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Decoding Ingredient Lists

by Liane T on January 04, 2021


Between skincare jargon and gimmicky packaging, product labels can be frustrating to decipher. Our advice? Always judge a product by its ingredients! Yes, zooming in on the fine print will help you determine if the product is suited for you. Here's our guide to helping you decode ingredient labels with confidence - starting with the basics:

The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients or INCI, is a framework established in the early 1970s to standardize how ingredients are listed on cosmetic products across international markets, creating a standard system for the industry and consumers alike. The INCI system designates 2 things - order and naming.

INCI lists reflect ingredients in order of concentration, from the highest amount to the lowest amount. This only applies to ingredients present above 1% concentration, meaning ingredients present below 1% can be listed in any order. As a rule of thumb, the first five ingredients listed typically comprise the bulk or between 70% - 95% of the formula, and can give you an indication of the quality of the product. However, they do not determine the performance of the product as active ingredients can work their magic in low concentrations.

You may have noticed that ingredient lists are full of long and unfamiliar names, but do not fear - INCI lists are standardized by the use of scientific ingredient names and latin plant names, and these names can be easily decoded (if you continue reading ūüėČ).

Now that we’ve covered the basics, follow these steps to decode ingredient lists like a pro: 

1. Know your ingredients

If you need a little help translating ingredient names, you can rely on the following resources that will give you their common name (if any), along with useful information about the ingredients and their properties. 

    INCI Decoder - https://incidecoder.com/
    EWG's Skin Deep Database - https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

    The EWG database also maintains an ingredient grading system that will indicate how hazardous, and how well researched a specific ingredient is. This extends to their product database as well, where products that meet EWG‚Äôs strictest standards for transparency and health wear a EWG VERIFIED‚ĄĘ badge of honor.¬†

    2. A is for ‚ÄėActives‚Äô

    Whether you're on the hunt for a product to hydrate, improve acne, or refine pores, it is important to know which active ingredients will do the job, and within what range of concentration. An effective product should contain a balance of active ingredients and safe agents to deliver maximum benefit. Count on the resources mentioned in Step 1 to learn more about active ingredients.

    3. Flag out 'nasties'

    Unfortunately, there exists manufacturers who formulate with cheap and harmful ingredients, and it is up to you to flag out nasties by analysing the ingredient label. 

    Overall, this list includes ingredients that are harmful for your skin as well as our environment:
    Synthetic fragrances, Sulfates, Mineral Oil, Parabens, Propylene Glycol, Silicones, Ethanolamines, PEG emulsifier, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Phenoxyethanol, Animal products, or Synthetic Colorants.

    Your personal nasties list should take into consideration any ingredients that may trigger allergies or skin sensitivities. 


    That's it! Decoding ingredient labels can be as easy as 1-2-3 (steps). Ready to give it a go? Try them on any SOLYPH products.




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