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PPM - What is it and How to interpret it

PPM is not a new term in the skincare industry and it sounds sophisticated, doesn’t it? What does PPM really mean and stand for? Don’t worry, trust us, it’s not that complicated!


What is PPM ?

PPM stands for parts per million. It is a type of measurement unit of concentration. It represents part of the total number in units of 1/1,000,000 (million). It is a unit that is more commonly used in the laboratory.
It’s not as complicated as you thought

Let’s take some examples.

understanding PPM

We have 110,000ppm of Centella Asiatica and 10,000ppm of Tea tree leaf water.

What does it mean? Let’s get down to the equation!

110,000ppm = 110,000/1,000,000 = 0.11 = 11%

So it basically means that 110,000ppm of Centella Asiatica is equal to 11% of Centella Asiatica. Where there is basically 110,000 parts of Centella Asiatica in one million of molecules.

Let’s have another example from the same products 10,000ppm Tea tree

10,000ppm = 10,000/1,000,000 = 0.01 = 1%

So it basically means that 10,000 ppm is equal to 1% of Tea Tree leaf extract. It contains 10,000 of Tea Tree Leaf Extract in one million of the solution!

Yes, it’s that simple! So it’s like having the stated amount of molecule within a million part of other inactive ingredients or usually solvent. This is a unit that is commonly used in the laboratory. However, it is not a general unit for skincare labelling.

When do people use PPM or percentage (%)

Since the skincare label is rather unregulated, brands can state their concentration in either one they fancy. Sometimes, putting on the word ppm instead of percentage (%) can make it sound more sophisticated, doesn’t it?

Is the larger number of ppm the better?

Not necessarily. 
Every ingredient has their “optimum” range of usage on skincare products to cause adequate or optimum changes on the skin. There’s no specific scientific evidence to prove the most effective concentration of each ingredient in ppm.

Sometimes, even a large number of certain ingredients in a product can be found to be redundant. Let’s take an example of ascorbic acid or commonly known as vitamin C. Only 200,000 or 20% of ascorbic acid is found to be effective for topical skincare. Concentration above it doesn’t actually add up to any of their antioxidant, anti-ageing, pigment reducing benefits. Therefore the maximum amount of concentration of Vitamin C 20% or 200,000 is found to be optimum for topical skincare products.

Why is knowing the concentration important?

Knowing the concentration of the ingredients can actually help guide you on understanding how different concentrations can affect your skin differently. Sometimes it's’ the dose that makes the poison. Sometimes people can tolerate a certain amount of specific ingredients in their product. So, when a product does not only mention their ingredients, but also their concentration, you can filter out the products based on your skin tolerance to the ingredients concentration.

Takeaway: The large number of PPM is commonly misinterpreted and misunderstood. We hope that after you finish reading this article, you can understand and interpret them better. The equation is really simple indeed!



Claudia Christin

- By Claudia Christin (@funskincare)

Seoul based Dermatology Post Graduate Student


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