Demystifying Ingredient Lists

Many of your skincare products may appear appealing, however they’re not always as safe and as efficacious as you may think.

The majority of products actually contain ingredients that can cause irritation and inflammation to the skin and in some cases be harmful to your health.

Attractive packaging and appealing marketing wording can make you believe the product is safe, when it can be actually doing you harm.

For example, many brands call out ingredients that are only present in miniscule quantities, that have no real effect on the skin, however sound very appealing on the label.

Others use words like natural or organic to make you think the product is made from totally natural or organic ingredients, when in fact it’s not really the case.

To understand what’s in your product you need to read the complete list of ingredients, not just the marketing names they call out.

Getting to know your ingredient list

In Australia it is a Government requirement that all skincare companies list the complete ingredients of the product on the packaging – this is called the INCI listing. INCI is an abbreviation for ‘International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients’ and is a naming system for the ingredients is based on scientific nomenclature.

INCI lists can seem quite daunting and sometimes damn frightening at first glance, however, don’t be too afraid, you just need to investigate them further which is very easy today with the use of information on reliable internet sites.

Ingredients which are made from plants are quite easy to pick as they usually are noted in their latin names with their common name in brackets. For example, Lavender Oil would be Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil.

Other ingredients may sound very chemical-like as the term “if you can’t pronounce the ingredient it must be bad for you” is not always the case. Many common or natural ingredients can look daunting but are actually very safe to use and be a very beneficial part of the products formulation.

 For example:

  • Tocopherol is simply Vitamin E which is great as an antioxidant and can also stop the product from going rancid
  • Niacinamide is Vitamin B3 which has a multitude of positive skin benefits
  • Cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol that stabilises an emulsion and actually has a moisturising action and none of the drying effects that we usually associate with alcohol (ethanol) as we know it.
  • Citric acid which has the word ‘acid’ in it, is actually not harmful at all, in fact it’s there to regulate the products pH level and help protect the product from microbial contamination.

The order of Ingredients

The actual order of the ingredients in the INCI list is extremely important. Ingredients must be listed in descending order from the highest amount to the lowest amount that is present in the product.

Look out for the active ingredients and note how high up the list they are. In most cases you’ll find these right at the end of the list, which means they are present at very low concentrations. If they are higher up the list, the higher the percentage and therefore more active and likely to create a positive change to the skin.

Often, when reading the ingredient list the first ingredient will be water. This is essential, especially if the product require slip in texture, otherwise the product will be thick and unpleasant to use.

From water you will start to see ingredients such as preservatives, fillers, silicones, artificial fragrance, mineral oil, texture enhancers, colours etc. Most of which as not especially good for your skin or your health and this is where the research begins. 

Make the right choices for you

If you’re unsure of the ingredient in the INCI list, simply go to our Active Ingredient Glossary or jump on the internet and do some research on reliable, unbiased cosmetic ingredient sites to find out what the ingredient is, what it does and if it’s safe for your skin and health.  You can then make an informed choice of whether it’s an ingredient you would like, or not like, to have in your product.

Happy investigating!