How Ingredient Labels Can Fool Shoppers Into Buying Their Products

woman checking ingredient labels

I get it, buying cosmetics can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know what to trust, and we end up focusing on a few ingredients so much so, that we may forget to check for other chemicals in the product that can also be harmful to our bodies and our environment. That’s what many marketing brands want. They want us to focus on what isn’t there, so they can essentially “hide” what is there.

According to CEB’s 2015 Values & Lifestyles Survey, almost 50 percent of shoppers barely look at the ingredients on labels. People between the ages of 31 to 51 are the ones most likely to read the labels, says CEB.

And relying on labels that flaunt “all natural” or “organic” can be risky as well. Recently, there were a handful of companies that falsely promote products with synthetic ingredients, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Many chemicals—such as parabens, sulfates, and phthalates—are in products because they’re cheap and improve your experience. For instance, phthalates help nail polish last longer, and parabens prolong the shelf life of a night cream. Studies show how some chemicals are toxic to our organs, cause allergies or even cancer, however, the exact ingredients that we should avoid are always part of an ongoing debate.

Dr. Anne Chapas, a dermatologist and founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology says that “We don’t know how certain ingredients are absorbed over a lifetime. A small amount in many, many products—how does that add up in your body?” Chapas tells her patients to use products that are as natural and organic as a product can be.

There are organizations such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG), that developed a Skin Deep database, which rates about 60,000 products on a scale of 1 (good) to 10 (bad). They have assigned products a “verification seal” based on the safety of the ingredient. Now, about 225 products from 20 brands have that seal of approval.

Nonetheless, some people still don’t trust the “natural” or “organic” claims. Mintel, a market-research firm, conducted a study last year and saw that 77 percent of product users said it is “hard to tell” which products “were actually natural and/or organic.”

There are many companies out there that pledge to never use ingredients that are harmful to humans and the environment. Beautycounter is one of them. They have a “Never List” of 1,500 banned ingredients that the company tries its hardest to never use in any of the products. Although all of their “ingredients are sourced with a higher standard of safety and quality in mind, it is well recognized—and accepted by regulatory authorities around the world—that incidental, trace levels of a chemical may inadvertently be introduced in a cosmetic product due to the complexities of the supply chain and manufacturing process.” At Beautycounter, they work very hard “to minimize—but unfortunately, can’t eliminate—the potential that a product may contain trace levels of a chemical from [their] Never List.”

(This article first appeared on WSJ.)