1. Want to know how long your face cream will stay effective after you’ve opened it? Look for this icon, known as the PAO (period after opening) symbol, on the packaging. (The symbol is usually marked in months. 6M as shown in the image above, for example, stands for six months.)

2. Most important: If a star ingredient featured on the product’s packaging is listed last or second to last, there’s probably not enough of it to benefit your skin.

3. Preservative (including phenoxyethanol and ingredients ending in “-paraben”) are typically used at 1 percent strength or less, says Bryan Barron, director of skincare research at Paula’s Choice Skincare. So any ingredient listed after the preservatives is likely to be present only in trace amounts.

4. Ingredients are listed from highest concentration to lowest. Generally, if you’re looking for a specific active ingredient, like antioxidant vitamin C, it should appear within the first five.

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