Are Beauty Brands Intentionally Hiding Their Ingredients?

Jessica DeFino
8 min readJun 25, 2020
La Prairie / Instagram

I’m a modern woman; I think I deserve the right to control my own body. What goes in it, what goes on it, what goes on inside it — you know, the basics. Part of this pesky, unrelenting need for total autonomy over my physical being includes obsessively researching the ingredients in my beauty products. Or trying to, at least.

It is impossible to identify a single substance in perfume — any perfume, from Marc Jacobs to Jennifer Lopez. Comprehensive ingredient lists are missing from the sites of luxury skin-care brands (La Prairie) and indie sun-care brands (Solid & Striped) alike. Sephora and Ulta Beauty both have ingredient sections for a selection of beauty products, which gets hidden or left blank for others; the former faced scrutiny earlier this year for adjusting the order of ingredients for Summer Fridays Super Amino Gel Cleanser to reflect higher concentrations of the headlining amino acids.

Considering the fact that a portion of chemicals in cosmetics have been found in blood streams and breast tissue, or are otherwise loosely linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, environmental damage, and garden-variety allergies and irritation (all of which disproportionately affect people of color), shouldn’t withholding this type of information be, I don’t know, illegal? Frowned upon, at least? Don’t customers have the right to know what’s in the beauty products they buy — and, incidentally, in their blood and breasts?

No, says the Food & Drug Administration. They do not.

“There are some laws in the United States around ingredient listing, however, there are major loopholes,” Lindsay Dahl, the SVP of Social Mission at Beautycounter, tells me. The biggest: Companies have no legal obligation to post ingredient lists online. The FDA does ask beauty brands to disclose ingredients on physical packaging, but those that solely exist on the internet — with no product in physical stores, as is fairly common in indie beauty — don’t even have to do that.

“The law that regulates ingredient disclosure is the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, and it was passed in the late 1960s, so it’s really before the advent of the internet,” Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group, tells me over the…

Jessica DeFino

Jessica DeFino is a beauty reporter covering natural, holistic, sustainable skincare. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Vogue, Allure, & more.