How to analyze the list of cosmetic product ingredients (INCI)?


6/22/20222 min read

Often, the list of ingredients in a cosmetic product can be confusing for consumers. The purpose of this post is to introduce you to some less popular information about what constitutes a reliable and accurate list of ingredients, what information a consumer can decipher from it, what the limitations of ingredient lists are, and most importantly, how to recognize shadowy and inaccurate ingredient lists.

What is an INCI list?

So, the INCI abbreviation stands for the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, which standardizes all cosmetic product ingredient names. For example, salt is often called sodium chloride according to these nomenclature principles. Therefore, if you notice an incorrect ingredient name in a product's INCI list, it is worth paying attention to it because the manufacturer is responsible for composing this list. In this case, our team always wonders how to trust the product's formula or the manufacturer when the INCI list is composed incorrectly.

Another important rule in creating an INCI list is that all cosmetic product ingredients must be listed in decreasing concentration order up to the 1% limit. After the 1% value, each cosmetic manufacturer can arrange ingredients at their discretion. We notice that in many cases, manufacturers prioritize more useful or visually appealing ingredients at the top of the list, while preservatives and other components are placed at the end of the list. This is legal, but consumers should know this rule so they can choose the most suitable cosmetic products for themselves. In addition, we always recommend our clients to arrange ingredients below the 1% limit in decreasing concentration order and to be honest with their future brand and consumers.

How to recognize incorrectly composed INCI lists?

Each cosmetic product manufacturer is responsible for composing this list. We understand that errors may occur when composing the INCI list, but it is worth paying attention to gross errors. One of them is quite common when the manufacturer specifies a non-standardized name of the substance, but a popular name acceptable to the consumer, for example, vitamin E instead of tocopherol (or tocopheryl acetate).

Another common mistake is the use of commercial raw material names. Patent-protected material names such as Argireline (should be written as Aqua (Water), Acetyl Hexapeptide-8, Caprylyl Glycol) or SYN-COLL (should be written as Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5, Glycerin, Aqua (Water)) cannot be used in the INCI list.

Also, when compiling an INCI list, claims such as organic, botanical, etc. are not allowed as well as generic names such as thickener or silicone. Ingredients in a cosmetic product's INCI list should not be repeated, so if you see the same ingredient name mentioned more than once, you can assume that it is a mistake.

Experienced users of cosmetic products can understand more from the INCI list than just spotting the mistakes mentioned above. By knowing the maximum concentrations of certain ingredients, you can evaluate whether the manufacturer has listed the ingredients in order of decreasing concentration. For example, if you see hyaluronic acid listed above water in the INCI list, you can suspect that the list is incorrect because the concentration of the active ingredient, hyaluronic acid, in the product cannot be higher than 2%.

However, don't forget that you can't tell much about the quality (origin) of the ingredients used or the consistency and effectiveness of the product just from the ingredient list alone. The formulation is one of the most important factors determining the product's effectiveness, but a lot of information remains unknown until you try the product!

-- The LAB