Put 2 and 2 Together – The Ingredients Panel

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Learn how to read and understand the ingredients list to make educated decisions on finding the right product for you.

Every personal care product comes with a label attached to the bottle. There are strict guidelines from the FDA that specify the type of information that must be disclosed on the labels for consumers information. 

The front of the label is the most eye-catching part as it contains valuable information to help consumers decide if this product meets their needs by highlighting the purpose of the product, targeted skin or hair types, and pointing out active ingredients used in the formulation. However, the meat of the formulation is located in the back of the label under the section called “Ingredients List” or “Ingredients Panel.”

At first the ingredients panel might look intimidating, with a list of unfamiliar scientific names. Understanding what is printed on the label requires a willingness to do some research on the consumer side. These uncommon names that may cause some confusion are called INCI names (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). And the reason for using this format is to impose some level of consistency across all brands and products. For example, we are all familiar with shea butter but its INCI name is butyrospermum parkii! Some brands in light of helping consumers to better understand the INCI names include the common and familiar name of the ingredient in parentheses next to the INCI name. If you come across an INCI name that you are not familiar with you can certainly look it up through Google Scholar. The benefit of using Google Scholar is that it limits your search results to scholarly journals and books.

FDA requires ingredients to be listed in the order of concentration in the product. That’s why usually in an aqueous based formulation you will see Aqua or a Hydrosol at the very beginning of the list. However, bear in mind that if you see a botanical extract that looks very appealing to you and is listed toward the bottom of the list it doesn’t necessarily mean that because of its low concentration it doesn’t contribute much to the effectiveness of the product. Most of the active ingredients are highly effective in very low concentration. 

Another important piece of information you need to familiarize yourself with is how the formulation is preserved. The preservative system is usually listed at the bottom of the ingredients list along with fragrances and dyes. Some brands rave about being green and natural but when you look at the preservative system they use for the formulation you will realize that it is not approved by COSMOS or ISO16128 standards. So be aware of such possible false claims.

Knowing how to read the ingredients panel is a priceless tool that empowers you to make an educated decision of what product to choose in order to meet your specific needs. This will translate to finding more satisfaction from the skincare and haircare products you purchase.

Happy INCI reading!


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