How to decode your beauty products

We’ve all seen those symbols on the backs our beauty products, but how much attention do we actually pay them and do we even know what they mean?

This is something I got thinking about a couple of weeks ago when I learned that what I’d been assuming what was a symbol informing me the bottle could be recycled was actually not at all and meant something completely different, so I put this to a poll on my Instagram stories and found it that I wasn’t alone with most people also assuming incorrectly and the rest not having a clue!

In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder what other symbols do we not understand? So, I’ve decided to pop together an easy to understand “Dummies guide” to understanding what all those pesky confusing bottles are actually telling us!

In addition I’ve noticed while researching this post that a lot of brands will put this vital information on the outer box of a product and not on the actual product itself, which is a pain as the first thing you do is throw the box away so make sure to check before you do! Here’s what to look out for:

Green dot:

Commonly mistaken to mean the packaging can be recycled, this is not in actual fact the case, but instead means that the brand have paid into a Government run scheme towards recycling costs, it bears absolutely no relevance to whether the packaging can be recycled or not! As such, people are filling their recycling bins with empty products that can not be recycled which causes problems later down the line.


This DOES mean that it can be recycled, but again it depends on your local council. Some brands go as far to include a number inbetween the triangle which you can then check online as to if it’s suitable for your own recycling bin or not.

Use By Open Pot symbol:

Think of this as a “use by” for your beauty product. This one surprises a lot of people as we simply don’t think of our beauty products as having a “shelf life” but just like food products they also do. That’s because many beauty products contain ingredients that once exposed to oxygen start to lose their potency. In addition, if used too far after their shelf life they can instead start to irate skin, so that expensive face cream that used to make your look a million dollars might now be actually causing irration!

A simple trick is to use a sharpie and mark the month/year underneath the bottle that you opened it, that way you’ll remember. Or else, start to cut back on how many products you buy so that you don’t have say, 10 serums on the go at once. If I’m nearing a use by with mine I tend to pass over to friends/family to try so as not to waste them. No one ever leaves my house empty handed which makes them and me very happy!

It’s worth noting some products (mostly make up) don’t have use by symbols, however, these also require regular changing such as lipsticks. Below you can find a guideline as to how often you should be using these up.

Foundations: 6-12 months liquid, 18 months powder

Concealers: 1 year for liquid, 2 years stick or powder

Blusher: 2 years powder, 18 months liquid

Mascara: 2-3 months

Lipsticks: 1 year

Eyeshadows: 2 years powder, 18 months liquid

A good rule of thumb is to remember that powders last longer then liquids so consider this when buying and look for smaller sized products for those used less often.

PETA Beauty without bunnies:

Another common mistake is to assume that Products that don’t have this are not cruelty free. Again, it’s not accurate. The beauty without bunnies symbol means that the product has been authenticated by PETA as cruelty free, a service which brands pay for. Some brands such as Elemis choose not to do so as it’s quite costly despite the fact that their entire range is cruelty free, and nearly all the range also began friendly.

The PETA symbol also does not means that it’s vegan but most brands that are vegan usually are quite good at highlighting that fact.

Cruelty free:

This is a confusing one as many brands claim to be cruelty free, however they are selling in mainland China where it is the law that the brand pay to have the product tested on animals in order to sell in China. The only true way currently to ensure the product is in fact cruelty free is to look at whether they sell in China. If they do then this chain is technically false!

I hope that helps clear up some confusion, there are lots of other symbols to look out for such as Soil association, gluten free and halal as more people look at the ingredients of their products but these are usually very well signposted.

Do let me know in the comments below if you learned anything new from this post and if there are any others you think I’ve missed I’d love to know!

Natalie x

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