October 12, 2018

Post by Askeko



Do you ever thought how it is important to understand of what are made your beauty products that you are purchasing in the supermarkets or at the online shops? You should keep your eyes open when purchasing big brands’ nicely sounding products because most of the time you have been fooled. Why? You will find out now.

Cosmetic products must include information that explains what they are for, how to use them safely, and how to obtain the best result. Specifically, the EU Cosmetics Regulation requires cosmetic products to provide the following information on the label or on the packaging:

Product label

– The name and the address of the company (Responsible Person).
– An ingredients list, in decreasing order of weight of the ingredients. This is mainly intended for people who have been diagnosed with an allergy so that they may avoid ingredients to which they are allergic. The same ingredient names are used across the European Union and most countries worldwide so people are easily able to identify them.
– The nominal net.
– Any warnings that might be necessary on how to use the product safely.
– A “date of minimum durability” (“best used before the end of”) or a “period after opening” to show for how long the product may be kept or used.
– What the product is (if not obvious from its appearance).
– A reference (batch number) for product identification.
– Country of origin (for products imported into the EU).

Understanding the ingredient list/INCI list
In addition to the product name and basic characteristics, a cosmetic label will also include ingredients in the product – the INCI list. INCI stands for “International nomenclature of cosmetic ingredients” and is a naming system for ingredients based on scientific nomenclature.

The INCI list might seem confusing and frightening at first. Don’t be afraid of it, take some time to read and investigate it. If you feel lost in all the scientific names, below we provide some resources to help you.

The INCI list might seem confusing and frightening at first. Don’t be afraid of it, take some time to read and investigate it. If you feel lost in all the scientific names, below we provide some resources to help you.

Plant ingredients are easy to spot because they are listed with their latin names (always two words) and a common name in brackets, eg rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oil, which is rosemary essential oil; helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, which is sunflower oil.

Some ingredients on the list sound very ‘chemical-like’ and many people believe that ‘if you can’t pronounce the ingredient name, it must be bad for you’. That is not always true. There are plenty of common or naturally derived ingredients that have complicated names, but are safe to use and even have an important function in the product. Here are few examples:

Tocopherol: vitamin E, it protects the product from going rancid.
Xanthan gum: a naturally derived gum that thickens the product.
Cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol: a fatty alcohol that stabilizes emulsions and has a moisturizing action. It is not drying as pure alcohol (ethanol).
Citric acid: even though it has the word ‘acid’ in it, it is not harmful. It regulates the pH levels of the product and also protects it from microbial contamination.
Sorbitan olivate: this is an example of an emulsifier, it sounds very ‘sciency’, but is in fact made from sorbitol (alcohol sugar found in chewing gums) and olive oil.
Potassium sorbate: an example of a preservative, potassium salt of natural sorbic acid, it is also used to preserve foods.

Ingredient order
The order the ingredients are listed on the label is important. Ingredients are listed in descending order from greatest amount to least amount present in the product (except ingredients present at a concentration of less than 1%; those can be listed in any order).

At the end of an INCI list you will find the allergens listed. These allergens are constituents of natural essential oils or synthetic fragrances. There are 26 possible allergens including geraniol, limonene and linalool. You’ll a full list of all 26 here. Often companies mark with an asterisk or in italics which ingredients are essential oils allergens. It is worth becoming familiar with the common allergens as to the untrained eye these allergens can look suspicious.

Here is an example taken from the Neal’s Yard website showing how they indicate allergens.

Label reading

Abbreviated ingredient lists
Sometimes, especially on online shops or brand websites, companies do not list all of the ingredients, instead providing just the ‘key ingredients’ or ‘active ingredients’, and leaving the rest out. This makes the ingredient list quite short and very appealing too – it usually contains natural plant-based ingredients. Here is an example from Mary Kay:


It only mentions chamomile, green tea and aloe extract as active ingredients, which are likely present in tiny amounts, less than 1% of the product. To find out the full list of ingredients you would need to consult the label on the product itself, where a brand is required to list everything.

What are you going to do now about the ingredients in your cosmetics and skincare products? I am hoping you will pay attention to it. Keep an eye out for irritants (commonly detergents, preservatives and fragrances). At first, decoding labels might feel time consuming or tough, but after a few labels, you’ll know exactly what to look for. For example, with time, you will learn to be weary of synthetic fragrances, parabens, formaldehyde, and the list goes on.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *