What Do The Symbols On Your Beauty Products Mean?

If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that you use some type of beauty product on a daily basis. Whilst these products promise to smooth wrinkles, highlight your cheekbones or give you fuller lips, have you ever looked at the finer details on the packaging? I’m going to hazard a guess and think that a large proportion of you haven’t or if you have there may be a portion of you that’s not 100% sure about what they all mean. It’s easy to ignore them, they’re usually a teeny tiny cluster of cryptic symbols printed at the back or on the bottom of a product.

It’s becoming more important than ever to know what we’re putting on our skin. Understanding these symbols is critical because no one wants to put something on their face that’s months out of date, right?

This blog post aims to demystify some of the key beauty care symbols that you see on the products in your makeup bag, beauty shelf or on your bedside table; it’s my simple, straight forward guide for what to look out for. Have a read and let me know your thoughts.


I bet you’ve bought a lipstick or liner and it’s just ‘lived’ in your makeup bag for years. I know I have! So, what does PAO mean? Well, Period After Opening. The symbols below are either printed on the box or packaging. They look like a little tub with a number and the letter ‘M’ next to it. The ‘M’ stands for month and the number, you guessed it, the number of months! So, for example, if your brand new Ruby Woo lipstick states ’12M’ once it’s opened up, from that time you’ve got 12 months to use it.

The reason beauty products have expiration dates is that over time bacteria builds up in them and when used they can cause reactions to your skin or become less efficacious. It’s important to abide by these.

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Refer To Insert

There are times when brands can’t fit all the details onto the product, for example, eye creams, liners, lipsticks –  they’re just so small.

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When this happens they include a symbol showing a hand pointing to a book. This means that there’s additional information which has been printed usually on a paper insert. This is tucked inside the packaging which shares said information. This information ranges from the INCI list (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) which you may also know as the ingredients list. It usually also includes directions of use and any specific warnings i.e. to be kept out of reach of children.

The Mobius Loop

This symbol has the oddest name I must admit, but with the building awareness around recycling, this triangular symbol is a key one to look out for.


This symbol means that the product’s packaging can be recycled. This doesn’t, however, mean that it has been used with recycled materials. There will be times when the symbol appears with a number inside it, which indicates the percentage of packaging that comes from recycled materials.


Now, this one isn’t to be confused with the first symbol I spoke about, PAO as it’s quite different. Any beauty product that has a ‘lifespan’ of less than 30 months has a Best Before End date (BBE) which is indicated by the below symbol. Under EU regulations, products sold here must include a PAO or BBE symbol.

Leaping Bunny

The Leaping Bunny symbol is the only internationally recognised logo that indicates that no animal testing was used in the process of developing a product. However, this is not to say that a beauty brand that does not have the logo isn’t cruelty-free. In order to have usage rights for this symbol, brands have to pay Leaping Bunny. Some brands may not have the money to pay said amount of money and thus do not have it on the packaging. If you want to be 100% sure that the brand you’re buying into is crulety-free it’s best to refer to the Leaping Bunny website.




There are other cruelty-free corporations such as the PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies which indicates that a brand has provided documentation to PETA asserting that they do not test on animals.


The Green Dot

A symbol which I’ve only ever seen in black and white funnily enough is the swirling arrow symbol below called the Green Dot. This symbol shows that a brand is a part of a recycling and recovery programme which deals with packaging waste. From further reading on the website, my key take out was that all companies in Europe have a legal obligation to recycle their waste.



The E Mark

The E Mark is a legal requirement to show the net contents of a beauty product on its packaging. In order for a product to show an E Mark symbol, the brand must demonstrate that the average quantity of product in a batch cannot be less than the amount on the label. Essentially, this is showing that we’re paying for what we’re getting and not being short changed.



Beauty is a huge passion of mine and I have learned so much over the last three years working in the industry. Simple knowledge such as what the symbols mean will help you to understand if the brand is environmentally conscious, cruelty-free or heaven forbid out of date. Of course, there are numerous other I could talk about and at some stage I will. For the time being, here are the key beauty symbols you should become familiar with.

Becca x


  1. February 13, 2019 / 10:37 am

    This was a very interesting and informative post on what all of them mean, it can get very confusing sometimes but you explained it and made it easy to understand. I would be very interested in more posts like this.

    • Becca
      February 13, 2019 / 11:24 am

      Thank you so much for your lovely feedback. I’m so glad you found my post useful. It’s so important that we’re aware of what we’re putting on our skin. They’ll be more beauty content coming soon. B x

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