What the INCI list and Symbols on your skin-care can tell you

Estimate 5-minute read

Have you ever looked at your skin-care routine products, all lined up on the bathroom shelves and realised you actually don’t know what the symbols and labels actually mean?

Read more if you want to have a better understanding of the INCI list (general rules, how to read it, ingredients to avoid) and if you want to learn what some of the symbols you always see on cosmetic and skin-care products tell us.



Why is it important we understand skin-care and cosmetics INCI lists?

There are multiple reasons: you may be vegan and you want to stick to products that reflect these values on the ingredients used for the formula. You may be sensitive or even allergic to active ingredients, fragrances or material used for the product’s packaging and you want to make sure you are not endangering your health.

You definitely want to make sure you are not overdosing your skin on too much of a certain active ingredient, or you want to be careful and avoid mixing molecules that aren’t going to work well together.

For example, active ingredients commonly found in skin-care like vitamin C, Retinol, and active exfoliants are best kept to one product at one session each, rather than applying throughout your routine.

So what are the 6 rules that INCI lists have to follow – when it comes to EU skin-care and cosmetics - ?

  1. The ingredients are listed in order of concentration
  2. The ingredients are written in their International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient (INCI) names - usually latin sounding.
  3. Not all essential oils or fragrance ingredients are listed on the label - you can find them grouped together as “Parfum”.
  4. Ingredients included in the formulation at under 1% concentration can be listed in any order – this means the last few lines of the INCI list.
  5. Certain known allergens that may be present in essential oils and fragrances (under parfum) must be listed.
  6. Any colours must be listed.



Ingredients that are not so great to have in your skin-care routine

In terms of what you should actively avoid, many agree that the following are best to stay away from, particularly for sensitive or reactive complexions that need a little extra care.

-         Artificial fragrances and dyes: While products that look and smell nice can feel super luxe, the use of fragrances and dyes in said products are usually only added for user experience. Sensitive, acne-prone, or redness-prone skin can be a little vulnerable to smells or colours however, meaning it’s best to avoid them to keep your complexion safe and healthy.

-          Sulphates: Sulphates like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are by no means dangerous, but many beauty brands are beginning to realise that they’re just not as necessary as they once thought! Sulphates act as cleansing agents, and are often responsible for the foaming effect of shampoo, body wash, or cleanser. However, when overused, they can cause skin dryness rather than helping it overall.  

-          Parabens: even though there has been talk, with little to no science-backed proof, of ingredients such as utyl, propyl and ethyl parabens being considered dangerous, many shoppers now prefer to forgo parabens altogether. You may also only want to buy products that feature a very small amount of parabens, meaning they are far down the INCI list. Look out for scientific names like ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben or propylparaben, which indicate parabens in your product.

-          Mineral oils: Mineral oil uses an odorless, colorless ingredient derived from petrolatum, like liquid paraffin, liquid petroleum, paraffin oil, paraffinum liquidum, petrolatum liquid, petroleum oil, white mineral oil, white oil and Vaseline. Though mineral oil may seem to be relatively benign in skincare applications, it’s important to note that some studies point to potential side effects. For example, one of the concerns with this chemical is the potential for bioaccumulation or accumulation of the ingredient in the body. Although its molecules are typically too large to penetrate the skin, regular use of products with this ingredient can cause the molecules to accumulate in the body due to penetration through broken skin or because of use in lip balms.




What symbols on skin-care products mean


Shelf Life

The little open jar is the PAO symbol, which means Period After Opening. The number and the M indicate the number of months the product is safe to use after opening, so in the picture above for example, you’ve got 6 months to use your product once opened. If you can’t find this symbol look for a Best Before End Date symbol that looks like an hourglass or egg timer which means the product has a lifespan of less than 30 months.


Recycling and Disposal

The 3-arrow triangle, also known as the Mobius Loop, is the universal symbol for recycling. There will be a numerical code inside the loop which helps determine the amount that can be recycled and provides a code that helps determine which packaging is safe and will not leach into the product. Plastic packaging labelled with codes 1, 3, 6 and 7 are said to be more likely to contain phthalates and BPA. If there’s no number in the loop that means it’s 100% safe and can be recycled in its entirety.


P.E.T.A Cruelty Free bunny Logo

A bunny rabbit or bunny ears indicates the product is cruelty-free.


Open Book with Hand Pointing Symbol

Sometimes not all the information can fit on the outside of a skincare or beauty product. In this case, a hand pointing at an open book can be placed on the packaging to indicate that further product information is available in an enclosed leaflet or on the outer packaging.


Made in Italy certificate

The ITPI has developed a certification system whereby manufacturers can mark their creation distinguishing them from those of uncertain Italian origin. Thus, consumers are given assurance on origin and quality. The products to be marketed with the 100% Made in Italy marks must meet the following criteria:

  1. Designed and Manufactured entirely in Italy
  2. Made with Quality Natural Materials
  3. Made following traditional Working methods
  4. Made in observance of Employees, Health and Safety Standards


On Naturalia Beauty products you will also see the Unicusano University Logo: this means that Naturalia Beauty is supported by this Italian university and their scientific laboratories.

 We hope you find this blog helpful and that you’ll feel more confident when you’ll buy your next skin-care product.



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