A Closer Look at Ingredients Lists

reading label

Have you ever looked closely at the labels of the cosmetics you use daily? As formulators, we love to find out what goes into a product, which you can find on the ingredients list on the back of the label.

You may be wondering why should you pay attention to ingredients lists.

Ingredients lists in cosmetics are mandatory to protect consumers, especially those that have a known allergic reaction to a certain ingredient. For example, someone who has a allergy to coconuts has to avoid coconut oil and even derivatives, including cocamidopropyl betaine, a common surfactant added to body washes and shampoos to increase foam and viscosity. Without a properly structured list, this person may inevitably be using a product that will trigger a reaction.

Some discerning consumers would also like to avoid controversial ingredients, such as palm oil, colourants, sulfates, parabens, silicones etc, and the ingredients list will be able to inform them before they make a decision.

Most cosmetics on the market adhere to US, ASEAN, Japan, or EU’s legislation on proper labelling of cosmetics. A properly structured ingredients list follows the following rules:

  1. Ingredients above 1% in weight need to be listed in descending order of concentration
  2. Ingredients below 1% in weight can be listed in any order
  3. Colouring agents can be listed in any order after the above ingredients, in accordance with the colour index number
  4. Impurities or solvents shall not be listed
  5. Ingredient names shall be those found in the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients) Dictionary

If the cosmetic you purchase comes in a bottle, it is highly likely that aqua is the first ingredient in the list. Here is a simple example of a body wash:

Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulphate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamide DEA, Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Disodium EDTA

Naturally, water (aqua) comes first on the list. Phenoxyethanol and sodium benzoate are preservatives used in minute quantities, and it makes sense that they appear near the end of the list. Lavender essential oil is added for its scent and perhaps aromatherapeutic properties.

We have come across several liquid products that state botanical extracts or essential oils first, which at best is a mistake and at worse deception. These brands may be trying to market their actives or star ingredients, but their credibility comes into question. Essential oils, for example, are always used in minute quantities as they may be sensitising at high concentrations.

The next time you pick up a cosmetic product, we encourage you to take a look at the ingredients list and find out more about the ingredients. If you have any questions regarding cosmetics, we would love to answer them!


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