History of Cosmetics

Women and men wearing cosmetics date back to Egyptian times where they were used for spiritual reasons, to ward off evil spirits along with making them more attractive to each other and their gods. Using a combination of copper, lead ore and malachite would give them beautiful range of colours and defined their eyes.

The Greeks and Romans a few centuries later were not as romantic with their needs for cosmetics but adapted the Egyptian ways while adding their own ingredients and processes. The Romans particularly were more concerned with vanity and aphrodisiacs than spiritual needs.

From the Egyptian days up until 1920s, pale faces were always considered to be a sign of status. People labouring out in the fields would always have darker rougher skin, while the leisurely elite remained indoors. Trying to look the part, white lead and arsenic were powdered over many women and men’s faces causing headaches, vomiting, paralysis and many deaths. Fortunately in the 19th century zinc oxide was found to be a much safer alternative and is still used today.

Surprisingly the pale face trend ended with Coco Chanel accidently getting to much sun on a vacation. Her suntan was inadvertently interpreted as a fashion statement by many and has continued on today irrelevant of the known dangers of skin cancer.

It’s no wonder regulations were introduced

With many people dying to be beautiful it’s no wonder regulations are now in place.  Each country has regulations to abide by prior to putting your product on their shelf.  Every product imported into the country needs to go through a process ensuring all ingredients are safe and that they are used at safe levels before allowing to be sold.  Restricted ingredients vary from country to country so it is up to the manufacturer to be aware of these rules but also to be responsible that the final product will not cause harm to the consumer’s skin or health.

Packaging standards also need to be followed. Again these can vary per country and can include such things as product claims, font sizes, company information and most importantly the ingredient list.

How to Read Ingredients

Having worked in this industry for quite some time I always took it for granted people knew how to read an ingredient label but have found this is not necessarily the case.

There are a few things to look out for:

Ingredients should be listed in INCI format. INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) is an international system for cosmetic labelling. This system ensures consistency across all cosmetic type products by using a combination of scientific, Latin and English words.

E.g.: Lavender Oil would read as Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil

The order of ingredients is always from highest to lowest. Anything under 1% can be printed in any order followed by colours. By law the company does not need to declare the percentages of each ingredient and so it will be unlikely you will know where the ingredients at 1% starts.

(As a side note, keep in mind there are similar regulations in food, so if sugar is one of the first ingredients you have a fair idea of what you will be eating, no matter how fat free they claim to be) .

A TGA (Therapeutics Goods Administration) product has gone through a rigid testing process. Once approved the product is allocated an Australian License No which must be displayed on the front of the packaging. The only ingredients that need to be displayed are the active ingredients and the %; all other ingredients do not need to be displayed.

When looking at certified organic products always check for the regulator’s stamp on the packaging but also know your regulators. If you find a very cheap certified organic product you may want to read the packaging a bit closer to find out why.

Many manufacturers avoid certification by saying contains certified organic ingredients and if water is the first ingredient it is more than likely they will not meet the 70%+ certified organic ingredient requirement, although they may highlight the certified organic ingredient with an * or similar.

Buyer Beware

Marketers’ true aim is to inform the consumer with the aim that the consumer will buy their product over another. It is up to the consumer to do the research as you would when buying any item be it an electrical compliance or a cosmetic item. Understandably there is a plethora of information out there making it difficult to make a decision even after all the research is done.

False claims will be met by the law and although there is consumer protection from any company making unsubstantiated claims, the consumer also needs to be careful of items particularly if placed on the skin. No manufacturer can be aware of everyone’s’ allergy or intolerance so testing a product prior to full application is always a way of protecting your skin from any adverse reaction.