It can be very confusing, with all the symbols and written claims appearing on skincare products. What do they all mean? If the statement 100% Natural appears on a product, for example, that means every ingredient in the product is 100% natural, right? Typically that is what we would believe, however, is that really what it means?

Let’s take a look at some common symbols and claims that appear on skincare products and translate them into layman's terms.





Referred to as the Mobius Loop, the triangle of arrows or “Recycling Triangle” means that the container is recyclable..




Although this symbol looks like someone trying to find a sentence in a book, it actually means “Refer to Insert,” which contains more detailed information about the product.




The open jar stands for Product After Opening (PAO), which refers to the number of months a product remains at 100% efficacy after being opened. You should always write on products the date upon which they were opened to ensure they are not forgotten in your beauty basket. Ingredients contained in products used past their PAO date will not be 100% efficacious and may have bacteria growing in them, which can cause bacterial infections, irritation, and skin rashes. SPF products used past the PAO will not provide the level of SPF indicated on the label, which increases the risk of sunburn and skin cancer.




An SPF index appearing on a product’s packaging only indicates the level of protection it offers from UVB rays, which are the rays that cause sunburn. UVA rays are the rays that increase the signs of aging, therefore, it is important to ensure your SPF product indicates on its label that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays or that it is a Broad Spectrum sunscreen.




The “cruelty-free” symbol indicates that the product and its ingredients are not tested on animals.




The maple leaf symbol indicates the product contains ingredients that have been sourced in Canada.




This confirms the product is mineral oil free.




This confirms the product does not contain parabens.




The leaf symbol indicates that the product is certified vegan, meaning that the product was not tested on animals and does not contain any ingredients or by-products obtained from animals.




“Reef-Friendly” is a relatively new symbol used on SPF products. It confirms that the UVA/UVB filters contained in a product do not destroy micro-algae responsible for the survival of the coral and they don’t prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the coral. Therefore, they do not cause coral bleaching.





Although this sounds like a must-have on the label of a product for sensitive skin, the term really has little meaning. There are no specific testing regulations or prohibited ingredients that allow products to be labelled as hypoallergenic. It simply means that the product is “less likely” to cause allergic reactions, but reactions may still occur depending on the individual's sensitivities.


Although these statements, fragrance-free and unscented, may sound like the same thing, they have very different meanings. A product on which fragrance-free is stated confirms that the product does not contain any fragrances or chemicals used to mask a fragrance. A product labelled unscented may still contain fragrance, but a chemical may have been added to mask the scent. An unscented product is good for individuals that prefer a product with no scent. However, for people who have allergies to fragrances, it is best to choose products labelled fragrance free.


These are very trending terms and, quite frankly, they sound very similar, but are they? There are no actual government regulations in place allowing a product to state on its label that it is “clean.” However, a clean product means it was not tested on animals and the ingredients contained in the product are “potentially” not irritating or harmful. The key word here is “potentially.” If we think realistically, would any reputable skincare manufacturer use ingredients that could irritate or harm their consumers’ skin? In reality, the term “clean” could, most probably, be used by any reputable skincare brand. This does not guard against allergic reactions, as anyone could be allergic to anything. So, for anyone with allergies, they must still take responsibility, get tested, and keep their list of allergens with them to always compare it against product labelling.


Did you know that a product labelled as natural can contain many synthetic ingredients and only a few actual natural ones? If you are looking for a product that is 100% natural, it must state on the label 100% natural ingredients. Now, although some believe natural is better, let’s remember there are a lot of harmful natural substances. The information below is taken directly from the Government of Canada’s website, under the section titled Cosmetic advertising, labelling, and ingredients. It states the following:

There is a general assumption among consumers that "natural" products are better or healthier than similar ones using synthetic ingredients. Often, however, these "natural" ingredients are no different in chemical composition than their synthetic counterparts. In fact, a synthetic substance that mimics a natural one can sometimes provide a purer, more stable ingredient that gives the product a longer usable life.

Health Canada considers both natural and synthetic ingredients to be equally suitable for use in cosmetics.

Perhaps this is something to consider when searching for your next skincare product.


The FDA does not require skincare companies to list perfumes or fragrances contained in a product. Any perfume (parfum) or fragrance listed on a product label indicates that this product contains fragrance, originating from either a natural or synthetic source. Products may state they contain natural fragrances, but it is not mandatory. Synthetic fragrances tend to last longer than natural ones and, often, a combination of both is used.


Non-comedogenic products are a go-to for anyone with oily or combination skin. Many ingredients can clog pores and result in comedones; some say there are up to 120 of them. You can imagine how exhaustive it would be to have to read every ingredient label to ensure products don’t contain any of these ingredients. This is why skincare manufacturers indicate non-comedogenic on the packaging. Non-comedogenic is a term used to indicate that a product is formulated so that it does not cause clogged pores (comedones) and skin breakouts.

  • INCI

When you look at the ingredients list on skincare product packaging, it can look like another language. Well, in fact, it is. The ingredients list, or INCI, stands for “International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients,” as established by the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), which is actually a combination of scientific, Latin, and English terms.