Here’s a fun game if you’re bored at your desk: Pick up the beauty product that’s closest to you. (And no judgment if there are a lot to choose from.) Now, tell us what every little symbol on the packaging means. [Silent Face Emoji.] That’s what we thought.
In the good old U.S.A., products are only required to disclose their name, weight, warnings, directions for use, ingredients, and the company’s place of business. “The European Union is a little more strict,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “Rather than designing different labels, which can be costly, U.S. companies often opt for European standards.” Symbols, like Girl Scout badges, often serve as bragging rights to indicate if a company is particularly well-behaved, even if no governing body requires it. Here, Wilson walks us through the mysterious hieroglyphics of beauty product packaging.