Demystifying 'May Contain' in Cosmetic Ingredients Lists
Published November 4, 2023
Being part of the beauty space, I have often seen people think that the "may contain" in cosmetics means the same thing it does on food labels, which isn't the case. On food labels, the may contain is used to list potential trace ingredients or allergens that if present, would be in very small amounts. However, in cosmetics, the may contain is used to list all the colour additives or pigments used in the shade range of a certain product. For example, if the product is a lipstick, it is logical that a bright red lipstick will have different pigments than a purple lipstick. The may contain section can also allow companies to adjust the pigment blend if needed due to color variations from batch to batch.
Now, you might be thinking, why include ingredients that might not even be in the given product? Well, companies often produce several shades of the same product from one base formula. Each shade will have its unique blend of colorants, but the ingredients in the base formula remains consistent. Instead of needing to change the packaging for each shade, or if a new batch of pigments isn't exactly the same (or maybe not available), the may contain allows the same packaging to be used for all shades and list out all potential colorants under "may contain."
I wanted to shed a little light on this because usually when I see people talk about the may contain on cosmetics, it is for something along the lines of "it's ok if X ingredient is listed because it must just be trace amounts", which isn't necessarily the case, and could be an issue if people have allergies or sensitivities to that ingredient. Also, if you prefer to avoid synthetic pigments, having them in the "may contain" says nothing about the amount used. Even the order they are listed in does not need to be descending, as the order would vary by shade.
At Zakiella, we want you to have more clarity on the ingredients used, so on each product page, the percentage of natural ingredients is shown, and unlike some brands, the pigments are included in this calculation. So any that are 100% natural do not have any synthetic pigments. For the lipsticks that are between 95.5-99.9% natural, those include Red 7, which is the only FDA approved cosmetic pigment that gives a bright true red without aluminium or bugs.
If you've gained a deeper understanding of the "may contain" label on cosmetics from this article, you're now better equipped to navigate ingredient lists with confidence.
Keep asking questions, stay curious, and remember to choose beauty products that align with your values and preferences!
Zahra Kihel is a passionate cosmetic formulator with over a decade of experience, as well as the co-founder of Zakiella, a clean beauty brand dedicated to creating high-quality makeup with natural and organic ingredients. She also holds an Honours Bachelor's degree with First Class Standing in business economics which she believes has helped contribute a unique dimension to her understanding of the beauty industry. When Zahra's not formulating innovative beauty blends, she loves spending time in the countryside.