How to read the INCI of cosmetics and buy real green products

Knowing how to read the INCI of cosmetics without being fooled by the logos on the packaging is the first step to making conscious choices


Beauty, body care, attention to cosmetic products have become, over the years, a sort of status symbol that identifies us. The use of cosmetics can also be considered as a process of social identity formation, which reveals information to the observer.

Cosmetic marketing has exploited, on the one hand, the consumer’s need to reach a certain status symbol and, on the other, the secondary characteristics of the products to build an ad hoc communication strategy that pigeons the various types of consumers in certain categories to offer them the cosmetic product corresponding to its category.

Surely this marketing strategy has brought enormous benefits to the environment, especially if we think of the growth of consumers who are attentive to the impact of their choices in terms of sustainability: basically none of us want to destroy the world because otherwise we would not know where to live. The greater awareness than in the past is good for health and for the planet but when buying it you must be careful not to be misled by symbols and writings that could be misleading.

Many times the cosmetic is not evaluated for its functionality but for the presence or absence of symbols that should certify, for example, its reliability. All these symbols are effective when it comes to building the brand reputation of a product but they do not always ensure its quality and effectiveness.

The delicate mix that characterizes the cosmetic should, in fact, be made up of quality, effectiveness and the right price. Quality means that the cosmetic must be manufactured according to the principles of environmental and social sustainability; effectiveness means that the cosmetic must do what it has promised in the communication to the consumer and that it must do it within the times and in the ways promised.

In order to have all the tools necessary to make an informed choice in cosmetics, the first step is to learn how to read the INCI, without being influenced by the logos on the package, which are an indication of the sustainability of the product.

The list of ingredients, mandatory by law since 1997, allows you to uniquely define the substances present in a cosmetic product. To know how to read it, you must first of all keep in mind that the order in which the ingredients are written is determined by their weight. Therefore, in the upper part we will find the components with the heaviest weight while at the end, in no particular order, the components present in a percentage of less than 1%.

The name of the commonly used ingredients is generally in Latin and is reported according to the indications of the European Pharmacopoeia. Chemical or vegetable substances that have undergone a chemical process are indicated in English while vegetable derivatives are indicated with the Latin name of the plant from which they are obtained followed by the type of extract, in English.

The dyes are reported according to an international code, with the initials CI followed by a number.

Ingredients from organic farming are designated with an asterisk on the INCI. However, these plants are often present in a 1% formula and it is not guaranteed that the rest also comes from organic farming, although there may be a logo on the package that leads us to believe otherwise.

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