Decoding skincare labels: Ingredients

If you’ve ever stopped to read the ingredients list on the back of your skincare, the chances are you STOPPED reading it a couple lines in. "INCI" what? If you've been there, you’re in the right place. In this post we’ll tell you all you need to know to master ingredient’s lists, without studying-up on your chemistry. 

First things first. What on Earth does "INCI" mean? Is it a secret agency like CIA or MI6? Skincare spy games? Sort of. INCI stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, aka the “ingredient list,” for your skincare. To decode an INCI list, you have to put your detective hat on, look closely and understand the key rules about how they’re written.

The big elephant in your INCI list... what's with all the weird names?     

Strange, chemical sounding names can be confusing. You'd be forgiven for wondering if some of your ingredients are written in Dothraki. Despite the confusing names, the idea behind using standardised INCI names for everyday ingredients is actually a pretty helpful one.   

By law each ingredient has a specific name which all brands are required to use to help you understand what's inside your product. It's like an international language. Here's why the industry needs it...

Let’s say you're on holiday in the south of France, and you buy a fancy face serum at a local market. You're allergic to certain essential oils, and you want to check if they're in the formula. If you don't speak French you'd come-up a cropper. Have a nasty reaction to that same product, and your dermatologist would have the same trouble getting to the route of your medical issue, unless they speak the language used on your pack.

The solution? One language for all ingredients, whether you're in Cannes ,or Canterbury, that's the INCI standard.

An INCI list can be difficult to understand but it's benefit is that it means every ingredient will have the same name in all countries that use that scripture. So Aqua is used in France, UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc. instead of using 5 different words (Eau, Water, Agua, Água, Aqua). One word for one ingredient. However, you'll notice that some brands include a plain name next to the INCI ones to make it easier for you to understand.

Let's face it though, we don't all want to be put through an INCI language learning course. Imagine.

"What languages do you speak?"

"Me? Oh I speak English, Spanish, and INCI. Not likely."

The team at SKIN SAPIENS believes it's our duty to make it easy for you to understand all the back of pack. Instead of hiding behind something that's accepted as confusing, we we like to put the natural origin of every ingredient in plain English, alongside its INCI name. Simple.

The secret to your skincare is in your hands. 

So, if your skincare is essentially a mix of ingredients, it’s INCI is the secret recipe. Well, if we’re honest, it’s half a recipe… like finding the ingredient’s list without the measurements and processes to mix it up. So how much of each ingredient is in the secret sauce?

Like in food labelling, an INCI list has to start with the most used ingredient at the top, work it’s way down. So no, by looking at an INCI list alone you won’t know the exact formula but you can get a good idea of how much of each ingredient goes into your product.

Let’s take an example. Did you know that perfume’s concentration in a facial cream is typically less than 3%? Why is this helpful? Well... if you know that then it's safe to assume that what comes after it is in relatively small concentrations. 

Here's where things get a little sticky though. INCI rules state that after you get below 1% concentrations, brands no longer need to list ingredients by their percentage weight in declining order.  

Wait, what? Yep, by the same INCI standard, after 1% anyone who makes skincare can start to list the ingredients they use in their products in the order of their choosing.

This can be a sneaky one. Got something you’re not so proud of in your formula… if it’s 1% or less, it can be stuck as the last on the ingredients list, even if it is used in more concentration than other ingredients above it. Why? Well.. simply, you're less likely to bother reading it. If you're in a hurry that's pretty good cause to start reading an ingredients list at the top and bottom. 

Sounds underhand right?

Right. Call us weird, but we decided to change things up. SKIN SAPIENS is the first brand no this planet to commit to putting EVERY SINGLE INGREDIENT used in our formula in order of its concentration, from high to low. To avoid any doubt, we call each ingredient out with a number, starting with the most used ingredient, ending with the least, so you know EXACTLY what's in the formula you're putting on your skin. Ciao sneaky secrets!

We’re proud to be the first. Hopefully others will follow. You deserve the transparency.

A few tips to end

All good things come to an end, but first, here's a few more nuggets of information that can help you get to grips with what's in your skincare.

  • Latin lovers: you may not have paid much attention to Latin at school, but if you like natural cosmetics from now on you'll be a latin lover! If you a see a Latin name (e.g Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis) that means that this ingredient is botanical in it's origin, and has been extracted directly from a plant. This doesn't mean that every ingredient without a Latin name is synthetic. Ingredients of natural origin can be derived as stand alone ingredients from plants, but they lose the latin name.  As an example, in Skin Sapiens we use Avena Sativa Kernel Oil, (Oat kernel oil) that's a botanical, and Tocopherol (Vitamin E), which is derived from soybean oil.
  • A touch of colour: when naming colourants in cosmetics, brands and manufacturers have to use CI so every time you see this followed by a number it stands for a colorant used in your product. You won't see any on our products, as we prefer to keep things real and leave out the unnecessary.
  • Allergens: how can you to know if an ingredient is likely to cause an allergic reaction or not? Well, the most common allergens are usually followed by a *. Notice that most of the allergens in cosmetics come from essential oils or perfumes that use these essential oils. Watch-out, products without known allergens shouldn't be considered 'hypoallergenic.' People can react to lots of different ingredients. If you're prone to skin irritation, the fewer ingredients in your skincare the less chance you're likely to come up against one your skin disagrees with.
  • Perfume: if your skincare contains perfume it will be named in the INCI as parfum, but remember that some essential oils can give smell to your product even if it doesn’t contain perfume. Perfume itself has its own ingredients list (it's a complex mixture of lots and lots of ingredients, usually based in alcohol). Protected under law as a legitimate trade secret, this is something we'll talk about on further posts. Safe to say, you'll not find any parfum, or other secrets in our products.

And that’s all you need to know to master ingredients lists in cosmetics and become a savvy skincare user.

Like this content? Don’t miss our last post about cosmetic labelling where we talk about symbology, and what all those icons on your beauty packaging really mean.

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