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Understanding Your Makeup Ingredients Label

What is in your makeup ingredients

Written By Rachel Reid

I didn’t know much about makeup ingredients before starting the journey of building Subtl Beauty.

I mean, I knew that parabens were a no-no, and how fragrance can cause skin irritation, but beyond that, I was pretty ignorant.

It wasn’t until I did some research on the ingredients in my own formulas that I realized how harmful some of these ingredients can be; harmful to animals, to our sensitive skin, to our hormone balance, etc.

I have since decided to remove all harmful ingredients from the Subtl Beauty formulas, but I also learned a lot of interesting information about some of the common ingredients in my personal stash of makeup.

I put together this informational cheat sheet of common makeup ingredients for you to reference the next time you are repurchasing your favorite concealer, or blush, or any product for that matter.

You would be surprised by the ingredients your favorite brands are using.

Makeup & Skincare Ingredients Cheat Sheet

Cetyl Alcohol

cetyl alcohol in cosmetics and beauty products

Scientific Use: Long chain organic alcohol of either plant or animal origin.

What That Means: Prevents waters and oils from separating and provides softness to formulas.

Commonly Found In: Think balms, concealers and other creamy formulations.

Hazard Level: Low*

*Be sure to ask the brand if this ingredient is derived from a plant or animal as it may not be vegan-friendly.


Octyldodecanol in cosmetics - lipsticks and balms

Scientific Use: Long chain fatty alcohol.

What That Means: This ingredient also provide softness to the formula

Commonly Found In: Think balms, lipsticks and other creamy formulations.

Hazard Level : Low


Phenoxyethanol is mostly found in fragrances and purfumes

Scientific Use: A Preservative.

What That Means: Helps extend the life of your makeup.

Commonly Found In: Most Cosmetics, Skin Care and Fragrances.

Hazard Level: Moderate, but low if found in cosmetics.

Phenoxyethanol can cause skin irritation and organ toxicity if used too frequently or accidentally inhaled. 

Tocopheryl Acetate

Tocopheryl Acetate is vitamin E and found in many sunscreens

Scientific Use: A chemical compound that consists of acetic acid and tocopherol (vitamin E.) 

What That Means: Tocopheryl Acetate is a natural skin-conditioning agent and antioxidant. It can protect your skin from free radicals and UV rays.

Commonly Found In: Skin Creams, balms.

Hazard Level: Moderate.

Can cause allergic reaction. Those with a Vitamin E sensitivity should avoid products with large amounts of this ingredient.  

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium Dioxide

Scientific Use: A inorganic compound.

What That Means: It's basically just a white pigment.

Commonly Found In: Sunscreen and face powders.

Hazard Level: Moderate-High.

While application of this compound is low risk, there are inhalation concerns relating to cancer. Think when you blow on your brush and then accidentally inhale before the powder settles.

Ascorbyl Palmitate

Ascorbyl Palmitate

Scientific Use: A Vitamin C and Natural Occuring Fatty Acid.

What That Means: Used as a vehicle to carry ‘masking fragrance.’ Which basically means the brand used just enough fragrance in their product to cover the smell of the chemicals in their formula. They will often use ascorbyl palmitate to infuse the fragrance.

Commonly Found In: Food, Vitamins, Skin Care, Lip Balms.

Hazard Level: Low.



Scientific Use: Naturally Occurring Colorant Mineral

What That Means: A shimmery colorant additive AKA shiny pigment.

Commonly Found In: Toothpaste, foundation and powders

Hazard Level: Low


talc commonly found in makeup and cosmetic powders

Scientific Use: Bulking Agent

What That Means: Most often found in powders to bulk out the formula and prevent caking.

Commonly Found In: Face Powders.

Hazard Level: Moderate.

Talc is easily contaminated so there are concerns around talc taking in asbestos fibers and causing respiratory concerns to the user.  

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