A Guide to Beauty-Product Labels
What it means: The maker has conducted some testing of the product in a clinical setting, like a lab.
What it doesn't mean: That anything significant has been “proven.”
Best for: Someone willing to do her own researching of independent data about ingredients.
What it means: The product has a low chance of causing allergies.
What it doesn't mean: It has been tested for all allergies. “There’s no way to prove it won’t cause a reaction in some people,” says Howard Murad, a Los Angeles dermatologist.
Best for: People with sensitive skin or a history of allergic reactions.
What it means: Found on sunscreens, it tells you the product protects against both ultraviolet A and B rays.
What it doesn't mean: That you’re fully covered. No matter what the label says, no sunscreen blocks out all harmful rays.
Best for: Everyone. Broad spectrum is the best protection available.
What it means: The product contains temporary brighteners, like mica, or ingredients that help even out skin tone.
What it doesn't mean: Lightening, a term regulated by the FDA. A cream can’t claim it will “lighten” the skin or dark spots unless it contains the chemical hydroquinone.
Best for: People with mildly uneven skin tone.
What it means: The product has no noticeable smell and usually contains no added artificial or chemical fragrances.
What it doesn't mean: It’s totally free of added substances, like botanical extracts, that mask the smell of the basic ingredients.
Best for: Sensitive, allergy-prone skin.
What it means: Contains ingredients that help plump up skin for a fuller look.
What it doesn't mean: Dramatic results. Chances are any “firming” effects you see will be subtle and not permanent.
Best for: Skin that lacks elasticity.
What it means: The product helps repair sagging skin, fine lines, and wrinkles.
What it doesn't mean: Miracles. “The only thing that can really lift is the plastic surgeon,” says Annet King, director of training for the International Dermal Institute.
Best for: Mature skin.
What it means: Helps skin look radiant by expelling toxins from cells.
What it doesn't mean: Purification. It’s hard to prove that products can eliminate whatever is actually “toxic” to skin.
Best for: Dull, oily, or acne-prone skins.
What it means: Contains no ingredients known to clog pores or cause acne.
What it doesn't mean: It definitely won’t cause a reaction or be irritating in other ways.
Best for: Those with acne-prone skin and anyone concerned with clogged pores.
What it means: A dermatologist tested the product.
What it doesn't mean: It’s approved and endorsed by a dermatologist. “The implication is that the dermatologist liked it, but you don’t know that,” says Murad.
Best for: People who don’t necessarily need a doctor’s approval.
What it means: This word implies a hair-care product will restore hair to its natural structure―before it was damaged with styling and chemical treatments.
What it doesn't mean: That you can permanently restructure hair. This is a temporary fix that will leave hair looking and feeling healthier.
Best for: Anyone who damages her hair on a regular basis with heat styling and coloring.
What it means: The product doesn’t contain mineral oil, plant oils, or lanolin, which can clog pores and irritate skin.
What it doesn't mean: That it won’t cause a reaction. Be careful that something more irritating―like menthol, eucalyptus, or camphor―hasn’t been substituted to help the product glide on easily.
Best for: People with oily skin who don't want to look shiny by lunchtime.
What it means: Generally found on makeup packaging, it refers to the product’s staying power.
What it doesn't mean: Waterproof. “Long wearing” means it lasts longer under normal circumstances but still may not survive swimming or crying.
Best for: Times when you don’t want to touch up your makeup.