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INCI of a product: what it is and how to read

INCI di un prodotto: cos’è e come si legge

Taking care of our skin is a delicate matter. It is important to make correct choices from different points of view: is it the best product for my skin type? Can it actually solve my particular problem? Does it respect my ethical expectations?

Often to answer these questions and understand which products are the best and most suitable for your own needs, it is necessary to know how to read and understand the label of the various cosmetic products.

Unfortunately, this operation is not very simple, not only due to the fact that the INCI is written in lowercase characters and in inconspicuous areas, but also because the international nomenclature is often completely unknown to those who are not in the sector.

But let's start from the beginning.

INCI is the acronym for International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients, and indicates the name used internationally to indicate all the components of the various cosmetic products. All products by law must show the ingredients on the package, so it is advisable not to buy those that do not show this list.


The order of the ingredients

The order in which the ingredients are listed in the INCI can never be random, in fact it must comply with very specific rules. The ingredients are listed in order of weight, i.e. the ingredient present in the largest quantity is indicated first, followed by substances with lower concentrations.

The only exception in this order occurs for all those ingredients that are present within the product in quantities of less than 1%, in this case they can be listed in random order at the end of the list.


The name of the ingredients

In addition to knowing the order in which they are reported, it is essential to know, in broad terms, the nomenclature rules. In fact, commonly used ingredients are reported with the noun (generally in Latin) with which they are listed on the official pharmaceutical code.
Synthetic chemicals, as well as plant derivatives that have undergone a chemical transformation, are indicated with the technical name in English. Plant derivatives that have not undergone other treatments other than extraction, on the other hand, are listed with the Latin botanical name of the plant of origin, possibly followed by the type of extract  (always in English).


The dyes

The dyes are usually shown at the end of the entire list with the name that has been attributed to them based on an international list that provides for the indication of the initials CI ("Color Index") followed by an identification number.


Some tips for interpreting the INCI

Knowing perfectly the type of ingredients present is essential especially if you are preparing to purchase skincare products for sensitive or reactive skin, which is easily prone to allergic reactions and therefore requires special attention.

Furthermore, when buying a cosmetic product, there are categories of ingredients that it would be preferable to avoid if you want to make an ethical purchase.

For example, some surfactants that derive from oil refining, such as SLES and SLS, are very polluting. Similarly, PEGs are synthetic compounds that are very harmful to the environment, which in turn are derived from petroleum. These are used to mix water with fatty substances, which by nature would never be able to bind together.


If you are not familiar with the English language or, even worse, Latin, do not be discouraged! Nowadays there are dedicated websites online that through special apps, on which it is possible to find everything you need, including the INCI table which contains all the ingredients most used in cosmetics, cataloged according to their type and nevertheless taking into account other important criteria such as environmental impact.

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