a key to understanding ingredient labels

One of the best ways to educate your clients on product use is to have them bring in their products so you can compare the label against clinical products you are recommending for home use. Reading labels, however, can be almost as difficult as deciphering a secret code. Have you noticed that you no longer see, for example, lavender extract? Instead you see lavandula angustifolia extract? This is because ingredients are required to be listed according to the official dictionary for cosmetic ingredients known as the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), which was established by the Personal Care Products Council in the 1970s (formerly known as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association).

For some ingredients it is easy to figure out what the English name is and in other cases it is downright impossible. Consider keeping an ingredient dictionary handy when going through ingredient labels to make the job a little easier.

The INCI, courtesy of http://www.scoutnetworkblog.com.

There are over 16,000 words in the current dictionary, but here are some examples, along with their INCI names, as well as clues to figuring out what the ingredient is. Some INCI names will also include the English name in parenthesis, but not always; and in some cases, the INCI name and the ingredient name are the same:

Licorice root extract – INCI name is Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract  – This is one of those INCI names that will simply require memorization; however, for the time, the English name is still written.

Grapefruit oil – INCI name is Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil – If you look at the INCI name here, you can see that it resembles “Grand Citrus” or “Large Citrus,” which may help with figuring it out.

Rose hip seed oil – INCI name is Rosa Canina Fruit Oil – This does not have the English word in the name, but this is one type of rose hip seed oil that is extracted from the seeds of the fruit of the Dog Rose shrub. Can you see the word “Canine” in the INCI name?

Oat bran – INCI name is Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract  – Even though the English name is provided, it does give us a clue as to where the brand name “Aveeno®” comes from.

Bearberry – INCI name is Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi Leaf Extract – Again, simply something to memorize unless you recall the constellations “Ursa Major” or “Ursa Minor” – the larger and smaller bears – which is where “Ursi” is coming from as a clue.

There are several resources online, as well as places to order ingredient and INCI dictionaries. Once you begin to recognize INCI names, it will become easier to explain ingredients to your patients. It can also be fun…. Think of it as learning a new language!


One Response to a key to understanding ingredient labels

  1. Doris Ruiz says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. Very useful.

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