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INCI : How to read and understand the labels of your favorite cosmetics?

INCI - ingredientes en cosmética

Something you ask us regularly is how to know if what you are buying is good and healthy for your skin and the environment. And it’s a totally normal concern: there are so many cosmetic products on the market, so many ingredients being used, so much marketing behind it that it can be a little overwhelming to shop consciously and intelligently for good cosmetics.

Therefore, we believe that the most important thing for you to be able to develop your own criteria and be free to choose the cosmetics that you consider as appropriate or good, it is important to learn how to read the labels of cosmetic products.


Because in the labels you will find (or should find if you do a good job) the history and complete composition of a formulation. In previous articles, we have explained the ingredients that are important to avoid when buying organic and natural cosmetics and we have also created a glossary of natural ingredients so you can have on hand and understand a little better what you are buying.

Today we will focus on the role of INCI in natural cosmetics and how to learn to read the labels of your favorite cosmetics.

what does the INCI label tell us?

What is INCI?

INCI is the abbreviation for “International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients”, a kind of universal language for naming and listing the ingredients of a cosmetic product, whether natural or synthetic.

The INCI was created by the Personal Care Council in 1973. This North American association sought to provide a standardized methodology for reading cosmetic product labeling ingredients. This allowed anyone to know the composition of any cosmetic product, wherever they were.

In 1998, the INCI was made mandatory in the European Union, which means that all European cosmetic brands must ensure that their ingredients are included in this international list.

Currently, the INCI allows us to verify whether what is reflected in the advertising of cosmetic products is real or not. Because you have probably seen the slogan “paraben-free” in bright color on some packaging and then looked at the list of ingredients and found other compounds with similar characteristics. Or a product that proclaims on its packaging the presence of X natural product and when you look at the list of ingredients, you realize that it is the last one (which means that it is the ingredient with the least amount in the formula).

What cosmetics are made of

How to know the ingredients of a cosmetic?

To find out the ingredients of a product, it is necessary to look for the INCI, i.e. the list of ingredients. It usually appears on the back of the package, on the side or on the back.

The international language used by the INCI is English, although when the ingredient is of vegetable origin, the scientific name of the plant from which it comes is also indicated in Latin, and is usually accompanied by denominators such as “water, butter, oil…” To indicate the type of ingredient, “hydrolate, butter, oil…”.

Another aspect to bear in mind, especially since nanotechnology has been developed, is that if an ingredient is presented in the form of a nanomaterial, it must be indicated with the prefix “nano”.

To interpret the INCI, the first thing to know is that the ingredients are listed in order from the highest to the lowest proportion in the list of ingredients.

natural cosmetic label

Those that appear at the beginning are the most abundant, while those that appear at the end are in the minority in the formulation (they may even be minimal amounts, so it is important to read the label well).

When we see ingredients with an asterisk, it means that we are dealing with an ingredient of organic origin. When we see two asterisks, it means that it is a compound that is naturally part of an essential oil.

When it comes to knowing whether an ingredient is beneficial or not, it is essential to use common sense. Does the name mean anything to you? If yes, you can draw your own conclusion about its effect on your body. If not, you can find out on Google, simply by searching by name: you will quickly see if the ingredient in question is healthy or not, because few things are hard to miss on this huge search engine.

Remember, if you need some extra help, we have linked at the top an entire article on ingredients to avoid in your cosmetic products and an entire glossary on natural and healthy ingredients to consider when choosing your beauty products.

About the author
Picture of Victoria Sánchez
Victoria Sánchez
Soy una apasionada de la cosmética natural y ecológica, y creadora de la marca Saper Organic Skincare en 2011. Máster en Cosmetología y experta en evaluación y seguridad del producto cosmético. Mi objetivo es la belleza, la salud y la sostenibilidad del planeta. Para ello busco siempre los mejores ingredientes e investigo formulaciones de cosmética vegana, obteniendo los mejores resultados para la piel, cuidando siempre del medio ambiente.
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