How To Read Ingredients List In Your Cosmetics

Curiosity is the key to awareness, are you curious enough to know what goes into your skincare products? Reading cosmetic labels is a fine art, you need not be an expert  for reading them.

Now is the time for you to understand what goes in your products. Ingredient lists can be overwhelming to decipher, but with proper knowledge you can read it easily.

Know the basics :- how to read ingredients in skincare products

Ingredients are generally listed by their INCI name (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) followed by their common name in brackets. Ingredients are listed in descending order which means the ingredient having the highest quantity in the product is listed at the top followed by the ingredients in order of their quantities.

There is an exception to those ingredients amounting to a concentration of less than 1%, which can be listed in any order. People tend to read the list according to the “First Five” rule this rule claims that because the first five ingredients listed on a label have the highest percentages, they are ultimately what determines the true performance of a product.

The first five ingredients or so are typically the bulk of the formula mainly known as the base of the formula. That doesn't mean ingredients at the last have no function, in fact, the ingredients at the bottom are more effective and responsible to deliver the cause of the product, these types of ingredients are called API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) or actives.

Insides - In some formulation Scientists alter the quantities of base and change the activity to develop an entirely new product. 

The ingredient list on the label is divided into two classes: Base and Active 

Base: Mostly the ingredients at the top of the first half of the list are those ingredients that form the body of the product. For example, in skincare creams or lotions, some common ingredients that form the base are glycerin, lanolin, cetostearyl alcohol, stearic acid, glyceryl monostearate, and many more. These ingredients serve their characteristic to the product, they act as a humectant, antioxidant, emulsifier, emollient, and so on. how to read ingredients in skincare products

Key/Actives: These ingredients are like soul to the body. They determine the function and main characteristics of the product. These ingredients are very less in quantity but are highly effective.

Companies often use them in marketing, key or active ingredients are sometimes listed as part of the product title or at times products are separated according to their active constituent on the website to highlight the claims and benefits. These ingredients do not require a higher percentage to work, they achieve their goal in minimal quantity  

Some amazing facts about the skincare ingredient list:

  • According to Drug and Cosmetic Act 1949, the regulations for listing an ingredient on the label is to list them in order of their concentration starting from highest to lowest quantity of ingredient.
  • There's an exception for the ingredients that measure less than 1% in the formula that can be listed in any order but not before the ingredients that are more than 1%.
  • Aqua/water is the first ingredient mentioned on the list as it has the highest quantity in the formulation and is a vehicle for other ingredients, mostly water measure upto 75-80% of total formulation, which is perfectly acceptable.
  • After that, the next four ingredients are typically included at concentrations of anywhere between 3-5%.
  • After the first five ingredients, there are several other ingredients listed that can be in 2-3% in the formulation and act as thickeners, solubilizers or fillers and everything else that makes up a skincare product

Solve the difficulties:- 

Reading the ingredients is easy but understanding them isn't! 

First of all, the names you are reading should make sense to you for example – Tetradecyl Aminobutyroylvalylaminobutyric Urea Trifluoroacetate anyone?

These days you can of course go online and find tons of websites translating ingredients names for you. Search for their common names and uses in cosmetics to understand them better.

The next thing that makes it difficult is understanding some names such as Sodium Ascorbate, Tocopherol, and Retinol, these are nothing but the chemical names of vitamins.

Don’t fear the unpronounceable

You can pronounce the words as per your understanding doesn't make a difference. One of the most favourite collagen-stimulating ingredients is acetyl hexapeptide-8, whose long, complex name describes its chemical structure can have different pronunciation.

Several different ingredient such as EDTA or EDDs are the chelates that makes water soft for use they can too be ver complicated to pronounce when written in their chemical name. And emulsifiers (many have “-eth” suffixes) work to prevent your product from separating in the bottle so you get active ingredients with every pump.

Are ingredients really listed in order of their %?

Now that you know that ingredients are listed in descending order you must be curious to know their quantities, Because as long as you put a drop of it inside the bottle, it goes on the list, but depending on what it actually is.

So is there a way to figure out exactly how much of what is in the formula?

Well, not exactly. But there are ways to get a good guess. Ingredients on the packaging must be listed from highest to lowest, which is why Aqua/Water is the first ingredient in most. This rule only applies until you reach the 1% mark though, anything that is at 1% or lower can be listed in random order. That way the brand gets to protect its exact formula.

How can you get better?

A little more advancement is looking for an ingredient you know the concentration of (like Salicylic Acid in The Ordinary 2% Salicylic Acid Serum). Anything before it is present at more than 2%, anything afterward at less than 2%.

Look for the ingredients you know and what the product claims based on ingredient, but beware, sometimes there is a % in the product name, as in 5% Granactive Retinoid, which is the description of the ingredient, NOT the amount that is in the final formula – even though it is fine to print 5% Granactive Retinoid on the packaging.

Take away 

As a consumer, it’s important to do your research regarding ingredients to determine what you are happy to use on your skin. This is not an easy game; you'll get better at it day by day. Not only read but understand your ingredients. 

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