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How to Decode the Ingredient List of Skincare Products.

How to Decode the Ingredient List of Skincare Products.

The INCI list is a compulsory nomenclature present on each marketed cosmetic product. Its purpose is to enumerate the ingredients contained in cosmetic products. However, it is difficult to decipher this long list of ingredients specified on the labels of beauty care products with this mixture of English and Latin, to know if they are natural or chemical or their concentration in the formula. Here are some basic guidelines to know to better analyze cosmetic products.

INCI List: Definition.

INCI stands for “International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients”, which was conceived in 1973 by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (C.T.F.A.), an American association of cosmetics manufacturers. It is an international language to describe the composition of a cosmetic product and aims to standardize the writing of ingredients so that a single nomenclature is used by all manufacturers of cosmetics around the world. Indeed, this database lists the official name of all raw materials present in cosmetic products. Today, this system registers about 20,000 ingredients and is used in Europe, China, Japan, the United States and many other countries. It allows greater transparency for the consumer but also a better identification of problematic ingredients. On the other hand, this list does not allow us to know the exact quantities, nor the origins of the raw materials and their manufacturing methods.

Methodology to Decode an INCI List.

In Europe, since 1999, manufacturers have been obliged to indicate on the product or packaging the complete list of ingredients under their INCI name, following a certain number of conventions. However, this list may seem complex and incomprehensible. To help you decipher and better understand the INCI list of your products, we share with you a reading methodology:

  • Biological substances, derived from plants, that have not undergone chemical modification must have an INCI designation based on the botanical name of the species in Latin, used in all countries of the world. Occasionally, this name is followed in parentheses by its English common name. This name must then be followed by the part of the plant used in English (e.g., Leaf, Fruit, Bark, Root or Seed, etc.) and the type of preparation used (e.g., Extract, Oil, Powder, Water, Butter, etc.). For animal-derived ingredients, the INCI names are based on the English name of the part used (e.g., Connective tissue, Spleen, Stomach, etc.) followed by the type of preparation.

  • Inorganic and chemical or synthetic ingredients are referred to by the chemical name of the substance in the English language. Some chemical ingredient names are numerous. However, here are some guidelines to identify the main families of ingredients. 

    The suffixes -icone or -iloxane correspond to silicones, the initials P.E.G. or P.P.G. as well as the suffixes -eth correspond to ethoxylated components. The suffixes -monium, -dimonium, -trimonium reveal the presence of quaternary ammonium. The dyes of natural or synthetic origin are declared according to their “Color Index” number and appear under the letters C. I. followed by the 5 numbers assigned to it. The ingredients present in the form of nanomaterials are designated by the mention [nano] downstream of the English chemical name of the substance. The fragrance compositions are mentioned by the term “Perfume” or “Aroma”. The preservatives most used are phenoxyethanol, parabens or B.H.T. and for natural preservatives there are benzoic acid and sorbic acid.

The manufacturer is not obliged to specify the concentration of each ingredient. However, the order in which the ingredients are listed is not insignificant. The components are classified obligatorily by order of reverse concentration for those dosed with more than 1%. Thus, the ingredients most present in the composition of the product are noted first. Most often, we find water (“Aqua” or “Water”) at the top of the list. In general, the first 3 or 4 ingredients of the list represent about 80% of the formula. On the other hand, the raw materials whose concentration is lower than 1% in the formula can be mentioned in the disorder. Indeed, the manufacturer can choose the order.

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