CLOSE
ISTOCK
ISTOCK

Here's What 10 Symbols on Cosmetics Labels Mean

ISTOCK
ISTOCK

We get pretty up close and personal with our cosmetics (that's sort of their job after all), but often, these products are stamped with mysterious symbols that go largely ignored by consumers. It turns out that these icons are a great way to get to know the cosmetics that serve to make us more presentable human beings.

1. PAO (Period After Opening) 



The little open jar icon is the PAO (or Period After Opening) symbol, which tells you how long the product will stay good after the package is unsealed. The time period is almost always shown in months and appears as a number followed by the letter ‘m’, either inside the jar graphic or next to it.  The "period of time after opening" must be included on products with a shelf life of 30 months or more.

2. Best Before End Date

Any cosmetic product that has a lifespan of less than 30 months has a “Best Before End of” date, symbolized by the hourglass or egg timer. Cosmetics sold in the European Union must include either a PAO or BBE symbol, but according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA), there are no regulations or requirements under current United States law that require cosmetic manufacturers to print expiration dates on the labels of cosmetic products. A few general rules to follow: Mascara should be replaced every three to four months, lipstick and liquid foundation can last a year or more, and powders are good for up to two years.

3. Mobius Loop 

Speaking of lifespan, we all know the triangle made of arrows, also called a Mobius loop, indicates a recyclable container, but there are variations we might not know to pay attention to. If the symbol is inside a solid circle, it means the packaging itself is made from recycled material. If the symbol is inside a circle and has a percentage inside the symbol or nearby, that indicates that the packaging is made from that stated percentage of recycled material. Sometimes the symbol has a number inside the triangle and letters below, details which indicate the particular resin used in making the plastic, in order to facilitate the recycling process.

4. The Green Dot Symbol 

The Green Dot symbol (used in Europe), indicates that the company making the product pays a recovery and recycling organization to oversee ecologically responsible management of their packaging waste.

5. The USDA Organic Seal 

The USDA Organic seal promises that at least 95% of the ingredients in a product are organic. The FDA, however, does not define the terms “organic” or “natural” or regulate their usage in labeling or advertising cosmetics. Since the USDA only allows their seal to be used on products made of at least 95% organic ingredients, the NSF seal was created for products comprised of at least 70% organic ingredients. Not all ingredients used in cosmetics are eligible for organic status under USDA regulations, so the NSF offers less stringent accreditation, along with a logo for marketing purposes, for products that can’t meet the stricter USDA standards. 

6. Ecocert  

Ecocert is another nongovernmental certification program for evaluating the organic contents of products. If the Ecocert Organic symbol appears on a product, that signifies that at least 95% of its plant-based ingredients and at least 10% of all its ingredients by weight are organic. If the Ecocert Natural symbol appears on a product, that signifies that least 50% of its plant-based ingredients and at least 5% of all its ingredients by weight are organic.

7. Cosmebio 


These logos attest to certification by the French organization COSMEBIO. The BIO symbol stands for biologique, the French word for organic, and attests that the product contains at least 95% natural ingredients, and that organic farming accounted at least for 10% of the total product and 95% of the plant ingredients. The ECO symbol stands for ecologique, the French word for natural, and attests that the product contains at least 95% natural ingredients, and that organic farming accounted for at least 5% of the total product and 50% of the plant ingredients. 

There are many other logos that speak to a product’s organic or natural content. Each certifying organization has their own standards for accrediting a product; check each certifying organization’s regulations to know what precisely each logo signifies.

8. Refer to Insert 

When you see a hand pointing at a book, your face mask isn't telling you to go get some reading done. The symbol is referencing information or instructions contained on a leaflet, card, or other insert, such as an ingredients list, usage instructions, or warnings about the product. This “refer to insert” symbol appears when the required information doesn’t all fit on a container’s label, which happens quite often with smaller cosmetics packages.

9. E-Mark

In the European Union, a lowercase “e” is the estimated sign (sometimes called an e-mark), which indicates that, across all of the cosmetics manufactured, the average volume or weight of the products is the same as the number on the label, per EU law.

10. The Leaping Bunny 


Animal testing is a big concern in the word of hygiene and beauty products, and a good rule of thumb here seems to be to keep an eye out for a bunny. The “Leaping Bunny” symbol tells you the company that manufactured the product does not perform testing on animals and conforms to the standard set by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) and Cruelty Free International (CFI). The Not Tested on Animals symbol, also featuring a rabbit, communicates that the company manufacturing the product satisfies the standards of the Australia-based group Choose Cruelty Free and has been deemed cruelty-free across the entire corporation, including its parent or subsidiaries. (Products bearing this symbol have not been tested on animals, and any animal-derived ingredients they contain have been ethically sourced.) The PETA Cruelty-Free Bunny indicates that a company has submitted a statement to PETA asserting that they do not perform testing on animals. There's also a vegan version of the logo, available to companies who state that all their products are vegan.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Harry Trimble
arrow
Design
Delightful Photo Series Celebrates Britain’s Municipal Trash Cans
Harry Trimble
Harry Trimble

Not all trash cans are alike. In the UK, few know this better than Harry Trimble, the brains behind #govbins, a photo project that aims to catalog all the trash can designs used by local governments across Britain.

Trimble, a 29-year-old designer based in South London, began the series in 2016, when he noticed the variation in trash can design across the cities he visited in the UK. While most bins are similar sizes and shapes, cities make trash cans their own with unique graphics and unusual colors. He started to photograph the cans he happened to see day-to-day, but the project soon morphed beyond that. Now, he tries to photograph at least one new bin a week.

A bright blue trash can reads ‘Knowsley Council: Recycle for Knowsley.’
Knowsley Village, England

“I got impatient,” Trimble says in an email to Mental Floss. “Now there’s increasingly more little detours and day trips” to track down new bin designs, he says, “which my friends, family and workmates patiently let me drag them on.” He has even pulled over on the road just to capture a new bin he spotted.

So far, he’s found cans that are blue, green, brown, black, gray, maroon, purple, and red. Some are only one color, while others feature lids of a different shade than the body of the can. Some look very modern, with minimalist logos and city website addresses, Trimble describes, “while others look all stately with coats of arms and crests of mythical creatures.”

A black trash can features an 'H' logo.
Hertsmere, England

A blue trash can reads ‘South Ribble Borough Council: Forward with South Ribble.’
South Ribble, England

A green trash can with a crest reads ‘Trafford Council: Food and Garden Waste Only.’
Trafford, Greater Manchester, England

Trimble began putting his images up online in 2017, and recently started an Instagram to show off his finds.

For now, he’s “more than managing” his one-can-a-week goal. See the whole series at govbins.uk.

All images by Harry Trimble

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
History
How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
iStock
iStock

Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios