One of the most essential lessons in becoming your own expert is how to read an ingredient label. As we’ve mentioned before, marketing claims on a product do not have to tell you the whole truth, so an ingredient label is the best indication as to the safety of a product. Yet, ingredient labels are packed with hard-to-pronounce, unrecognizable names making it tough to know what you’re buying! We understand your frustration and help break down the standards and regulations behind product labeling so you can be a more confident shopper.
INCI Labeling Standards
In the United States, as well as Canada, EU, Australia, and Japan, it is required that all manufacturers of personal care products use INCI language to list their ingredients. INCI stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients and is a uniform labeling system designated by the Personal Care Products Council. INCI successfully establishes a single ingredient labeling name for each ingredient, which promotes a common understanding throughout the world.
While manufacturers around the world may recognize INCI language, little education is offered to consumers about the hard-to-pronounce names that appear on your product packaging. For instance, did you know that Butyrospermum Parkii is simply Shea Butter? And Avocado Oil is Persea Gratissima.We certainly don’t expect you to memorize all the INCI names (a quick Google search will tell you what is what), but we do want you to be aware that they exist. We recently had a customer post a review about our Antioxidant Skin Boost, claiming that it did not contain Hyaluronic Acid like we promised on our website. If we were able to respond to her we would have told her that the INCI name for Hyaluronic Acid is Sodium Hyaluronate. Luckily a customer who read the review contacted us for clarification. She became her own expert.
FDA ingredient List Requirements
Beyond the INCI requirement, the FDA also has rules governing the ingredient label and in what order the ingredients must appear. The general rule is that ingredients must be listed in descending order of predominance. This means that if the product formula contains more Tamanu Oil than it does essential oil, like in our Tamanu Luxury Organic Facial Cleanser, the Tamanu Oil would be placed first or before the essential oil. However, there are a few exceptions to this requirement:
- Active drug ingredients. If the cosmetic product is also a drug the active drug ingredients must be declared first or before the listing of the cosmetic ingredients. It is also mandatory that the drug ingredients be labeled with “Active Ingredients” and the cosmetic ingredients that follow be labeled with “Other Ingredients,” in descending order of predominance of course
- Ingredients with less than 1% concentration. Ingredients present at a concentration less that 1% may be listed in any order after the listing of the ingredients present at more than 1% in descending order of predominance.As an important side note, we urge you to not discount ingredients that have a low percentage. Just because an ingredient appears at the end of the list, it doesn't mean it's less effective. Also, toxic ingredients at any percentage can be hazardous to your health.
- Color additives.Color additives of any concentration may be listed in any order after the listing of the ingredients, which are not color additives.
- And Other Ingredients. Ingredients that are trade secrets do not need to be disclosed on the label. In lieu of declaring the name of that ingredient, the phrase "and other ingredients" maybe be used at the end of the ingredient list.
In addition to proprietary ingredients falling under the “all other ingredients” loophole, any fragrance or flavor ingredients used can simply be listed as “fragrance” and “flavor” on the label. This concerns us because any number of potentially toxic ingredients can fall under “fragrance.”Even more unnerving is that masking agents (an ingredient used to mask the undesirable smell of an ingredient) do not necessarily need to be listed at all. Again, these masking agents could be potentially toxic ingredients.
How to Spot a Toxic Product Without Having to Memorize INCI language:
- Scan the ingredients for toxic red flag warnings, like fragrance (phthalates) and artificial colors (carcinogens). If those are in the mix, there is a good chance other toxic ingredients are in there, too.
- Avoid products that contain ingredients that start with Ethyl-, Methyl-, Butyl-, or Propyl-, which tend to be parabens and glycols.
- Not sure what ingredient goes with which INCI name? Pull out your smart phone and do a quick Google search!
- Download the EWG’s wallet-sized “Shopper’s Guide to Safe Cosmetics” and keep on hand for quick reference.
And lastly, it’s important to know that while its required for all ingredients to be listed on packaging labels, it is not required for them to be listed on a manufacturer’s website. We promise that we will always list all of our ingredients on both our website and our product packaging, though we list the common ingredient name on our website. While it’s hard to determine whether or not a company has listed all their ingredients, if you become suspicious that they might have left something off you may have to go to a store to read the actual label or do some additional research on the EWG’s Skin Deep Database. They have tested over 70,000 products and will list all ingredients and highlight any of concern.
We understand that navigating your way through an ingredient list can be confusing, so please do not hesitate to ask us questions!