Read your product labels – Draw the 1% line

How do you choose your hair products? Do you buy a product because it claims to be natural and herbal? Or because it claims to have a lot of natural ingredients? Or is it infused with some fancy oil to provide shine and strength to hair? Let’s look more closely at these ingredients listed on your product bottle.

According to rules and guidelines, ingredients are listed in the descending order of their concentration as long as they are present 1% or more than 1% of the total weight (greater than or equal to 1gm in 100gm of the product). Ingredients in the concentration of less than 1% can be mentioned in any order. That means ingredients that are present at the top are present in the highest concentration. Only the first few ingredients form part of the base. So if you want to go deeper and want to buy a product based on its ingredients rather than its claims of being natural and having n number of herbal extracts then it is important that you need to know where you can draw the 1% line.

The herbal extract mostly are there for marketing claims and most of the time are present in very small quantities (sometimes as small as 0.1% to 0.2% of the total weight) so that it might not even make any difference if they are there or not present at all.

Water is the natural moisturizer for your skin and hair and it is the base of most products (except oil based or silicone based) in hair care. That’s why it is always listed at the top in the ingredient list. After that, if it is a shampoo you will see some surfactants at the next few places and last in the list some conditioning agents, humectants, protein, natural extracts and preservatives. A conditioner will have some fatty alcohol (cetyl or cetearyl alochol etc), conditioning agent listed next to water followed by other ingredients like protein (like hydrolyzed wheat/oat protein etc), humectants (glycerin, sodium PCA, sorbitol, propylene glycol etc), natural extracts and preservatives.  I will write in more detail on the composition of different hair products in the coming days. 

read the labels

Conditioner label

How to draw a 1% line:

Let’s take an example of the ingredients list in the picture above. So, how we can draw a 1% concentration line of ingredients.  Only ingredients in the red box make the 96-97% of the product which contains water, conditioning agents (Soyaamidopropalkonium Chloride, Cetrimonium Bromide) and fatty alcohol (Cetearyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol). Tocopheryl acetate is an antioxident which generally is used at 1% or even less (and also Panthenol)  in most products. If not, then phenoxyethanol is the preservative which can be used upto the maximum percentage of 1% (. So, just try to see where the 1% line roughly lies.

Most common example of how to guess where the 1% line starts are, look for ingredients like fragrance, preservatives, pH adjusters (sodium hydroxide, citric acid, Aminomethyl Propanol etc), antioxidant like tocopheryl acetate. All these generally are 1% or less.

Ingredients of a gel

But sometimes it is really hard to say where the 1% line starts. For example, in the above picture it is hard to say. It could start from the proteins or at the start of the extracts. 


Exceptions to the 1% rule:

Some rules of exception will be, it is not always true that things present below 1% wont make any difference in the effectiveness of a product. For example here, Polyquaternium 7 is effective in even at 1% or less and will provide good conditioning. Preservatives are always be in less concentration and they are necessary to prevent the product from going bad. Proteins and some active ingredients many times will be in less concentration. So, formulations and understanding different ingredients is a bit complex but with some guidelines, it is easy to choose products and avoid falling in marketing trap based on the natural extracts mentioned on the front of a product bottle (for example many hair serums which are silicone based and have very less natural oil but they are sold in the name of some fancy oils).

Read product labels

Herbal/Natural conditioner Label

Now let’s see other type of ingredients list which you see on many herbal/natural products in India (picture above). In India, if you have products which are categorized as herbal are not required to print the complete list and they have a choice of not mentioning the whole list. You see mostly some herbs mentioned as the active ingredients in the products. The base of all these products are same as any other product which are regarded as “chemical based”. Because we don’t pay attention to ingredients and do not read them and go by only their claims of its being herbal or natural and companies make you think it is safe and superior than other products.

To know if a ingredient list is complete or not, check following things.

  • If the ingredient’s percentages is mentioned then add and see if it is adding to 100% or not. If not, that means it is not a full list.
  • If you see things like q.s ‘surfactant base’ q.s ‘Cream base’, or ‘conditioner base’ that means this is base of the product (which matters more) which is present as the rest of the percentage other than the key ingredients mentioned. Here q.s means quantity sufficient to reach 100%.

So now you know the drill, how to read your product labels and not be fooled by only the claims based on some ingredients which does not even matter if it is there in the product or not. I would say start reading the labels instead.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 thoughts on “Read your product labels – Draw the 1% line

  • Kawalpreet

    Such a good n informative article and it will help all to understand how to choose products n how to read labels n this knowledge we can also apply to other products we buy. Thanku so much Di

  • Sonia Hussain

    What are you currently using on your hair? There are a lot of ingredients recommended to avoid for us girls with curls. Can you please share some products, such as shampoos, conditioners, stylers good for curls since you’ve already done the research? Sometimes it gets stressful trying to find products which not only are curl safe, but work too.

    • Asha Barrak Post author

      Sonia I keep changing my products. I bought good amount of products while I was visiting US. I have tried Mielle, as I am, deva curl, camille rose and some more brands. You can see some of them below my pictures on Right Ringlets facebook page.

  • Dula.

    Hi… Thank you so much for this article.. if a silicone is there below the 1% mark in a conditioner would it be suitable to use without sulphate shampoo?