Unfortunately reading ingredients labels isn't always as straight forward as it seems. I do want to restate that I'm not an ingredients expert. I don't have a chemistry degree. I only know what I've read on the internet.
The first thing you should know is the ingredients are listed in descending order on the back of a bottle. (at lest in theory, more on this later) The first ingredient listed is the ingredient there is the most of, and the last ingredient listed is the ingredient there is the least of.
The first five ingredients.
The first five ingredients will make up most of the product. In conditioner, shampoo, and leave-in conditioner, water makes up 50-80% of the product. If the first ingredient isn't water, be very suspicious of the product label's accuracy. If water were not the first ingredient in a conditioner, it would look and feel very different then your average conditioner.. If you consider your product is mostly water, there isn't a lot of room left for other ingredients. (see the first link) The first five ingredients make up the loin's share of your bottle. Do you count the water when you count the first five ingredients? Some say yes and some say no. I really don't know if you should count it or not.
The Natural Haven: Why do the first five ingredients on a hair product matter?
The Natural Haven: First five ingredients Q & A
Beauty Brains: How Can I Tell the Percentage of Ingredient in Cosmetics?
Locate the preservative and fragrance on the label.
the ingredient list for fragrance and for the ingredient that is the
preservative. Anything listed after fragrance or the preservative will
be a very small amount. If the fancy
ingredient you are eying is listed after the preservative or fragrance,
it is just a marketing ploy.
A list of preservatives is found in this link. The link lists ingredients commonly found in hair care products.
Butyl paraben, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Ethyl paraben, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Isobutyl paraben, Methyl paraben, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Phenoxyethanol, Propyl paraben, Sodium benzoate
Now I'm going to begin to
talk about how labels sometimes lie or fudge the truth. This includes
products from national companies that are sold in big stores like Target
The Case of Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition (and lots products from other brands)
Charged with: Front of the bottle claims not matching the ingredient list in the way you expect.
Let's look at Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Conditioner (old formula, no longer CG).
Water, cetearyl alcohol, palm oil, behentrimonium chloride, apple fruit
extract, glycerin, stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, niacinamide,
pyridoxine hci, shea butter, citric acid, olive fruit oil, sugar cane
extract, benzyl alcohol, chlorhexidine dihydrochloride, avocado oil,
black currant seed oil, linalool, lemon peel extract, CI 19140, camellia
sinensis leaf extract, CI 15985, parfum.
The front label says "with olive, avocado, and shea". These are listed 12th, 14th, and 18th on the label. There isn't a whole lot of these ingredients in there. This old formula was a good product, but it wasn't the olive, avocado, and shea that made it great. It was more likely the cetearyl alcohol, palm oil, and behentrimonium chloride that made it awesome. Cetearyl alcohol, palm oil, and behentrimonium chloride doesn't sound special or sexy on the front label. "Olive, avocado and shea" is just a marketing ploy.
A similar case is Burt's Bees Avocado Butter Pre Shampoo Treatment. According to the link below, the product is less then 1% Avocado Oil, so naming it Avocado Butter is just marketing. It is common that the ingredient mentioned on the front of the label isn't high on the ingredient list. Always look at the back of the bottle.
The Beauty Brains? Should You Pre-poo with Burt's Bees?
The case of Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle and Rose Conditioner
Charged with: Making up names for ingredients
The rules are you have to list ingredients individually by their correct names. You aren't allowed to put some ingredients together, make up a name for them, and then put your made up name on the label. For example, I couldn't mix water, cetearyl alcohol, and behentrimonium methosulfate and name the mixture "super natural mix 2000". Then I could not list the first ingredient in my conditioner as "super natural mix 2000". Aubrey Organics did this for years and years on the label of Honeysuckle and Rose Conditioner (they fixed the label this spring). Their "super natural mix 2000" was called "coconut fatty acid cream base" and was listed as such on the label to make their conditioner appear more natural to the consumer. Keep in mind when reading the ingredients below that most likely the formula has not changed (or not changed very much), only the way they list the ingredients. Here are the two ways they were listed.
Coconut Fatty Acid Cream Base, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice, Shea Butter (Butyrospermum
Parkii) (Organic), Triticum Vulgare (Wheat Germ) Oil, Jojoba Oil
(Organic), Rosa Mosqueta (Organic), Rosa Canina (Rose Hip) Seed Oil,
Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel) Extract, Hops, Balm Mint (Melissa
Officinalis) Extract, Mistletoe (Viscum Album), Chamomila Recuita
(Matricaria) Flower Extract, Yarrow, Chrysanthemum, Angelica,
Forsythia, Honeysuckle Oil, Carrot (Daucus Carota) Oil, Aubrey's
Preservative (Citrus Seed Extract, Vitamin A, C, E)
Agua, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Cetyl Alcohol, Aloe Barbadensis, Glyceryl Linoleate, Glycerin, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat Germ) Oil, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel), Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba Oil)*, Rosa Moschata Oil* (Rosa Mosqueta,
Rose Hip Oil), Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel), Humulus Lupulus Extract,
(Hops), Melissa Officinalis (Balm Mint) Extract, Viscum Album
(Mistletoe), Anthemis Nobilis Extract (Roman Camomile), Achillea
Millefolium (Yarrow) Extract, Chrysanthemum Parthenium (Feverfew)
Extract, Angelica Acutiloba (Japanese Angelica) Extract, Forsythia
Suspensa Fruit Extract, Magnolia Biondii (Magnolia)Extract, Lonicera
Japonica (Honeysuckle) Oil , Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Retinyl
Palmitate (Vitamin A), Daucus Carota Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit
Oil), Retinyl Ac
etate (Vitamin A), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).
The Natural Haven: Aubrey Organics: Ingredient Order Discrepancy?
The Natural Haven: Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose: Have the Ingredients Changed?
The Case of Shea Moisture Moisture Retention Shampoo
Charged With: Not listing all of their ingredients on the label
IMHO, this is the worst crime. One of the ingredients they did not list on the label is the preservative. Preservatives are an ingredient people are likely to be allergic to. When I posted the Beauty Brains link in a thread on Curltalk, a member said (not an exact quote) "that explains why my scalp hated it". Shea Moisture appears to have left the thickener, pearlizer, and preservative off of the ingredient list. I assume they did this to make their product appear more natural then it is, but doing this is dangerous. Shame on them. The link is short and explains this much better then I do.
Beauty Brains: Is Shea Moisture Shampoo Missing Ingredients?
The Case of Several Giovanni Products
Charged with listing ingredients out of order
Giovanni is the formula-changingest company. They are always coming out with new formulas, so I highly doubt this is a current formula for a conditioner.
Aqua (Purified Water), Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) Oil, Nettle
(Urtica Dioica) Oil, Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) Oil, Birch Leaf (Butela
Alba) Oil, Chamomile (Anthemis Nobilis Flower) Oil, Clary (Salvia
Sclarea), Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia), Coltsfoot Leaf (Tussilago
Fargara), Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) Oil, Mallow (Malya Sylvestris),
Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense) Oil, Soybean Protein (Glycine Soja), Cetyl
Alcohol (Plant Derived), Stearalkonium Chloride, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Trace Minerals, Citric Acid (Corn), Sodium Hydromethylglycinate, Grapefruit Seed (Citrus Derived)
If this were the correct formula with the ingredients listed in this order, the product would be unstable. It would be around 70% oil. If there were that much oil in it, it would look significantly different then your average conditioner. Again, read the short link for a better explanation. I'm no chemist.
Beauty Brains: Can You Spot a Natural Product by Reading the Ingredients?
The Case of Aveda Color Conserve Shampoo (and a good percentage of natural product labels)
Charged with: Fudging the ingredient order to look more natural
My personal name for the phenomena is the tea issue. Essentially a manufacturer will make tea and use the tea to make conditioner instead of water. Let's look at Aveda's label:
Aqueous Purified Water Extracts: Camellia Sinensis Extract, Citrus Aurantium Amara Peel Extract (Bitter Orange), Astragalus Root (Membranaceus) Extract (Milk Vetch), Schizandra Chinensis Fruit
Extract, Pinus Tabulaeformis Bark Extract (Pine), Vitis Vinifera Seed
Extract (Grape), Sedum Rosea Root Extract, Rehmannia Chinensis Root
Extract, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate,
Lauramidopropyl Betaine, Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride, Quaternium
80, PEG 7 Dimethicone C8-C18 Ester, Babassuamidopropyl Betaine, Guar
Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Amyl Salicylate, Amyl Cinnamate,
Lycopene, Lecithin, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Tocopherol, Sucrose
Palmitate, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Glycol Stearate, Glycol
Distearate, Polyglyceryl 10 Oleate, Polyquaternium 7, Fragrance, Cistus
Ladaniferus Oil, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone
Everything listed until the ammonium lauryl sulfate in bold is just tea. The herbal ingredients are basically brewed into the water to make an "herbal tea". Other then the water, these ingredients should be listed at/near the end of the ingredient list. When you count the first five ingredients for a product like this one, water is one and ammonium lauyrl sulfate is two. Skip past the "tea" stuff when counting. If the "tea" ingredients really were 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th, etc. you would have a weird consistency. Imagine opening a tea bag and stirring it into water. These companies usually use words like "water with bla bla bla" so they are technically telling the truth, but it is misleading to the uninformed consumer. It makes a product appear more natural then it is.
Beauty Brains: Is Avada Really More Natural?