Understand your INCI

Understand your INCI

How many of us have ever bought a cosmetic just by reading the product description without turning the pack around and reading the ingredient label? How do you know if this eye cream I’m about to take home and that everyone talks about is really what it says it is? Reading the labels! In this guide we explain how not to get carried away by appearances and make wise choices.

Where is the labeling of a product?

Simply turn the packaging of our product and look for the list of ingredients. If you can’t find it in the primary packaging, look in the cardboard box. 

If we are shopping online, in the product description or in “Ingredients” the INCI of the product should appear.

What INCI is:

INCI is the abbreviation for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, in other words: the way in which the ingredients of the cosmetic formulation appear on the packaging. This list is usually found on the back of the cosmetic packaging if we are shopping in a physical store, or in the product description if we are shopping online. 

Ingredients are ordered from highest to lowest concentration.  
An asterisk (*) means that it is a controlled organic ingredient.
Two asterisks (**) means ingredients derived from essential oils 
All ingredient names are written in Latin 
At the end of the INCI lists you will find the allergens contained in the product. These allergens are constituents of natural essential oils or synthetic fragrances. There are 26 possible allergens, including geraniol, limonene, and linalool. 

Before reviewing some potentially harmful ingredients, we remind you that the Guide of the Ecosystem Network (co-financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the Biodiversity Foundation, Emplea Verde, the EU and the Vida Sana Association) makes a good collection of harmful ingredients, some of them we leave you here:

Phthalates: fragrance fixatives, plasticizers, solvents that give persistence to cosmetic odor, help nail polish pass from liquid to enamel and denature alcohol. In INCI they are listed as Diethyl Phthalate, Dimethyl Phthalate. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health link them to reproductive harm, neurological damage, cancer and are hormone disruptors banned in many uses. Sometimes they are included in the terms fragrance, perfume or parfum, which can refer to 3,000 ingredients from essential oils, own natural cosmetics, and also other suspect. A disaster box where any added aromatic substance fits without identifying it since it is a “professional secret”. The Musk Ketone, of some, is a potentially dangerous fragrance.

Parabens (in the INCI appear as Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben), are petroleum-based preservatives, bactericides and hormone disruptors accumulating in adipose tissue, in the placenta, are suspected to be estrogenic in the body and related to breast cancer. Phenoxyethanol, glycol ether, preservative and bactericide that replaces them, is also toxic to the immune system and can cause irritations or allergies.

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Sodium Myreth Sulfate: these are detergent bases present in gels, shampoos, liquid soap, toothpastes, etc., which can cause immunological damage, neurotoxic and be hormonal disruptors. Sodium lauryl sulfate foams but is abrasive, cleans by decapturing the skin, removes layers of cells, eventually makes them more sensitive and end up with dermatitis, dandruff, eczema on the scalp and damage the hair. 98% of cosmetics have it and almost 100% of those of the supermarket. It has been largely replaced by sodium laureth sulfate, but in the chemical process of ethoxylation of this, is produced as a secondary pollutant 1,4-dioxane, possible carcinogenic, very dangerous in children and pollutant that occurs in the ethoxylations of many cosmetic ingredients.

Aluminium Chloride, Aluminium Chlorhydrate, Aluminum Chlorohydrex, Aluminum Chlorohydrex PG, Aluminum Fluoride, Aluminum Sesquichlorohydrate, Aluminum Zirconium Trichlorohydrex GLY, come from aluminium and its derivatives, are bases and active ingredients of deodorants and antiperspirants and endocrine disruptors. Synthetic aluminium salts (unlike natural salts) have a greater capacity to block sweat glands, cause inflammation and accumulation of waste. Its toxicity depends on the ability to penetrate the body and varies depending on the molecule. 

Bronopol (in INCI listed as 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-2,3-Diol), is a toxic preservative for the immune system that acts as an endocrine disruptor, is present in baby wipes, conditioners or gels. It degrades into formaldehyde and nitrosamines, both carcinogens.

Ingredients that have the words PEG, PPG, Polyehtylene, Ceteareth, Ceteth, Hydroxypropyl or eth finish identify petroleum-derived emulsifiers in bath gels, liquid soaps, shampoos, sunscreens and baby wipes. They improve viscosity, their penetration and often have dioxins associated with them, contaminants recognized as carcinogens, it is not possible to distinguish which products they are in and which they are not.

Diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA), are additives and preservatives that can cause hormonal dysfunction, the U.S. Toxicology Program warns since 1998. They may react with cosmetic nitrites and give rise to nitrosamines, possible carcinogens.

EDTA (and all ingredients containing it), identifies a chelating anticoagulant additive that increases the cleaning power and softens the water, but difficult to remove from it and encourages the development of aquatic algae in rivers that can destroy fish populations. It can affect the kidney, is bioaccumulative, binds to heavy metals and compounds difficult to degrade.

Methyl Gluceth, moisturizing emulsifier of shaving foams and can cause cancer.

Oleth, emulsifier, cleanser and solubilizer linked to liver lesions, reproductive, allergies and cancer.

Benzalkonium, Cetrimonium, Quaternium, Polyquaternium, quaternized derivatives of Ethylenediamine or Polyethylenimine such as Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine and Hydroxy Propyltrimonium Chloride, quaternary ammonium compounds, called Quat and Poliquats, are caustic and eye irritants present in many cosmetics. They are used as preservatives, surfactants, conditioners and germicides that can create allergies, contact dermatitis and asthmatic symptoms (showers with hot water increase their inhalation). Polyquaternium (conditioner and moisturizer with anti-static properties) is common in hair cosmetics, is composed of archilamide and is removed from food because it is harmful, as the WHO warns.

Polyehtylene glycol, emulsifier and antifreeze ingredient of brake fluid also used in cosmetics, is fast penetrating, weakens cellular structure and can cause neurological, renal or hepatic damage.

P-Phenylenediamine Sulfate (or phenylenediamine) derived from aniline is found in hair dyes and mixed with henna for temporary tattoos, can cause allergic dermatitis, lesions on the scalp, eyelids, ears, and hairdressers with continued use can end up with eczema on the hands.

Selenium sulfide (selenium disulfide) in anti-dandruff shampoos and conditioners is believed to be neurotoxic and possibly carcinogenic.

Boric acid and Sodium borate (Boric acid and Sodium Borate) preservative additives that are easily absorbed by the skin, children are especially sensitive and for more inri are used in moisturizers and creams for diaper irritation (the prohibition of the former seems imminent in the EU).

Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative present in eye drops, contact lens fluid, vaccines, cosmetics and toxic to the nervous system, can be accumulated in the body (e.g. in the brain) and also causes irritations and allergies.

Triclosan and Triclocarban, antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, deodorants, shaving foams and hygiene products, bioaccumulable and detected even in breast milk, are hormone disruptors and help the development of resistant bacteria. The multinational P&G is withdrawing the first one but it is still in its dishwashers, hand soaps and personal hygiene items as they recognise on their website. Colgate-Palmolive removed it from a liquid soap but it is still, for example, in its Colgate Total.

Formaldehyde and liberators (Formaldehide, Aldioxa, Alcloxa, Allantoin, and any other ingredient that has this word, as well as DMDM Hydantoin, MDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea), preservatives that can release formaldehyde, are allergenic, can produce dermatitis, headaches, depression, chronic fatigue, ear infections and insomnia. They are common carcinogens in gels, shampoos, deodorants, shaving foam, nail and hair revitalizers, or nail polishers. Nail polish brands such as OPI remove phthalates but not formaldehyde, Keratin straighteners have a high concentration of it.

Toluene (solvent) also in enamels and nail polish remover, irritates the eyes, throat, lungs, can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, damage to the fetus, and if contaminated with benzene (common) is carcinogenic.

Halogen-Organic compounds listed in the INCI as Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methyldibromo Glutaronitrile, Iodopropynyl Buthylcarbamate, Chloroxylenol, Chlorphenesin and any other ingredient with the words: chloro, bromine or iodine. They are preservatives with chlorine, bromine or iodine, allergens, bioaccumulable and create health problems.

Hydroquinone (skin whitener) is found in cosmetics and dyes, of limited use because of its toxicity, reduces melanin and increases exposure to sunlight.

Oxybenzone, blocks the sun, rated very toxic by the EGW (www.ewg.org), but it is in many sun creams, where there may also be Benzophenone (followed by a number), Camphor Benzalkonium Methosulfate, Octocrylene, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Drometrizole Trisiloxane, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Ethylhexyl Triazone, Homosalate, Isopropyl Dibenzoylmethane, are UV filters of chemical origin that can cause allergies, some are very liposoluble, accumulate without studies of their long-term effects. Benzophenone is one of the most popular, also appears in perfumes, soaps and gels because it prevents ultraviolet light from degrading its odor, or color, and the higher the level of protection, the more its concentration. It is easily absorbed and is related to photo-allergic reactions, nervous system toxicity and endocrine disruption.

In chemical sunscreens there are active ingredients such as Avobenzone (Avobenzone), Octinoxate (Octinoxate), Octocrylene (Octoctrylene), Oxibenzone (Oxybenzone). They may be composed of nanoparticles and cause the release of free radicals and other adverse effects (allergies, hormonal disruptions, alteration of estrogen levels, growth problems in babies, tumors and skin lesions).

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