This is an actual list of ingredients from a hair styling product that I used to own some years back. It was around the time when I was just getting interested in knowing what exactly was in the products I used daily, and after having looked at the ingredient list, I threw the bottle out.
This list contains many weird-sounding names that would be almost impossible to learn by heart. Luckily, there are a few ways that help the understanding of the ingredient declaration, or the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) a bit better.
- Just have a look. The first thing you should do is – look at the ingredient list. Just look at it. Many people don’t even look at the ingredient lists because they believe that they won’t understand anything of it. And there’s a lot you won’t understand. But also you’re going to realize that hidden between all those hydroxypopyltimoniums are also ingredients that you do understand, such as parfum or citric acid. Try to take control over the INCI, and get into the habit of at least looking at the INCI.
- The first ones are the ones that count. The cosmetic industry want to keep their recipes secret. This is understandable, because otherwise people like me could go and make an exact copyof their products. But unfortunately this also means that they don’t have to write out the exact percentage of each ingredient. Still they have to arrange the INCI in order of quantity. So the first ingredients are the ones that you should be most careful about, since the product mainly is composed by them. Normally the first 2-8 ingredients are the big ones, while the rest are just included in very small quantities, although this of course varies a lot depending on the product.
- cones and ols. Even though an ingredient as such might tell you nothing, sometimes part of the word might give you a hint as to what it is. For example, something ending with -cone is a silicone, that is mostly used in hair products and generally considered something to avoid amongst . If something is “hydrolized”, it is in many cases a protein, and ingredients ending with -ol can be alcohols.
- American/european style. When an american product includes natural extracts, they have to write out the common English name as well, as you can see above [simonensia chinese (jojoba seed) oil]. This makes it a bit easier, and one will understand that Butyrospermum Parkii (shea butter) not necessarily is a bad thing.
- FGI. When you have a list of ingredients (most can be found by googling), you can look them up to see what is said about them and try to form an opinion about whether they’re safe to use or not. Some sources I use are: “The truth about cosmetics” by Rita Stiens, the Good Guide and the Skin deep database.
- “Loopholes” for the cosmetic companies. There are some things that make the reading of INCI lists more difficult. For one thing, ingredients included with less than 1% can be added in any order preferred. This means that if a product contains 0,0001% of a natural ingredient, say olive oil, and 0,99% of say parabens, the olive oil can be noted before and the parabens after.
- Also, since the cosmetic industry is so secretive, it is still allowed for the cosmetic companies to apply for some ingredients not to be mentioned in the INCI declaration. They will instead be substituted by a seven number code, or simply “and other ingredients”, which makes it more difficult, or downright impossible, to know what the product actually consists of, even though you’d make the effort to dig into the question.
Edited Monday 6.6.2011 with the help of Dene from Personal care truth.