The Complete Guide to Cosmetic Labelling and Packaging

So you’ve decided to get into the cosmetics market...how do you make sure your products look great, stand out and adhere to all the necessary regulations?

Our complete guide to cosmetic labelling and packaging talks you through the cosmetic labelling process from ideation to the end result. Whether you’re a complete novice looking for a step by step guide, or a professional cosmetics manufacturer looking to pick up some extra tips, you’re in the right place!

Choosing the Right Container for Your Cosmetics

After creating your new cosmetic product, one of the first things you will need to do is choose an appropriate container to house it. Think about the type of product you have produced. Is it a moisturiser or cream? Lip balm? Perfume? Each of these items will be better suited to different container types.

You should think about how someone will use your product. For perfumes, a spray top will likely be the best option. For face creams or makeup products such as foundation, you may wish to use a container with a pump top.

Your packaging is the first thing a consumer will see before deciding whether or not to purchase your product. Making sure you get it right is essential to encouraging sales. When it comes to cosmetic packaging design, you should never cut corners. Your branding and packaging should be an extension and accurate representation of the product within.

Size

The first decision you need to make is the size of your container. How much product will your customers need each use? How frequently should the product be used? How long is the shelf life? These are all questions that should be considered when deciding how much product to sell per unit.

You will need to sell larger volumes of products such as shampoo and conditioner, but for items such as face serums, smaller volumes are more common. You can then look for appropriately sized containers to match your desired product volume.

You should also take into account that big shampoo and conditioner bottle labels have different requirements than tiny beauty product stickers. Don’t necessarily be too preoccupied by things like trying to give more product than your competitors. Often less is deemed higher quality.

Use our handy unit conversion calculator to find out what size container you need for your cosmetics packaging.

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Material

In cosmetic packaging design, the most common materials used are plastic, glass and metal. Plastic bottles and containers are extremely commonplace, however, glass containers and bottles are increasing in popularity, and are often used for more high-end luxurious brands. You may also see metal containers being used for products such as lip balms or for hair care products.

Plastic is the most common choice because it’s usually the cheapest and most versatile, but a glass or aluminium container can enable your product to command a premium price tag.

You will also need to assess the contents for their compatibility with your container material. Certain solvents, emollients or oils can degrade the integrity of some plastics making it unsuitable for use. Your chemical supplier should have data on this. Alternatively, you can test this by putting your product in a sample bottle to see if there’s any change in either your product or the container after a couple of weeks.

Shape

Think about the shape of your cosmetics packaging. What shape will work best with your branding? What shape container would work best for functionality?

Cylindrical bottles and containers are often the most inexpensive option however, you may find that a square or tapered bottle works better. There are a wide range of container shapes out there so make sure to do your research and test out a few different styles before deciding on your final design. You could even get custom bottles made if you wanted but this would be much more expensive and likely unsuitable for small runs.

Once you have decided on your cosmetics container shape, you will also need to think about what shaped label you will need to use. For example, if you are using a tapered container, you will need a tapered shaped label otherwise the label will pucker once applied. We offer a wide range of label shapes to suit any cosmetics container. You can also create custom shaped labels.

Colour and Clarity

The colour of your cosmetics container can end up being a key part of your design. Think about your branding; ensure that your container colour is in keeping with your brand’s style. For example, if your branding is simplistic and uses a lot of black and white, a black, white or clear container may be the most appropriate colour choice.

Bright colour choices can help to make your product stand out however be careful that you don’t overdo it!

You will also need to decide whether your container will be opaque, semi-transparent or completely clear. 

Whilst clear containers can look classy and effective, by choosing a clear container, you need to be mindful that your product will be visible. If you have a range of cosmetic products, they are unlikely to all be the same colour. A clear container could therefore stop your range from looking uniform. Clear containers are also very unforgiving of batch and fill level differences.

Opaque or semi-clear bottles can help these issues to be avoided. You can also play around with the finish of your containers. Many cosmetics containers have a glossy finish however, a matte finish can add a certain level of subtlety and luxury to your product range.

Functionality

For cosmetic products, you need to remember that they will likely be used frequently. They need to be easy to use and apply in order to encourage repeat orders and product recommendations. Your cosmetic container can play a big role in this!

If you are selling body moisturisers, face creams or makeup such as foundation, you may want to use a container with a pump top. This can make it easy for your customers to get an appropriate amount of product for each use. 

For products such as hand creams and lip balms that will be carried around and used on the go, you may want to use lighter packaging. Glass packaging could become damaged so a lightweight plastic may be the better option. 

Whilst it is essential that your cosmetics packaging looks great, if it doesn’t function as it should, you won’t see sales!

Cost

In business, money is everything. If your sales don’t outweigh your overheads, you won’t make a profit and your business will not be viable. 

When calculating your overheads, you need to take into account your product costs including ingredients and any labour costs, packaging and design costs, logistics, delivery, marketing and any other costs that may arise. 

You should try to keep your overheads as low as possible in order to make the largest profit. Think about where you are able to reduce costs. You don’t want to compromise the quality and design of your product but you also don’t want to overspend.

The packaging may be one of the areas in which you can make savings. For example, choosing a plastic container over a glass or metal container will likely be the more cost-effective option. This can also extend to the label material choice. Choosing a paper label over a vinyl label can be more affordable. With clever design and finish decisions, you can still ensure that your product looks great without having to break the bank.

Cosmetic Packaging Design

Well designed packaging can be the difference between a sale and no sale. Now you’ve chosen the right container for your cosmetics, you need to think about how you are going to package it.

Whilst you could use the container itself as packaging, you may want to package it inside a cardboard box or bag. Check out our blog post on the best packaging ideas for small businesses for more inspiration.

Choosing Your Label Size, Shape and Style

One of the key aspects of your packaging is the label size and shape. The choice of size, shape and style of your label will largely depend on the bottle/packaging it's being stuck to. 

Your product may suit a full wrap-around label. This type of label works well in 3 panels, left and right panels are used 'for directions for use' and 'ingredients' leaving the middle panel, centre stage for your brand and sales message. A wrap-around design is the most cost-effective method but can be fiddly to apply. 

An example of a full wrap-around label that we supply to Sister and Co. for their “Body Melt” lotion.

Alternatively, you have the option of a single label or a multi-label design; one for the front and the other for the back. Front and back labels are a great way to separate your brand message (front) away from the instructions/ingredients and EU regulation symbols (back). This type of labelling will cost more due to multiple designs, labels and printing machine set-ups but will be easier to apply by hand.

A front and back type system for Kinnective Emollient from https://www.kellyedwards.co.uk 

Your product or packaging may look classy on its own, without any labelling on its body. A simple lid label with sealing arms, may be all that's needed for the finishing touch!

An informative summary label, so your customer can see what's contained within.

A single lid design with a sealing arm from Omoi Skincare.

Waterproof Vinyl Label From Revolution Beauty.

After deciding which style of label will suit your packaging, you need to think about the shape and size of label you are going to use. We offer a wide range of templates and custom-shaped labels

Template or stock shapes and sizes will be the most cost-effective choice. Our template shapes include round, square, oval and rectangular stickers. They come in a wide range of sizes from A8 to A3. Custom labels can often be made in larger or smaller sizes when required.

Use our label size guide to measure up your cosmetics labels.

If your cosmetics packaging is a unique shape or your needs are more demanding, a custom shape label may be more appropriate. Whilst custom labels may cost more, they are completely bespoke to your product resulting in a high-end luxury feel. 

Label Materials

Choices, choices, choices! You have your label design, shape and size ready to print but what material should you use?

The first question to ask is, do my labels need to be waterproof? If the answer is no, then a paper label could be a possibility. You can get paper labels in a range of styles including glossy paper, matt or uncoated paper and brown kraft paper

Paper labels will withstand the odd splash of water and tend to be the most cost-effective material to use. This makes them an excellent starter material and a good all-rounder for day to day, indoor applications.

If your cosmetic product is likely to get wet, for example, if it will be used in the shower or bath, a paper label may not be suitable. Waterproof vinyl is your go-to material of choice in cases like this. Similar to paper labels, waterproof vinyl is offered in many finishes and adhesives. White, clear, metallic, fluorescent and more.

Adhesives and Application

To keep your label in place on your cosmetics packaging, a layer of adhesive is needed. We offer three different adhesive types to suit different application needs.

Easy-peel is a removable label system that uses non-permanent adhesive glue backing for use when a sticker can or should be able to be taken off. This can be ideal for cosmetic products as labels can be used as seals to ensure freshness and can be removed before use. They can also be used to add price tags to your products without leaving behind a sticky residue or damaging the packaging.

Permanent stickers are the most popular choice in cosmetics labelling. Their high adherence ensures that branding and directions for use remain in place. Body lotions, moisturising oils, face creams and makeup products such as eyeshadow and lipsticks are often labelled in this way.

If your cosmetics products are used in the shower or bathroom then a high-tack or extra permanent might be the best option. This type of adhesive is also sometimes used if the bottle or container has a surface finish that needs a helping hand. If you’re not sure, request one of our free sample packs and give them a try.

Applying Your Cosmetics Labels by Hand

Labelling machines are expensive and often out of the reach of small to medium-sized businesses. Applying labels by hand is a knack and takes practice but once you get the hang of it can be quick and cost-effective. 

Make sure the bottle is clean and free of dust, getting a speck of something under the label will make an unsightly mark.

Different shapes and sizes of both bottles and labels can change the approach but in general, you first need a point of reference to line things up. Many bottles have a seam, this is a faint line made by the mould during manufacture or there’s the base or a shoulder on the shape. Line the edge of the label with your reference line and, using your thumbs, work your way across ensuring no bubbles form.

See how we do it in our video.

Colour

Colour is an essential part of your branding. When designing your cosmetic labels, colour will be one of the most important tools you use. At least a basic understanding of colour will help your cosmetics stand out in a highly competitive market. 

The colour wheel is an excellent place to start when looking into colour theory. Free tools, such as Adobe Color can give you a great insight into how colours work with one another. 

You can also use colour wheels to choose your label colours. Colour wheels can be used in a variety of ways. You can use them to create a monochromatic colour scheme using different shades of the same colour. You can also use them to create analogous colour schemes using shades next to one another on the wheel, complementary schemes using shades directly opposite one another and triad colour schemes using three shades evenly spaced from one another on the wheel. 

Monochromatic colour schemes are one of the easiest styles to get right. They are also great for creating an understated, luxurious feel that would be ideal for high-end cosmetic products. 

Analogous colour schemes are similar. By using shades next to one another, you can create a relaxing feel. This would be ideal for cosmetics products designed for relaxation. 

If you want your cosmetic labels to be vibrant and stand out, using complementary or triad colour schemes may be the way to go! Complementary colours work to balance one another in order to bring energy without compromising on design. 

Find out more about the colour wheel

Colour wheels and colour charts are a great way to create a mood for your product/brand but there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to colour. Clashing colours are favoured by many brands and can be a good method of catching a consumer's eye. Consider all possibilities when designing your cosmetic labels.

Once you've grasped the basics of colour, you need to know which colour mode to use within your design. The majority of colour printers, whether at home or a commercial printing business use a CMYK printing process. Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y), Black (K). This type of printing process has become the industry standard for representing ink/toner onto paper. Your printing partner would require your designs set to this colour mode unless they inform you otherwise.

RGB vs CMYK

We print CMYK on all of our machines but also offer a white ink/toner as a speciality colour. This is not standard and comes at a premium for customers who require white image/text printed onto clear cosmetic labels, creating the ‘no label look’.

On many occasions, designs are created and supplied in RGB colour mode, Red (R) Green (G) Blue (B). Please note, RGB represents dots of light that computer monitors and TV screens display in. This colour mode is not printer friendly due to its wide colour gamut or range and should be avoided. Failing to do so, will run the risk of your design not printing in your expected colour. This mini infographic highlights the subtle but important differences between the two colour schemes.

For further colour inspiration, check out Pantone. Pantone are colour experts who provide colour communication standards from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer. Pantone colour swatches are used by all reputable printers worldwide and are known as the 'printers bible' ensuring the most accurate method of colour matching from one medium to another.

Once you have settled on your colour scheme for your labels, it is important to ensure that you are happy with your design before printing a full run of cosmetics labels. You could print out a paper mockup and stick it to a sample bottle to ensure you are happy with the finished look.

Font and Copy

When designing your cosmetics packaging and labels, you may find you spend a large portion of time getting the text right. The text design falls into two categories, font and copy. Font refers to the style of your text; how it will look. Copy, on the other hand, refers to the meaning behind your text and the language used. 

You may already have a brand font. If you do, you should use this across all of your cosmetics packaging in order to ensure consistency. If your cosmetics brand is new to market, you may want to start with your copy first. Starting with your copy will allow you to gauge how much text your product label or packaging will include and could impact on which font is chosen. 

When writing your copy, think about your brand. Are your cosmetics targeted towards the high-end, luxury market, or are you going for a more fun feel? Whatever your vibe, make sure the language used in your copy matches up.

You should also consider what kind of copy you are going to include. There are certain things that you must include on your cosmetics labels (discussed below) but you may also want to include directions for use, a little bit of information about your brand or brand story and a product description.

Now for fonts. There are so many fonts to choose from, it can be easy to go down a bit of a rabbit hole and make the wrong decision. Your font choices deserve careful consideration as this can dramatically change the overall look of your product range.

Choose a font that grasps the personality of the product. For example, a bubbly, cartoon typeface may be the perfect choice for a children's soft-play brand but not appropriate for a high end, luxury cosmetics product.

You can use font libraries such as Google Fonts, Da Font and Font Squirrel to help you choose your fonts. You can also use paid services such as Fonts.com to gain a more exclusive font for your brand.  

You may want to use different fonts for headings and text. Choose fonts that are complementary to one another. Your headline font will tend to be the star of the show, accompanied by an easy to read font for the body copy, product instructions and ingredients.  

Opposites tend to attract, introverted and extroverted fonts can balance each other out when combined. Avoid pairing fonts that are too similar as these generally will not have enough contrast. You need to establish a definitive hierarchy for your brand.

Font Size

What size font should I use? There is no hard and fast rule, but a good rule of thumb is ensuring balance and legibility across your design. You only have a split second to grab a potential buyer's attention, so your brand must be easy to read at a quick glance. 

An ingredients list or product instructions should be no smaller than 4pt; this will keep your label printer happy and help the visually impaired.

Designing Your Cosmetic Packaging

When designing your cosmetics packaging, you may use programs such as Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. They allow for complex, professional-looking designs to be created due to their abundance of graphic design features. Programs such as this however do incur a price.

If design is not your thing, we offer an in-house design service for labels and stickers. Simply get in touch and we can create a label that’s perfect for your cosmetics packaging!

You will also need to think about the file type when supplying artwork for your new cosmetics packaging and labels.  It's important your chosen design software can save or export as an EPS or PDF file. 

Whilst our site is compatible with the majority of file types, a vector PDF or EPS will always give superior printed results (due to no loss of quality) compared to a raster Jpeg or PNG.

You should also try to convert all of your fonts to outlines before sending to your printer. This will ensure all text remains exactly how you see it on your screen to the finished label in it's printed form.

Cosmetic Labelling Requirements

There are certain things that you must place on your cosmetics packaging in order to adhere to UK legislation. If you plan to sell your cosmetics in countries outside of the UK, you will need to check labelling requirements for those countries also.

Ingredient Listings and Allergens

You must list every ingredient in any toiletry, perfume, cosmetics or personal care product in order of weight on your product packaging. Ingredients should be listed in their International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients or INCI name. The INCI name of the ingredients will accompany the safety documentation that your chemical suppliers are legally obliged to send with each shipment. There are currently over 6000 ingredients on the list, more information is available from the EU site.

Many people also choose to include percentage ingredients on their cosmetics packaging. Use our formula % ingredient calculator below.

1000 g
0 g
Total: 100% 1000 g

Contact Details

You need to include contact details on your packaging so that consumers are able to get in touch with you should they need to. Include your company name and address as a minimum but, you may also want to include a phone number and/or email address. A country of origin is also often added to facilitate the option to export.

Batch Code/Number

If an error comes to light or you need to recall a product from sale, it will be less costly if you can identify a smaller proportion of the units out there. The batch code identifies the products in question.

Shelf Life

Current legislation requires some indication of the length of time your product will remain effective if it’s less than 3 years. The symbol for period after opening (PAO) is shown below with a symbol showing an open jar with a suitable period of time such as 12M for 12 months.

Artwork for all symbols on this page are available in full resolution pdf format - click the required image.

Best Before Date

Best before dates are a concept we are all familiar with from food labelling but it is rarely seen on cosmetics and personal care products. This is because, when sealed, cosmetic products tend to last longer than 30 months after which no best before date is required. The standard symbol to denote this is the egg timer symbol.

Stability testing

Cosmetics and personal care product testing is a specialist area. Investigations should be made into physical, microbial and chemical stability of your range. The ingredient manufacturers may have in-house facilities and offer those to you along with guidance on which areas of testing are applicable to your particular product. Alternatively, professional services can be employed from companies like Intertek.

Function and Instructions for Use

It might seem obvious but some clarification of the purpose of the contents of any packaging is required to remove any ambiguity. Just the bare minimum terminology is needed. For example, “Shampoo” or “Suncream” would be sufficient. 

You may also want to include instructions for use for your cosmetic products. This could include the amount to use and how best to apply or use the product.

Net Measurements

The e-mark (template available) signifies that whatever measurement is indicated is an average. The e stands for estimated. There is a range of tolerance of deficits that ranges from around 9% for small quantities down to around 1% for large amounts. Denominations of weight, volume or number of items are required in metric, where applicable, other units are permitted in addition.

Precautions and Warnings

You should include precautions and warnings on your cosmetics packaging if it could cause damage if used incorrectly. You should highlight risks such as  “Avoid contact with eyes.” 

You do not have to include warnings for everything; the consumer must also exercise common sense. For example, there is no need to warn people not to drink shower gel, but you should warn against feasible risks.

You may also want to include optional information such as:

Cruelty-Free

The cruelty-free logo denotes to consumers that the product itself and any of the ingredients have not been tested on animals. In reality, you can put “not tested on animals” on the packaging and there is very little anyone can do to investigate. To answer this problem, organisations like Cruelty Free International actively vet subscribers and allow them to display their logo if you comply with their guidelines. 

Organic Credentials

This is another area where legislation allows ambiguity. Words like “natural”, “organic” and “green” have positive connotations in the public consciousness but in practice mean very little. In the United Kingdom, the Soil Association is the largest body to provide certification and worldwide standardisation in this industry is being sought by COSMOS.

Dermatological Testing

By their nature, cosmetic products should not be irritants as they are used on the skin. To ensure this, the ingredients for cosmetic products will have been dermatologically tested to make sure they are suitable for use. You may want to include dermatological testing information on your cosmetic label to give confidence to your consumers.

Many cosmetic products also use the term ‘hypoallergenic’ on their packaging. There is no legally defined meaning but is used to imply safety and mildness.

Recycling Information

The bottle you use is likely to have its own recycling mark embossed into the base, if this is the case you are not required to put anything extra on the label. 

You can download useful symbols for packaging design on our label legislation page.

To get started with your new label and packaging design, visit our cosmetics labels and stickers page, or get in touch to request a quote!