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INCI: how to read the cosmetic ingredients list

In: Ingredients On: Hit: 72

The nomenclature international standard of the cosmetic ingredients calls INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) and it is used for pointing out the list of the present ingredients in the formulation of the products, on the labels of the primary and/or secondary packagings. It serves to illustrate if the product is natural, organic, vegan or however ethical toward the environment and our skin.

From the legislative point of view, the cosmetic product is: “any substance or mixture intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body (epidermis, hair system, nails, lips and external genital organs) or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, protecting them, keeping them in good condition or correcting body odors”. (European Union, Article 2(1) of (EC) 1223/2009 Cosmetic Regulation)

How can a cosmetic product acquit this function in ethical way, through its ingredients? With a formulation which contains chemical ingredients in sustainable quantity and if it is possibly organic, vegan and eco-friendly. Doesn't need to fight against the consequential elements from chemical synthesis, but to appraise by chance the composition case, mostly detaining on the present ingredients more than on the innumerable wordings "deprived of" - "without" - "free" that they are often misleading and actionable from the authorities of cosmetovigilance.

An important indication to read the INCI of the cosmetic (liquid, soaps, bath foam, etc.) solutions is the following scheme, suitable also in the book Come sono fatti i cosmetici - Guida pratica alla lettura dell’INCI (How cosmetics are made - Pratical guide to the reading of the INCI) by Giulia Penazzi*:

- water;
- other solvents: alcohol, glycerine, glycols (optional) and surfactants;
- functional water soluble ingredients (moisturizing, soothing, lenitive, vegetable or thermal waters);
- functional fat soluble ingredients;
- preservatives, antimicrobials, antioxidants, seizing;
- modifiers of PH, acidifying and basificants;
- UV filters (to protect the color, the vegetable extracts and the perfume);
- colorant agents;
- perfume.

In view of that, here are four fundamental indications:

  1. the ingredients are written in decreasing order of quantitative presence: the first ones are present in taller concentrations; 
  2. the names of the ingredients in Latin language mean that they have not suffered chemical modifications, those in English language are elements of synthesis; 
  3. the numerical codes identify artificial colorant agents and are composed from “CI” initials followed by 5 figures;
  4. the words "parfum" or "aroma" corresponds to the profumation but it is not obligatory to specify its details. 


Ingredients derived by the petroleum (es. Paraffinum Liquidum, Paraffin, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Vaseline), allergenic ingredients and silicones (Dimethicone, Cyclopentasyloxane and so many others finishing in - one, - ane) are the first enemies of the skin and the environment.

Among the sources that can subsequently be consulted they are signalled:
- Biotiful: shop enjoyable online also through app that contains evaluations (possible risks for the health, environmental impacts and social risks) both of the single ingredients and of many products, through search for name, brand or bar code. As explained by the founders, Biotiful "it is born from the increasing personal need to make of the greatest number of people the to know accumulated in years of searches on the analysis of the components employees in the products of daily use available."
- Biodizionario, created by the industrial chemist Fabrizio Zago, result of multiannual job of search. A website which can be consulted keeping in mind that deals with its personnel cognitive patrimony of the sector, contained in a simple and intuitive list of ingredients and relative ownerships.

Have e good reading! 

*Specialized in the formulation of cosmetic, Giulia Penazzi creates and sells her line of products in the pharmacy Zolino in Imola (Bologna), managed together with her sister Elena, chemist and journalist. The cosmetic are also available on the online brittle Apelle Dermocosmesi – Cosmetici in farmacia, devoted to the specialized dermocosmesi and the cosmetic in the pharmacy.