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Decode Your Ingredients List Like a Pro! What it Does & Doesn't Tell You

Claudia Christin Mar 08 2021

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Skincare is supposed to be fun and not complicated. However, with tons of product options and jargon of claim we are exposed to these days, it can get a little bit overwhelming. It adds another reason why educating ourselves about skincare ingredients is important so that you can make a better-informed decision for your next skincare product purchase.

 

One way to start is by knowing what your skin type and skin concern are. Next, we can do extra research about which ingredients would work for our particular skin type and concern. Then, on top of looking for reviews from people with similar skin type/concern. Lastly, we can also do a mini screening on a product by looking at their ingredients list labeled on the back of the product, or also called as INCI list. Although it won’t give you the whole picture of the product and the best way to know if a product is good for you, is to actually give them a try by yourself. 

 

“But, that doesn’t sound simple at all!”. In this post, let us guide you through each step on how to decode that INCI list like a pro. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, although an INCI list won’t give you the whole picture of a product, it can be the first initial screening step so that you can spend your hard-earned money on something that can possibly (hopefully) fit your skin. 

 

What is the INCI list

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INCI list stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It is a standardized system to list ingredients for cosmetic product labels. It usually contains a mixture of conventional scientific names, Latin, and also English words. This INCI nomenclature is something that is continuously updated to catch up with the industry trend and development.

 

Some common names and their INCI names are: 

 

Ingredients are listed from highest to lowest concentration

The ingredients should be listed from the highest to lowest order concentration, with several exceptions. Water usually fills the top ingredients on most products, but it doesn’t mean that it is a “filler” ingredient. 

 

 

 

Some exceptions to these general rules are: Once ingredients included are at a concentration of less than 1%, they can be listed in no specific order. One of the most common benchmarks for this is phenoxyethanol since it is regulated to be less than 1% in a cosmetic product, anything that comes after phenoxyethanol is guaranteed to be less than 1% in no particular order.

 

Common misconception with the INCI list:

Myth: Only the top five ingredients listed are effective

Fact: Some ingredients don’t have to be listed on the top list to give a positive impact on your skin.  

Here is a list of ingredients that can work even at a low percentage. Yes, you won’t see it at the top five ingredients list most of the time, but it will still do its job and benefit your skin.

Resveratrol – 0.4%

Astaxanthin – 0.035%

Allantoin – 0.1% – 0.5% 

Retinol – 0.04% – 1%

Niacinamide – 2% – 5%

Peptides (various depending on the type) – 0.1% – 10%

 

What INCI list does tell you 

INCI list can be that first screening step before you purchase your skincare product in order to:

  • Look for ingredients that your skin love in a product 

(when they are not mentioned as part of marketing claim)

  • Avoid you from getting a product that contains an ingredient you are allergic to
  • Avoid buying a product with a particular ingredient with a specific texture that you don’t like (silicone, petrolatum)

However, there are a lot of other untold stories behind an INCI list which we will find out next.

 

What the INCI list doesn’t tell you:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, it applies as well to the INCI list, and here are some of the things that the INCI list doesn’t tell you

 

 

  • 1) The percentage of the ingredients 

 

If it’s on the 2nd ingredient on one product and on the 3rd on the other, it doesn’t mean that the first product has a higher ingredient percentage. Two products may have the same ingredient percentage even though they don’t share the exact same order of ingredients on the label. 

 

 

  • 2) The source and quality of the ingredients 

 

The ingredients can come from different suppliers and quality Just like how there are different grades of matcha from the premium ceremonial one to the common culinary grade. They have different nutrient components, went through different steps of processing, and different price points. Despite all those differences, it is still listed as Camellia Sinensis leaf powder on the INCI list.

 

  • 3) The formula, efficacy, and feel of the product

 

The ingredients list doesn’t really tell much about how ingredients were processed. It is almost like reading a recipe without any instruction on how to cook it. Even if we have the exact same ingredients, the skill and experience of the cook can make all the difference. 

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