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What Do The Icons on Your Beauty Packaging Actually Mean?

A Packaging Icon Glossary

issue ten : icons & iconoclasts

By Kat Nugent

For this piece, I’m taking the theme of this issue (icons) and interpreting it in its most graphic sense. Considering an icon as a symbol and signifier of greater meaning, I want to answer a question that comes to mind every time I purchase new cosmetics or skincare products . . .  what on earth do all these icons printed on the packaging actually mean?! As someone who’s finding their feet on the journey of conscious consumption, especially in the wellness and beauty space, I find myself constantly referring to Google to help me decipher their meanings.

If you’re anything like me and are completely illiterate in the language of beauty iconography, I hope that this little glossary comes in handy!

Period After Opening

Image via PNG Tube

If a product has a shelf life longer than 30 months, instead of an expiry date, it will have a ’Period After Opening’ (PAO) date which signifies to the users how long the product is still safe or effective to use after the date of opening. Don’t misunderstand this for ‘period after purchase’. Let’s say that six months ago you bought a product with a six-month PAO date. If the seal isn’t broken, this is still good to use for six months from the point that you do open it! Don’t waste products by chucking out cosmetics that are still perfectly good to use. Keep track of your products by using small labels to mark the date on which they were opened. And always finish your products before buying new ones.

Mobius Loop / Resin Identification Number

Image via Micsmile INC

This one is particularly important when it comes to recycling the packaging of your product. Contrary to popular belief, just because you see a triangular ‘chasing arrows’ symbol, doesn’t mean the packaging is automatically recyclable – you need to pay attention to the number in the middle. The resin identification number, usually seen on plastics, is a coding system which identifies the kinds of polymers in the plastic. The code is primarily used for recycling plants to sort the plastics but as a consumer, they are helpful when making purchasing decisions based on sustainability considerations. In the UK, those with the codes 1 and 2 are easily recyclable, 5 and 6 are sometimes recyclable, and 4 and 7 are not. It’s also good to note that those with the numbers 1,2 and 4 are BPA free and therefore safer and less toxic plastics. Always check with your local authority about what can and can’t be recycled in your curb recycling as it differs from country to country, city to city and even, neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

The Green Dot

Image via SeekLogo

The green dot is usually a sign that you have purchased from an environmentally conscious company as it means that the manufacturer has paid to recover and recycle the product. It’s a program that is only currently in practice in Europe and if you see this sign on your packaging, be sure to put it right in the recycling bin once you’ve finished the contents!

More Information

Image via IconFinder

It’s not always possible to get all of the key information on the external packaging of a product so if you see this symbol it means that more important information can be found within the insert. To make sure you are fully clued up on your product, be sure to check out the additional information if you see this symbol.


Image via Wikimedia

This icon identifies the approximated amount of product within the packaging. It means your product has been filled according to European requirements and gives you a good idea of how much you’re getting in terms of weight.


Image via FSC.org

This is an icon you should look for on the external box or paper-based packaging of your product. The acronym for Forest Stewardship Council, if you see the FSC logo, you can be confident that the packaging has been made from wood products sourced from certified forests around the world that adhere to the strictest environmental and social standards.

Carbon Neutral

Image via EcoLabel Index

An environmental accreditation that is becoming increasingly popular on cosmetics and beauty products is the Carbon Neutral Certification. This stamp is given to companies that offset their carbon footprint through carbon credits, ensuring that they mitigate their impact on the environment. There are various certification bodies all with their own stamps, but regardless of the certifier, the meaning is the same.


Image via Compliant Packaging

Another icon to look out for on your cosmetics packaging, the triangle of leaves signifies that the material is biodegradable. This is a tricky one as there are many different levels of biodegradability (a material that biodegrades in 50 years is still considered to be biodegradable).

N.B This can still include plastic if it is the kind that degrades into micro-plastic quickly.


Image via European Bioplastics

If you see this logo on your packaging, keep it away from your recycling bin!

This icon means that the packaging is compostable, plastic-free and therefore can be recycled with food and garden waste in a compost bin. (It is, however, always worth checking your local council’s information on what can go into your home composting bin or if it needs to go to a commercial composting facility.)

Fairtrade Mark

Image via Fairtrade.org

If you see the Fairtrade Mark on your cosmetics, you can rest assured that everyone who was involved in the production of it, from sourcing the raw materials to manufacturing the finished product, were paid and treated fairly in a socially-responsible and economically-supportive manner.

The Leaping Bunny or PETA Bunny

Image via Leaping Bunny.org

If your product boasts either the Leaping Bunny or the PETA Cruelty-Free Bunny, it means that it has been approved to be animal-friendly and cruelty-free by either of these renowned and respected organisations. These symbols are the certifying body’s assurance that there was no animal testing carried out in the development and production of this product. But while they are symbols of cruelty-free products, they don’t assure that the products are vegan. For that, you will want to look out for the symbol below.

Image via PETA.org

*It’s important to note that while Leaping Bunny sends a representative to do due diligence and check that a company is practising in the way that it claims to be, the PETA Bunny is based purely on a company’s word and no checks by PETA are carried out.

The Vegan Society Trademark

Image via The Vegan Society

This is an internationally recognised and trusted logo that is attributed to products thoroughly checked by The Vegan Society against their strict criteria. The trademark is renewed every year and if your product boasts this logo you can feel very confident that it is free from animals and their by-products. However, this logo does not guarantee that the products are natural, organic or sourced from renewable resources – many vegan certified beauty brands are made with synthetic ingredients which are a by-product of the oil industry.

COSMOS Standard

The abbreviation of COSMetic Organic and Natural Standard, COSMOS is an internationally recognised collection of certifying bodies that sets the criteria in Europe which products must meet in order to be deemed as organic and/or natural. Acting as a collective body, it encompasses five organisations all of which are registered trademarks with their own specific standards.

They are:

Image via EcoCert

Eco-Cert: A product with this logo has been made with environmentally-friendly processes, a respect for biodiversity, recyclable packaging and an absence of GMO. In order for a product to attain this Eco-Cert stamp, they must be made from at least 95% natural ingredients.

Image via Soil Association

Soil Association: A product can have the COSMOS Soil Association Organic Certification; meaning that the product is made from 95% organic ingredients and free from animal testing, GM ingredients controversial chemicals or synthetic colours, and parabens and Phthalates. Alternatively there is also the COSMOS Soil Association Natural Certification; which has the same criteria with the exception of the requirement for ingredients to be organic.

Image via Cosme Bio

Cosme Bio: Cosme Bio uses three different icons to signify varying levels of a product’s organic or natural credentials. The levels are Bio Charte Cosmebio (over 95% of the ingredients must be of natural origin, 95% of the plant-based ingredients in the product must be organic, and a minimum of 10% of all ingredients must be organic), NAT Charte Cosmebio Cosmos Natural ( over 95% of the ingredients must be of natural origin) and Bio Charte Cosmebio Cosmos Organic (over 95% of the ingredients must be of natural origin, over 95% of ingredients which can be organic must be organic, at least 20% of the ingredients must be organic).

Image via kontrollierte naturkosmetik

BDIH: BDIH accreditation is used mainly in Germany and indicates that a product employs environmentally-responsible practices in the development and manufacturing of the product. The full guidelines that products meet can be found here.

Image via ICEA

ICEA: If ICEA identifies a product as “Eco Organic Cosmetics and Natural Cosmetics” this is a guarantee of the product’s natural and sustainable formulation and extensive due diligence checks carried out on the product. For more info see here.


Image via Halal Certification Europe

An important one to look out for if you follow the Islamic faith, the Certified Halal logo is an assurance that the product does not contain any ‘Haram’ ingredients i.e. any ingredients that are deemed as forbidden in the Islam religion. This includes pork, alcohol and blood. The list of prerequisites to be certified as Halal is extensive and more information about this can be found here.


Herscher via OU Kosher

Similarly to Halal certified products, Kosher certified products are those which comply to religious standards, in this case, Judaism. If a beauty product or brand is deemed to be Kosher, this means that its ingredients and manufacturing processes abide to orthodox Kosher standards. This includes being free of animals and their by-products, free from animal cruelty, and made through sterile production methods. For more information see here.

*While there are various seals to signify Kosher ingredients and products, this one is the most widely recognised. Products have to be certified by the local Beth Din.

So there you have it – it’s almost like learning a new language! It’s an extensive list and one that will no doubt continue to grow as the awareness around eco-conscious and socially-responsible consumption does. If there are any other symbols or icons that bewilder you, let us know and we’ll continue to add to our glossary.

Do you find these icons helpful when trying to make a conscious purchasing decision when it comes to your cosmetics? Would you find it helpful if we were to incorporate these icons into our beauty product reviews?

Let us know!

untainted |ˌənˈtān(t)əd| adjective
not contaminated, polluted, or tainted: the paper was untainted by age.

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