INCI stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients and it refers to the international name classification of the ingredients, such as pigments, oils, waxes, humectants or preservatives etc, that are used to create cosmetic’s formulas.
The INCI system allows the consumer to identify the ingredient content of a certain cosmetic and it is therefore a great tool to help him to make conscious choices about what to put in contact with his skin or not and choose green instead of conventional or understand the difference between a real green product and those marketed as green, but that actually are not.
INCI names are used in the United States, the European Union, China, Japan, and many other countries. With few exceptions then, the INCI labeling names are the same in all countries.
The INCI system helpes understanding better the list of ingredients of a specific product, but it is not enough to understand it completely.
Here few explanations:
- An ingredients list should be headed by the word INGREDIENTS
- Ingredients should be listed in order of weight in the product (the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first)
- Ingredient names are from the INCI naming system
- Plant ingredients are declared as genus/species names using the Linnaean nomenclature (botanical scientific names)
- For “common” names e.g. water, milk and honey it is used the name given in the European Pharmacopoeia
- Perfume mixtures are labelled as “parfum” except for certain specific perfume ingredients which are listed by INCI name
- Flavours, such as in toothpaste, may be listed as “Aroma”
- Colours use the Colour Index Number, or CI Number, an international naming system, for example “CI 15580”
- For colour cosmetics, such as make-up and lipstick, which come in a range of shades, all of the colours used in the product range are listed together at the end of the list preceded by the “may contain” symbol which is a simple “+/-“
Which is the difference between green cosmetics and conventional ones?
The difference lies in the choice of ingredients.
Synthetic fragrances, ethoxylated raw materials, silicones, chemical dyes, chemical preservatives, paraffin, petroleum and other derivatives of oil typical for conventional industry are excluded by the companies that produce green cosmetics, which pay particular attention not only to the ingredient per se, but also to the process used to obtain those ingredients, that must be clean and respectful towards the environment. Renewable and biodegradable materials are preferred because their ecological impact is substantially lower.
In the manufacture of an organic cosmetic, the ingredients that exist in natural form or of natural origin will be favoured above all.
The choice of technical production methods is also limited. Technical methods cannot be fully eliminated especially when the user’s expectations for purity and performance cannot be met by raw materials in their natural state, but environmentally-friendly production methods and the principles of green chemistry are applied to reduce the negative impact of chemistry on the environment by preventing pollution.
This different approach affects the ingredient list. The Inci of a green cosmetic is completely different from the one of a conventional cosmetic, even though the general components are the same.
Inside a cosmetic you will usually find:
- an aqueous phase
- an oil phase
- active ingredients
The aqueous phase: it is made up of water and water-soluble substances.
The oil phase: is made up of soluble oils and ingredients in oil.
Active ingredients : are the ingredients which are responsible for the effectiveness of the product.
Emulsifiers : these are ingredients being used to bind the aqueous and the oily phase in an emulsion and to stabilize them.
The emollient : these are ingredients having the property to soften the skin.
The tension-actives : these are the ingredients added to reduce the surface stress and thus to facilitate the spreading out of the product; they have the capacity to mix with water and oil. They can have emulsifying, foaming-agent or disinfecting properties.
Additives (organoleptics): these are the ingredients to adjust the colour, the odour.
The preservatives: they have the goal to preserve the product.
And here is a table to explain how those same components differ in a green cosmetic compared to a conventional one.
Learning to recognize a green product between a pool of conventional one is a matter of studying the different ingredients that compose the family ingredients of a cosmetic. Many of them have weird names very difficult to remember.
My suggestion is to read about green brands and choose a product before actually physically going to buy it. Do your researches first so you don’t end up buying a false green product, or buy everything online as I do.
My reviews are going to list the INCI of a product and each ingredient is going to be marked as green, yellow or red according to the italian BioDizionario, a great tool created by the italian Fabrizio Zago (former chemistry teacher, member of the ICEA, the Ethical and Environmental Certification Institute and expert in the cosmetic field) and the infos that I will find online about how much that specific ingredient can be considered green, that means harmless for us or the environment.
Green means that the ingredient is safe for us and the environment.
Yellow means that there might be some problems connected to the ingredients such as allergy reactions related to its use.
Red means that the ingredient is toxic for us or the environment.
Of course this method is not a perfect one and doesn’t give a complete picture of the cosmetic. A product that contains yellow ingredients may be a disaster on my skin and pure miracle for you with no side effects. A green ingredient may cause you an allergic reaction that nobody else experiences.
This is going to be only a general guide to help me and you understand what we are using and ask ourselves legitimate questions concerning our safety and that of our planet.