beauty tips

How to Decode the Symbols On Your Beauty Products

Naaila Khan

Many will agree that a shower is the best time to relax, regroup and indulge in some quality me-time – your thoughts traverse from what you’re going to have for dinner to existentialism to Ryan Gosling – up until you lay your eyes on those Windings-like little symbols on the back of your lotions and potions, that is. What could that leaping bunny on a shampoo bottle mean anyway? Hair so shiny it will make you leap up with joy? Well, because not everybody has the time, nor the inkling to attend finishing school, we picked the 10 most common symbols on cosmetic labels that you’d give your right hand to finally know what they mean – okay, maybe a strand of shiny hair? Either way, you’ll find yourself that much wiser. Read on!

cosmetic symbolsTHE FLAMMABLE SYMBOL

This one’s not much of a mind bender – it simply means you absolutely should not bring the product in the vicinity or contact of heat or flames. It’s mostly seen on nail polishes (they contain nitrocellulose cotton) and hairsprays (or any aerosols); things for which you should take the ‘Store in a cool and dry place’ cautionary extra seriously. So even though lighting one up while dong your hair seems hella cool/Rihanna-esque, wait until you’re far away from the product.

THE HAND WITH A BOOKcosmetic symbols

No, this does not mean the bucks you spent on that hair masque will somehow help in educating underprivileged kids (though that’s not a bad idea at all – more power to you and your altruistic thoughts); it means the product came with booklets or peel-up stickers in the packaging with additional info, because there wasn’t room enough to print everything on the product. So dig into the box and read up before you slather yourself with the goop.


Seen on most cosmetic products (especially those of European origin), The Green Dot is the worldwide trademark symbol of the European “Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive – 94/62/EC”, which basically means that the company that makes your product contributes to the cost of recycling and recovering the package. However, it does not mean that the product is actually getting recycled – only that the brand is paying for the appropriation of the waste.

THE NSF LOGOcosmetic symbols

From our previous investigation of skincare labels and what they mean, you might’ve learnt that for a product to be tagged ‘Organic’, it has to fulfill a number of stringent requirements. An NSF Organic certification is one of them. What this logo means on your personal care products is that NSF International, an agency in charge of public health standards and certification programs, has approved of the ingredients in the product as organic. Thus, the “contains organic ingredients” label on the seal.

cosmetic symbolsTHE ARROWS TRIANGLE

What these three rotating arrows mean is that the container that your product came in is recyclable; providing you the satisfaction that you’re doing your teeny bit for the environment and yet another justification to splurge on a restock of La Mer. When there is a percentage inside the triangle, it indicates how much of the product packaging was made with post-consumer waste. Pretty in-depth for a tiny symbol, right?


When the triangle has a number in the centre and letters below it, they’re resin identification codes that are found on products with plastic packaging. They determine what kind of plastic the container is made of and help the recycler in the sorting process. Again, it doesn’t really mean it is definitely getting recycled, but in the case that it is, the recycler will know what to do.

cosmetic symbolsTHE GLOBE-LIKE LOGO

Another recognized certifying agent for organic products, the Quality Assurance International (QAI) began certifying agricultural products even before there was an organic standard. It verifies that organic integrity has been maintained at every step of the product’s making, from the agricultural producers, food processing, manufacturing, packing, to its distributors and retailers. Only renews our love for organic beauty!

THE OPEN JAR AND LIDcosmetic symbols

Every other person seems to think that the number on the jar indicates the number of products sold in millions (good guess), but this jar with its lid off – and sometimes with the hourglass below it – is the ‘period after opening’ symbol for cosmetic products with a shelf life of over 30 months. The ‘M’ stands for months. For those with a lifespan below 30 months, there’s always a ‘Best Before:’ date. (Blew the lid off, did we?)


The bunny is leaping (with that winsome smile) because it’s happy that no animals were tested in any phase of the making of the products you’ll shortly be applying on your face. Basically, it means your product is cruelty-free. The Leaping Bunny Program is internationally recognized for companies making cosmetic, personal care and household products as well. There, that solves The Case of the Leaping Bunny.

THE ‘E'cosmetic symbols

Called the ‘estimated sign’, this lowercase ‘e’ is found on products made in the EU – a legal requirement to state the net contents/the quantity of product at the time it is filled into the packaging. Cosmetics are estimated in grams (g) or millilitres(ml) for solids or liquids respectively, when the volume is more than 5g or 5 ml. This certification ensures that you’re getting the exact amount of product you paid for – what the product does for you is of course, a whole other story!



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