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Understanding the Label

Cosmetic products must include information that explains what they are for, how to use them safely, and how to obtain the best result. Specifically, the EU Cosmetics Regulation requires cosmetic products to provide the following information on the label or on the packaging:

  • The name and the address of the company (Responsible Person).
  • An ingredients list, in decreasing order of weight of the ingredients. This is mainly intended for people who have been diagnosed with an allergy so that they may avoid ingredients to which they are allergic. The same ingredient names are used across the European Union and most countries worldwide so people are easily able to identify them.
  • The nominal net.
  • Any warnings that might be necessary on how to use the product safely.
  • A “date of minimum durability” ("best used before the end of") or a “period after opening” to show for how long the product may be kept or used.
  • What the product is (if not obvious from its appearance).
  • A reference (batch number) for product identification.
  • Country of origin (for products imported into the EU).
What appears on the label?

To help you identify how to find this information we have created a visual of a typical cosmetic product label:

Some of the information will be shown by use of a symbol. Most symbols that are used on cosmetics and personal care labelling are the same across the EU so that they are easy to understand and with the added advantage that they do not require translation for every market.

Name and address of the manufacturer or distributor in the EU (Responsible Person) – if you have a question or a problem with a product you should contact the Responsible Person named on the product.

All ingredients used in a cosmetic, toiletry and perfumery product must be listed on the ingredients list. This list is mainly there for people who have been professionally diagnosed with an allergy, so that they can avoid the ingredients to which they are allergic. To avoid these people having to know ingredient names in many different languages, many years ago the industry agreed on a common naming system called the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI. The same ingredient names are used in every European country and most countries worldwide. Although the names sometimes appear complicated, this is necessary to precisely identify each ingredient and the name is usually simpler than the chemical or botanical name.

An ingredients list should always appear in the same format and use the same conventions:

  • It should be headed by the word INGREDIENTS.
  • Ingredients should be listed in order of weight in the product
  • Ingredient names are from the INCI naming system
  • Perfume mixtures are labelled as "parfum" except for certain specific perfume ingredients which are listed by INCI name
  • Flavours, such as in toothpaste, may be listed as "Aroma"
  • Colours use the Colour Index Number, or CI Number, an international naming system, for example "CI 15580"

For colour cosmetics, such as make-up and lipstick, which come in a range of shades, all of the colours used in the product range are listed together at the end of the list preceded by the "may contain" symbol which is a simple "+/-". Each particular shaded product will use a selection of the colours listed.

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Once opened, use within/best before

Any cosmetic product that has a lifespan of less than 30 months must show a "Best before the end of" date. This can be shown using the "egg timer" symbol followed by the date.

For products with a lifespan longer than 30 months, cosmetic products must show a "period after opening" time. That is, the time in months when the product will remain in good condition after the consumer has used the product for the first time. A symbol of an open cream jar is usually used instead of words and the time in months can be inside the symbol or alongside it.

Some products do not require any of these times to be shown because the product will not deteriorate in normal use. Examples are aerosols, which are effectively sealed, perfumes, which have a high alochol content, or single use packs.

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Reference to enclosed or attached information (symbol from the Cosmetics Regulation)

This symbol denotes that additional important information is available with the product. It is most often used when there is not enough space on the packaging to show all required information. The symbol is mandatory if the supplied leaflet/label/tape/tag/card contains compulsory information that does not fit on the package.

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Nominal net content

It is a legal requirement to state the net contents of a product on the pack; that is, the quantity of product at the time it is filled into the packaging. For cosmetics, it is shown in grams (g) or millilitres (ml) for solids or liquids respectively. A contents declaration is not required for products whose contents are below 5 g or 5 ml, for single use packs such as sachets or capsules, or for free samples. If products are sold as a collection of items, this should be stated; for example, 10 sachets.

The "e" mark must be shown if the product is filled according to the "average fill system" which is defined in weights & measures legislation. So, a typical contents marking for a shampoo would be "200ml e"

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The most common symbol seen to reference recycling is the "Green Dot". This is a trademark that shows membership of a specific recycling and recovery scheme to deal with the packaging waste of a company's products. All companies in Europe have a legal obligation to recycle and recover packaging waste, usually via a specialist company.

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Different product types

Sunscreen labelling
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is an indication of the amount of protection a product provides against UVB light. SPF is an industry initiative that has standardised the way a product’s UVB protection is indicated throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world. An SPF indicates the ability of a sun protection product to filter out UVB rays. An SPF of 15 will filter out approximately 93% of UVB rays and an SPF of 30 will filter out around 96%. An SPF of 15 is seen as the recommended minimum by most health experts.

Also alongside the SPF number there will also be an indication of the type of protection that products give you – i.e. low, medium, high or very high.

The SPF numbers you are most likely to see now are shown in the table below.

We should always choose a sunscreen that provides both UVA and UVB protection.
The way that UVA protection is indicated to the consumer has been harmonised. This appears as the letters “UVA” in a circle. This logo will be used throughout Europe, and consumers will know that their product contains at least the recommended minimum level of UVA protection for a sunscreen.

Hair dye: allergy testing
Some people are allergic to hair dye. Warnings and safety instructions must be provided on the outer pack and on instruction leaflets contained inside hair colourants. The instructions must state that an Allergy Alert Test should be carried out by all users of a product, even if they have previously used hair colour. The instructions must further lay out how to carry out the test, although these instructions may vary between manufacturers.

To find out more about allergy:

Facts about Allergy from the UK Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA)

Colour Well, Colour Wise - industry’s information website for consumers and professionals

Children and toothpaste: fluoride-based toothpastes

Children’s toothpaste is labelled with a recommended quantity and instructions for use. Swallowing a small amount of toothpaste when brushing is safe.

Fluoride in toothpaste drastically improves dental health, and is safe for use by children. EU Regulation stipulates maximum levels of fluoride that may be used. For children, Member States have issued guidelines for recommended fluoride levels in toothpastes.

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