, you can click any of the listed ingredients for more information about it, including other products in the database that contain the ingredient:


In general, if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, you may benefit from paying special attention to the acne and irritation indicator column. But ultimately, your skin is unique, and just because a website says an ingredient may be safe or beneficial to your skin doesn’t mean it will be.

Tips for reading your labels:

  • For the most part, you want to pay attention to the top 5-10 ingredients. In the west, we require ingredients be listed by quantity, so ingredients listed near the top are the most prevalent. Ingredients toward the end of a long list probably only have trace amounts. Keep in mind, however, that Korean and Japanese products may not list their ingredients in a similar order. Buyer beware 🙂
  • If your top ingredients don’t have any of the properties you’re hoping for in your skincare, think carefully about your purchase. Keep in mind that things like solvents, preservatives, and viscosity control are necessary in most products, but you don’t want all your beneficial ingredients listed way at the bottom, either. Choose products with a good balance.

Keep a Skincare Journal

Keeping track of the ingredients your skin loves and the ingredients your skin rejects can be a big help in keeping your routine on track and your budget in tact. It’s very frustrating to spend money on a product only to have it break you out. If you know what ingredients your favorite skincare products have in common, you’re well on your way to making informed purchases in the future.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply