Sunday, October 3, 2010

Latin and Labels

One of the things that got me started researching cosmetic ingredients was a curiousity about what exactly I was (willingly!) paying for and putting on my face/body/hair. I started studying the ingredients list on the labels. Because I have had some Spanish in school, I understood what seemed to be ingredient number 1 in everything: aqua = water. Everything else looked pretty foreign to me. Turns out, it was Latin.
 If you learn just a few tips about reading cosmetics labels, you will be a bit better equipped to understand what you are buying. Here is a super-quick lesson.

About INCI
The cosmetics industry has a set of rules for labelling:  INCI (The International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients). All producers of cosmetics - big and small - are required by law to include a list of ingredients directly on the product, its packaging or in an informational leaflet with the product. Each ingredient must be listed with its INCI name in descending order down to 1%. Any ingredients that are less than 1% of the product may be listed in random order. It is not required to list the common name of any ingredient.

In short,  the first listed ingredient is what there is most of in the product. The next ingredient is what there is next most of, and so on. 

If you can find the preservative on a label, you are in the 'under 1%' category. Look for any word ending in "paraben", any of the following: phenoxyethanol, ethylhexylglycerin, styrax tonkinsensis, sodium benzoate, or (a relative newbie on the cosmetics scene) benzyl alcohol. Grapefruit seed (citrus grandis) extract is another preservative I'm seeing more of.

Active ingredients 
If the cream you have just bought boasts of containing hyaluronic acid (INCI: Sodium hyaluronate), check where it is placed in the listing on the label. If it's way at the end (and listed after any preservative), you're most likely getting only trace elements of the stuff.

And then there are the oils
I am still constantly disappointed to see many "natural" products using a mineral oil base. Mineral oil is not ideal for skin because -  simply put - the molecules of mineral oil are too large to penetrate the skin. This means mineral oil cannot carry any active ingredients into the skin, but merely builds everything up in layers on top, ultimately clogging the pores.  Mineral oil can be recognized under names such as paraffinum liquidum and petrolatum. Why does the industry continue to use it? Because it's much cheaper than any vegetable-based alternative, is neutral-smelling and more stable than vegetable oils. In other words, it's ideal for mass production.

Due to the rising popularity of organic and plant-based cosmetics, I am however beginning to see more vegetable oils listed on labels these days. Admittedly, it is a rarity if I see a vegetable oil listed in the top 5 ingredients. (read: we are most likely looking at smaller amounts of the stuff), but at least it is beginning to make a presence in some commercial products. 

A few of the oils I am seeing, all of which are among the more neutral-smelling and more stable vegetable based oils
Prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond)
Prunus armeniaca (apricot kernel)
Persea gratissima (avocado)
Cocos nucifera (coconut)
Vitis vinifera (grapeseed)
Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba)
Helinthus annuus (sunflower)



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