Understanding Product Ingredient Lists


Ingredient lists on retail products are governed by the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) which is an internationally recognized system of identifying all ingredients in a product. Concentrations of 1% or higher are listed in descending order followed by concentrations of less than 1% in any order.

However, when it comes to judging the effectiveness of a product, there are more factors than just percentage to consider:

1. Only the first 5 ingredients matter. While some ingredients can be used in high percentages, such as some plants, others are effective in small percentages. This is true of actives such as retinol, for which 0.05 is high. The first few ingredients listed on a product label are typically solvents and emulsifiers that add texture to the product with some active ingredients following.

2. If the ingredient name isn't simple, it must be harmful. This is not always the case. Most solvents, emulsifiers or surfactants have chemical sounding names because they are called by their scientific names. For example, cetearyl alcohol sounds like a chemical, but it is an ingredient extracted from coconut. Products cannot be made solely with actives.

3. Good products must have hyaluronic acid, peptides or DNA. Two products can have the same ingredients and INCI, and one is effective and the other not, because the INCI gives no indication of the QUALITY of the ingredient. High quality ingredients deliver results, but a high percentage of a poor quality ingredient will not make a good product.

4. The fewer ingredients the better. Think of the variety of foods and nutrients a person must eat for a healthy body, like vitamins, minerals, trace elements, antioxidants, and so forth. The same is necessary for the skin. Skin can suffer many issues such as dehydration, free radicals, redness, acne, aging or pigmentation. Many ingredients may be required to correct such problems. Effective products have many ingredients that work in synergy.

When it comes to understanding INCI and product labels, manufacturing methods, quality of formulation, percentages, and quality of ingredients must all be considered. Also remember that some manufactureres disclose the sources of their ingredients but not all do. The key to choosing a quality product with trusted ingredients is doing the research and staying informed. The effort is well worth it, as better ingredients equals better results.

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