A Guide to Navigating Barcodes for Cosmetic Products

If you're an ecommerce beauty brand owner, you're well aware that most brands have barcodes for cosmetic products. But if you're just starting out, it isn't obvious whether you need them and why, if you're ready for them, their benefits, or how to go about getting them.

First things first: In this hyperdigital world, having a barcode for cosmetic products is no mere decoration. They're significant keys to unlocking efficient operations in your business and, yes, you're going to want them on your products. Because, believe it or not, they play a pivotal role in inventory management, tracking, and in streamlining order fulfillment and returns. When coupled with a third-party logistics provider (3PL), the power of barcodes can truly be harnessed, enabling your brand to reach unprecedented levels of efficiency and growth.

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Understanding Barcodes: The Basics and Beyond

Barcodes are integral to the success of your ecommerce beauty brand, acting as the gateway to streamlined business operations. But what exactly are barcodes? Essentially, they're a way of representing data visually in a manner that machines can read. The alternating patterns of parallel lines correspond to different numbers and letters, which provide important product information when scanned.  

The typical barcode structure contains three primary parts: the quiet zone, data characters, and the check digit:

  • The quiet zone is a clear space that signals the barcode scanner to start reading.
  • The data characters house the actual product data.
  • The check digit is a mathematical formula used to verify the accuracy of the rest of the barcode.  

Barcode assignment is a standardized procedure, handled by a neutral agency like GS1, which assigns exclusive product codes globally to prevent duplication. Once registered with GS1, you're given a unique company prefix which is incorporated into all your barcodes. These unique numbers make up the prefix precedes the product identification number, making each of your barcodes unique to one product.  

If you're curious about the details, you can read all about that in our guide to UPC codes for businesses.

On the functional side, bar codes come in handy for various business operations. They track your stock, manage your inventory, help to prevent theft, streamline the checkout process, and provide important data for strategic decision-making. In essence, by using bar codes, you're equipping your beauty brand with an efficient tool to not only run smoothly but to also scale correctly and quickly.  


But Do You Need Barcode Labels to Sell?

No, you don't technically need a bar code on your cosmetic products to sell them—but not having them does limit your selling options. If you're just starting out, you can probably get by for a while without bar codes. If you have plans for growth into omni-channel selling, though, you'll eventually need bar codes and it may be better to get them set up early.

Not all selling situations require bar codes on products. Companies selling directly to consumers in online marketplaces (think Etsy, IndieMade, Ebay, etc.) or at local goods fairs don't need them. You also don't need a bar code for each product if you:

  • sell products directly to consumers on your own website
  • sell your products at craft shows, weekend events, or trade shows
  • sell to a local retail store since they have their bar codes that uses their company prefix
  • sell to local retail stores that don't require barcodes (this could be hotels, museum gift shops, etc.)

But if this is a business you're looking to scale, you'll likely need barcode labels down the line. That's because you'll need them if you want to:

  • sell your products on Amazon
  • sell to larger retailers like Macy's, CVS, Target, Walmart, and many others
  • sell to any stockist that uses inventory management and electronic point-of-sale systems (cash register). (This is usually large retail stores like the ones we listed above, but these systems are more attainable now for smaller businesses, so you may find POS systems outside nationwide chains.)
  • sell on an online marketplace that requires them
  • sell to any other stores that require these codes
  • work with third-party distributors or fulfillment companies like All Points

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Choosing the Right Barcode for Your Cosmetic Product

To make a wise choice for your cosmetic product's barcode, you need to consider several factors. First off, the type of barcode you need depends on where your product will be sold. If you're retailing your product in a physical store, a Universal Product Code (UPC) is commonly used. However, if you're targeting only online sales, an EAN barcode may be appropriate.  

In addition, you may also need to comply with specific retail or regulatory requirements. Some retailers or ecommerce platforms have particular barcode standards and policies, so it's important to be aware of these before making a choice. Similarly, certain jurisdictions may demand distinct types of barcodes for cosmetics to ensure traceability and consumer safety.  

Remember that size matters too. The size of your product and its packaging can affect the type of barcode you can use. Smaller cosmetic items may need more compact barcode types, like QR codes, that can still hold all necessary information.  

Last but not least, your barcode should align with your intended supply chain operations. If you're planning to use a third-party logistics provider (3PL), check whether they have any specific barcode requirements — this facilitates easier tracking and handling of your cosmetic products, from warehouse storage to delivery.


QR Codes for Beauty Products

QR codes, short for Quick Response codes, are two-dimensional barcodes that can store more data than traditional barcodes, making them ideal for cosmetics and beauty products.  

Generally, all beauty products can carry a QR code, no matter their size. These codes are notably useful for small products, like lipstick tubes, eye shadows, or sample products. Here, printable labeling space is limited and you might want to offer more information about your product than could fit on a tiny label.  

Crucially, QR codes operate slightly differently from traditional barcodes. While a traditional bar code only holds data in the horizontal direction, QR codes make use of their grid format to incorporate information both horizontally and vertically. By merely using a smartphone camera, customers can scan a QR code to access detailed information about your product, including instructions, ingredients, and even direct links to your ecommerce platform for easy repurchase.  

When it comes to attaining these QR codes for your products, it doesn't necessarily have to be from the same agency that issues your traditional barcodes. You can easily create QR codes using various online platforms. However, ensure that the information embedded in the QR code complies with all relevant regulations and branding guidelines.

You'll need to verify with your resellers that the QR codes work within their system if you want to distribute your products through them. In some cases, large retailers may not accept QR codes, especially if you created your own barcode, in which case you'll need to get a more traditional UPC code for those items.

Embracing QR codes can significantly enhance your product's interactivity, boosting customer engagement while seamlessly merging physical and digital shopping experiences for your skincare and makeup lines.

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The Nitty-Gritty of Barcode Implementation

Even if you clearly see the benefit of unique numbers for your products, it can be intimidating to think about getting the UPC number and UPC code for each of your products. We get it, but it's far easier than you're probably imagining. You can get these identification numbers by following these simple steps:

  1. Become familiar with GS1 US: The first step in the barcode implementation journey involves gaining an understanding of GS1 US, an organization that sets standards for international commerce. They will assign you a unique identification number for your business, known as a GS1 Company Prefix. This step is essential because each of your products will need a unique Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), which is generated using your GS1 Company Prefix.
  1. Assign GTINs to your products: Once you have your GS1 Company Prefix, you'll need to assign a unique GTIN to each of your products. This involves determining the level of product "hierarchy" (i.e., the product, its variants, and packaging levels) that need to be distinguished. This step ensures accurate tracking and inventory management.
  1. Choose the right barcode format: GS1 offers a variety of barcode formats with varying widths. Some are best for printing on small items or packaging, while others are designed for use in general distribution channels (This is where you'll select a QR code if you're trying to get identification numbers on small products like mascara or eye liner). Assess your product needs to ensure you select the right format.
  1. Design and print your barcodes: This step often requires specialized software or hiring a professional printing company. Remember, your barcodes need to be clear and scannable (think of those wholesale customers using cash registers), so double-check your design before the printing process.
  1. Test your barcodes: Always test your freshly minted barcodes with different scanners to ensure they are readable from various angles and under different lighting conditions.

Testing these codes might sound unnecessary, but it can save you plenty of future headaches. Common issues that prevent proper scanning of these labels include improper placement, low print quality, or selecting the wrong barcode type—and that means delays in the supply chain. Always ensure you're up-to-date with GS1 standards and follow their guidelines to avoid these issues.

We discuss GS1 throughout this article, but there are other organizations that issue codes for product scanning. Remember that these services may have different costs, so do your research before picking one.

Lastly, keep in mind that integrating barcodes into your operations may require a period of adjustment, both for you and your employees. There may be a learning curve and process changes; however, the end result is well worth it.

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The Role of Ecommerce Barcodes in Streamlining Operations

This may all sound like a massive headache, but bar codes are more than just a jumble of black bars and numbers. They're powerful tools that can help create seamless operational processes. Yes, larger retailers will require your products to have bar codes, but that doesn't mean you have to wait until you're ready to scale your business to use them. Plenty of cosmetic companies use bar codes internally to streamline operations, like when they track inventory.

Bar codes have a long list of benefits, even if you're only using them for your own operations. For starters, bar codes reduce human error. Instead of manually entering data, your staff can simply scan products to record their information. A simple scan can greatly shorten the time it takes to process orders and update inventory levels, speeding up the entire operation. Barcode scanners are more affordable than ever, so this doesn't require a huge investment to apply to your business.

Another significant benefit is better inventory management. By scanning barcodes, ecommerce beauty brands get an immediate and accurate count of their stock levels. This makes it simpler to track which products are selling well, which ones are not, and when it’s time to reorder. Better yet, barcodes like UPC codes enable real-time updates, which means your inventory data is always up-to-date.  

Lastly, barcodes are integral for effective logistics and shipping. Implementing barcodes means easier packing and shipping, contributing to more accurate order fulfillment. Your team can quickly scan outgoing packages, ensuring that customers receive exactly what they ordered. This contributes to the enhancement of customer experience, ultimately building a strong brand reputation in the beauty space.

And if you're ready to track inventory but not ship products on your own? Those UPC codes can be used in-house for inventory management and externally by a third-party partner who handles fulfillment for you, like All Points.

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Barcodes and 3PL: A Powerful Combo

If you're looking for ways to expedite your operations, increase sales, improve accuracy, and deliver robust customer service, then this potent combo is ideal for your company.  

Utilizing barcodes for your cosmetic products has numerous advantages that we outlined above. But not every company is set up to manage packaging and shipping their own products. Even if you're currently handling that in house, you may need to consider other options as your company scales.

That's where a third-party logistics provider, or 3PL, like All Points, comes in. These businesses can manage complex logistics operations for you. A competent 3PL has the capability to integrate your barcode systems into their operations. This delivers seamless inventory management, order fulfillment, and returns handling. They cater to a wide range of services, starting from warehousing to delivery, enabling you to focus more on key business initiatives like product development and marketing, while they tackle the logistic executions.  

Perhaps the most compelling benefit comes from combining the two. When barcode systems are intertwined with 3PL services, they can handle the scanning, storage, and shipping process in one swift move. The result? Enhanced operational efficiency, improved customer service, and ultimately, a boost in your brand's growth. Intrigued? We'd love to talk to you about how All Points can take your beauty business to the next level.

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FAQs about Barcodes

How do I get a barcode for my products?

You can apply for a company prefix from GS1 US, an organization that sets standards for international commerce. Once you have this number, you can set up a unique Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) for each of your products. You can then print a bar code for each of them. You may need professional printing help, though, to ensure the code can be scanned by point of sale systems.

What is bar code on cosmetics?

Bar code labels on cosmetic products can be scanned to transfer information about your company and the specific product to a computer and different systems. This allows your products to be sold in different types of retail establishments, like in stores and on your website.

Do I need a barcode to sell my products?

No, you may not need a bar code for your products, depending on your target market. You don't need UPC codes to sell through some online marketplaces and your own website, but if you want to sell your products through large retail stores, you probably need them.


In conclusion, the integration of barcodes in beauty products has proven to be a transformative and efficient tool in the beauty industry. These small, unassuming lines hold a wealth of information that empowers both consumers and manufacturers. From providing accurate product details and ingredient information to facilitating inventory management and supply chain traceability, barcodes contribute to a more transparent and streamlined beauty landscape. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the products they use, the role of barcodes in enhancing transparency, authenticity, and safety cannot be overstated. Embracing this technology not only meets the demands of an evolving market but also fosters a sense of trust and accountability between brands and their discerning consumers. Barcodes have indeed become an indispensable ally in the pursuit of a more informed and conscientious beauty industry.

Learn more about Barcodes in the Beauty industry

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