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This Is What the Symbols on the Back of Your Hair and Beauty Products Really Mean

It all makes so much more sense now.

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Numbered jar

No matter how many times you read how often to throw out beauty products (and what happens when you used expired ones), it’s hard to remember how long everything actually lasts. Plus, not every hair product is created equal, and some will last longer than others. That’s where this symbol comes in. The M stands for “months,” and the number indicates—you guessed it—how many months this jar or bottle will last. So a “12 M” product will last a year, but you can hold on to a “24 M” bottle for two.

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Hourglass symbol

Some products use an hourglass instead of the open jar. This one’s a bit less specific but still telling; it means the product will last less than 30 months. So if you’re staring at a bottle you got more than two and a half years ago, chuck it. And while you’re at it, make sure you haven’t hit expiration for these other beauty tools.

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Consider this symbol a warning—this product is flammable. So blow out the candles you put around your bath before going ham with the hairspray. Don’t miss these other fire hazards hiding in your home.

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Lowercase “e”

You’ll find this symbol on beauty products produced in the EU, but it doesn’t indicate any kind of fancy French beauty. The “estimated sign” just means the volume information is correct. So if your jar says it has 200 milliliters, you can guarantee you’re getting just that. Or at least close enough (it is “estimated” after all) that you aren’t getting ripped off. Find out how stores trick you into spending more, even when you think you know what you’re getting.

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Book and hand

If you see this symbol on a bottle, you won’t get all the product info from the bottle alone—the product has a separate leaflet with more details. In other words, it’s probably already in the trash. But if it’s still hiding in a drawer, it might be time to toss that plus these other items cluttering your home.

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Interlocking arrows

If this seems eerily similar to the triangle of arrows that tells you a package is recyclable, you have a good instinct. The Green Dot symbol means the company put money toward recycling or packaging recovery programs. So even though the companies are creating not-so-eco-friendly packaging, they’re balancing that out by supporting green movements.

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Jumping bunny

Seeing a happy rabbit will make you smile, but the meaning behind it is even better. Companies can pay to use the Leaping Bunny Logo if they promise not to use animal testing. The third-party Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics verifies the claims, so you can trust it more than an unconfirmed “not tested on animals” line. Find out more about vegan skincare.

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Person with arrows

If you’re a fan of French beauty, you’ve probably seen this little guy (and stolen your fair share of French beauty tips). The person looks a bit like like the Tidyman symbol that tells you not to litter… but something isn’t quite right. Actually, the “Triman” logo is France’s recycling symbol, so don’t let this bottle go back to a landfill. Whether you’re washing your face or your clothes, symbols are important.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.