Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cosmetic Ingredients: What are they and how to read them

I have made my own lotions, soaps, and moisturizers for years.  Sure I get lazy and just run out to the store and buy products also, but I know my skin looks and feels better when I just make my own stuff in the kitchen.  Over the years I’ve had several people ask me to make bath and body products for them, I make them as gifts and also have made products for donations to women’s shelters and such.  One thing I’ve never thought of until the last few months is labeling the ingredients correctly and the way that is required by law.  I mean I always thought well if it’s soap I say it’s soap… if I add a scent or color then I say that too, right out there in plain English for all to understand.
My labels in the past have looked something like this:
Ingredients:  Soap, vanilla bath and body safe fragrance, yellow bath and body safe color
Recently I’ve been researching this whole labeling thing because I’ve wanted to start selling bath and body products not only online but also at flea markets and trade fairs.  I see all kinds of different ways that others with products in the same categories do their labels and have noticed some use the very plain English method I have used in the past and some had the letters ‘INCI’ at the beginning of their ingredients list.  My first question of course was what does INCI stand for. 

I found that INCI stands for:  International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients and that this set of names are actually the uniform scientific names.  I also found that using the INCI system on labeling is mandatory in the U.S. by FDA law for all cosmetic products.  The INCI names are allocated by the American Cosmetic Association, Personal Care Products Council and are used internationally to minimize language barriers and to promote consumer understanding.  The use of the INCI system makes sure that ingredients are listed consistently from product to product so that people can learn what is in what they are buying and easily compare products.

We have all heard the old adage “if you can’t pronounce it, then clearly it can’t be good for you”.  We tend to think that the ‘chemicals’ in our products are the words on the label that we can’t pronounce; this however, isn’t always the case.  Take the word ‘tocopherol’ for example, I’m sure if you go check some of your lotions, moisturizers or even soaps and shampoos when you are finished reading here you will find something you use that has tocopherol of some sort in it.  Tocopherol is the INCI name for Vitamin E; and most of us know that vitamin E is not harmful.  Even natural ingredients, those things found in nature, must be listed by their scientific names… so everything you can’t pronounce is not always bad for you.

So to show the difference let’s again look at the example I gave above of what my ingredients used to look like on labels.  Now let’s see what they would look like if I used the INCI names:
(Soap) Ingredients:  Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Glycerin (kosher, of vegetable origin), Purified Water, Sodium Hydroxide (saponifying agent), Sorbitol (moisturizer), Sorbitan oleate (emulsifier), Soy bean protein (conditioner), fragrance, FD&C Yellow No.5
A note about fragrance as an ingredient:  From what I have read so far, individual scents and fragrances do not have to be listed on labels.  This is to protect the ‘trade secrets’ of individuals and manufactures.  Buyer beware though… there are some out there that market their products as “ALL Natural” or “Preservative free” when in fact they hide the preservatives in the fragrance listing in their ingredients list.  If there are no preservatives listed and the product doesn’t go rancid or spoil (in a short amount of time say less than a couple months, but usually within weeks of opening), or need to be refrigerated then you may want to question the claim of no preservative or all natural.  This is not a set in stone rule, but something to think on.

I have noticed that many makers of cosmetics, both small and large a like, usually put the common names of most of the ingredients in parentheses.  However not all do, so if you really want to know what is in the products you are using you have to look it up.  You will start to notice things that are in almost every product or ingredients that are common to many products and will begin to recognize and remember those names.  By looking things up you will begin to become familiar with the INCI names and they will make much more sense to you the next time you are reading a label of a new product you are considering trying.

I still can’t pronounce Simmondsia Chinensis, but now I know it is Jojoba Seed Oil and that it is perfectly safe for me to use on my skin.