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Demystifying Makeup Packaging Symbols

makeup packaging symbols

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Ever stopped to admire the packaging of the makeup and skincare that you purchased, and wondered what those little printed symbols – usually found at the bottom – are? As informed and educated shoppers, we spend time reading the ingredient lists and understanding most, if not all of them, but what do the makeup packaging symbols – that tiny hourglass, or that cute little bunny – really mean? And why are they important to us? 

What do the different symbols on makeup packaging mean? 

Makeup packaging symbols are an integral part of the product design and communication process. While the little illustrations may seem undecipherable at first glance, they aren’t added just because they look cute on the packaging. In fact, they communicate vital product information. They can tell us anything from the shelf-life of our matte eye shadow palette to whether the packaging of your favorite lipstick is recyclable. Moreover, these packaging symbols are on every single makeup, skincare, haircare and other cosmetic products – because it’s the law! 

To understand the meaning behind different makeup packaging symbols is to know more about your favorite brands and their makeup, which will help you make smarter shopping and stocking decisions. There’s no need to worry because the symbols on your makeup packaging aren’t all that complicated. We tell you exactly what each symbol means, so whether you’re new to these makeup packaging symbols or are a seasoned expert, there’s something for everyone in this post! 

What does the 12M symbol on makeup mean? 

Open container makeup packaging symbol.

Possibly the most common of all makeup packaging symbols is a jar with its lid open, and alphanumeric writing on or under its surface, such as 8M, 12M, 24M and so on. This symbol is referred to as Period After Opening, or simply PAO. These makeup packaging symbols tell us how long makeup products are good for once they are opened. The M stands for months; so if your blush packaging has the open jar symbol with 24M, it simply means that once opened, the shelf-life of the blush is two years. 

The PAO makeup packaging symbols are important, and more so if you can’t easily find the expiry date printed on the packaging. Using a makeup product, or any product for that matter, after its expiry date may not only leave you with a less effective product, it may also cause breakouts and other skin issues. So, once your makeup crosses the shelf-life, it’s best to discard it. 


What does the bunny symbol on makeup mean? 

There are three distinct bunny symbols that you may find on makeup packaging. All three mean the same thing – the makeup brand is cruelty-free. So, if the packaging of your favorite hypoallergenic mascara or other makeup carries one of these little bunny symbols, you can be assured that the mascara is not tested on animals, making you a compassionate makeup shopper! 

Leaping bunny makeup packaging symbol

The Leaping Bunny is an internationally recognized logo, which tells us that the bearer of this logo does not conduct any animal testing and is in conformity with the standards set by the Leaping Bunny Program, a certification program from the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC). This bunny is the most common of all makeup packaging symbols used to recognize a cruelty-free brand. Red Apple Lipstick is Leaping Bunny Certified. 

PETA's Cruelty free bunny logo

PETA’s makeup packaging symbols include the cruelty-free bunny logo and the cruelty-free and vegan logo. The former functions similar to the Leaping Bunny logo, only it is authorized by PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies program. The latter certifies brands that are not only cruelty-free but also do not use any animal or animal-derived ingredients. 

CCF Bunny logo makeup packaging symbol used by an Australia based independent non-profit organization.

Similarly, the CCF bunny logo is an accreditation provided by Choose Cruelty-Free, an Australia-based independent not-for-profit organization. Many U.S. brands carry this logo among other makeup packaging symbols. 


What does the e symbol on packaging mean? 

The lowercase ℮ is known as the Estimated sign and it’s one of many makeup packaging symbols found on products from the European Union (EU). Its job is simple – to guarantee shoppers that the amount of product in the packaging is as mentioned on the packaging. Basically, you get exactly the amount of product volume you pay for. No room for alterations is great news, right? 


What does the hourglass symbol mean? 

While it does look like an empty wine glass atop a table, the hourglass is another one of the few makeup packaging symbols that educate us on the product’s shelf-life, albeit a bit differently than the PAO symbols. Unlike its PAO counterpart, the hourglass symbol tells us that the makeup product, like your favorite bronzer, will last for a period of 30 months from the date of manufacture, whether it has been opened or not. 


What does the Mobius loop symbol mean? 

The Mobius loop – three chasing arrows – tell us about the recyclability of the makeup packaging, or that the package is recyclable. It’s often mistaken to mean that the packaging is made from recycled materials. However, there are similar makeup packaging symbols which tell us that the packaging is made from recycled materials. This one will include the Mobius loop inside a solid circle. Sometimes the loop has a percentage inside it or next to it, indicating the percentage composition of recycled materials used to make the packaging. 

There’s also a variant of the loop with a number inside it and some letters below. This and other similar makeup packaging symbols with different letters tell us more about the type of resin used in making the packaging. This information goes a long way in helping with the recycling process. Isn’t that neat? 


What does the green dot mean on packaging? 

The green dot symbol is typically either green and white or black and white. Of all the makeup packaging symbols that exist, this one probably causes the most confusion, and here’s why. While it looks like something that definitely means recycling, the green dot actually indicates that the brand makes a financial contribution towards the sorting, recovery and recycling of packaging materials. In fact, brands need to pay a license fee to use this symbol! The fee is what counts as the brand’s monetary contribution towards recycling efforts. 


What does the flame symbol on packaging mean? 

No points for guessing, because this is one of the most important and commonly found makeup packaging symbols to exist! The open flame symbol means that the makeup product is highly flammable, meaning it should never be kept close to candles, flames and even high heat, including direct sunlight. This one’s usually found on cosmetic products such as nail polish and nail polish remover, hairspray and deodorant. 


What does the reading symbol mean? 

This symbol – the one with a hand pointing to a certain section in an open book – is called Refer To Insert, or simply Further Information. It’s used on makeup packaging when the brand simply cannot fit every single piece of product information on the packaging. So, with this symbol, the brand directs us to the enclosed leaflet. 

This is another one of those packaging symbols that are important because the leaflet can carry information such as usage and storage instructions, ingredients and formulations, and even allergen information. So, remember not to throw those leaflets away without reading them! 

These are standard makeup packaging symbols across the globe, that see little-to-no variation in how they’re designed by different brands. There are additional packaging symbols that you will find on Red Apple makeup products, that spill the beans on our clean and green ingredients


Gluten-free symbol 

Every Red Apple product is 100% gluten-free, from source to finish. This even means no cross-contamination! Our products are also GMO-free. 


Lead-free symbol 

Our products are lead-free and talc-free. These ‘naturally occurring’ ingredients are highly toxic and can find their way into our bodies when applied topically. Red Apple products have neither lead nor talc, making them perfectly safe. 


Vegan symbol 

Each Red Apple product is 100% vegan, meaning no animal or animal-derived ingredient can or will make its way into our makeup. We’re also cruelty-free; no ingredient nor finished product is tested on animals either by us or by our suppliers. We proudly carry the Leaping Bunny logo as one of our makeup packaging symbols. 


Allergen-friendly symbol 

Our promise is to provide makeup that performs wonderfully and that’s also safe for all. None of our makeup products contains gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, eggs, and even apples, making Red Apple products allergen-friendly. 


Paraben-free symbol 

No nasties, chemical or otherwise, feature in our makeup, including parabens! Our little paraben-free symbol joins other symbols on our makeup packaging to signify this promise. 


We’ve covered most, if not all of the important packaging symbols that are found on makeup and other cosmetics. The next time you’re out shopping for makeup, or even browsing for makeup online, remember to keep an eye out for all the different makeup packaging symbols. Here’s a fun idea – why not quiz your family and friends on makeup packaging symbols and see how many they can get right? 

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