INCI Cosmetics: what’s inside your beauty products? A guide to ingredients to avoid.

The list of cosmetic ingredients is usually surrounded by an aura of mistery. However, the label should not keep secrets from us or scare us. A bigger effort might make us question even the most purchased and confidence-inspiring brand. Actually, many beauty brands which claim to be clean or natural contain toxic, harmful or allergenic ingredients. Find out how to expose them.

The INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) is the list of ingredients contained in each beauty product: shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, face cream, etc. At the top, we can find the ingredient which is contained in larger quantities, followed by components with a lower concentration.

A list of usually incomprehensible words which tend to be ignored, while we often trust more relevant writings, graphically bigger and clearer, that ultimately lead us to buy certain products. It is not about superficiality, but simply about the tendency to trust a brand, a symbol, a slogan, without personally verifying what is that we are going to put on our bodies (and will be absorbed by them!). We must learn to familiarise with the INCI and learn more about its terminology.

INCI & “Red-light” ingredients.

Eliminating the products which contain “red-light” ingredients can help raise the safety level. Here’s a list of the most common harmful ingredients, divided by category:


We are talking about well-known substances, derived from refining oil. They are occlusive (they prevent your skin from “breathing”) and not skin-compatible. On labels, they are listed with the words:
Paraffinum liquidum, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Vaselina, Ceresin, Ozokerite.


These substances are also not skin-compatible and create a film on skin and hair which gives a “false” moisturizing effect. On labels, they are listed with the words:
Dimethicone, Dimeticonol, Polydimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cyclohexasiloxane, Quaternium-80, Amodimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Trimethylsiloxysilicate.


There are allergenic preservatives as Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone. We can also find them in the form of:

  • PARABENS: this family of preservatives is well-known for its infamous reputation. We are talking about substances which create intolerancies and are potential endocrine disruptors, meaning that they are able to interfere with our hormonal systeme. On labels, they are listed with the words:
    Isobutyl Paraben, Butyl Paraben, Methyl Paraben, Propylparaben, Benzyl Paraben, Ethyl Paraben.
  • FORMALDEHYDE RELEASERS: these preservatives are responsable for the release of formaldehyde (substance considered carcinogenic). On labels, they are listed with the words:
    Sodium Hydroxymethyl Glycinate, Bronopol, Diazolidynyl Urea, Benzylhemiformal, Imidiazolidynyl Urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin.
  • ANTIMICROBIAL: synthetic antioxidant at high risk of skin sensitisation such as Butilidrossianisolo (BHA) and Butilidrossitoluolo (BHT), or antibacterial substances which are toxic, such as Triclosan, and might cause antibiotic-resistance.


Synthetic substances which facilitate the fluidity of the product. PEG and PPG might be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogenic. On labels, they are listed with the words:
Polyethyleneglycole (PEG), Dipolyhydroxystearate, PEG6, PEG20, PEG 75, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Propylen Glycol, Butylen Glycol, Polypropylene Glycol, Ethylene Glycol.


We are talking about very aggressive substances of chemical origin, which can dehydrate the skin (unlike surfactants of natural and plant origin). On labels, they are listed with the words:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Amonium Lauryl Sulfate, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate, Magnesium Laureth Sulfate, MEA Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) e Amonium Laureth Sulfate.


Penetrating substances which might form nitrosamines (carcinogenic). On labels, they are listed with the words:
Cocamide DEA, Oleamide DEA, Lauramide DEA, Cocamide TEA, Oleamide TEA, Lauramide TEA, Cocamide MEA, Oleamide MEA, Lauramide MEA, Linoleamide DEA, Myristamide DEA, Stearamide DEA, DEA-Cethyl Phosphate, DEA-Oleth-3 Phosphate, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate Thiethanoamine.

Harmful to us and the environnment

We rarely think about what consequences on the environnment some ingredients might have. Unfortunately, many substances used in cosmetic have a deep environmental impact (more reason to avoid them). They are in fact not biodegradable and consequently remain in the environnment for a long time, until they alter the ecosystem.

Here are some examples: Zeolite, EDTA, Hydroxyethylcellulose, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (Bronopol), Triclosan.

INCI - a guide to ingredients to avoid

Artificial colouring agents: how to recognise them

Colouring agents of synthetic origin are indicated with the acronym CI (Colour Index), followed by a numeric code of 5 numbers (identification number, such as CI 42090). They are usually placed towards the end of the ingredient list.

INCI cosmetics

The topic of INCI is certainly not easy and it needs investigation, which can sometimes be pretty complex. If we are allergic, have particularly sensitive skin or suffer from a specific skin condition, it is recommended to seek the advice of an expert. In many delicate situations in fact, a guide is not all we need to find the answers. Let’s take, for example, products for children or used during pregnancy. Being sure that these products are 100% safe is a priority.

Luckily, there are many smart supports!

Some websites are able to guide us through the purchasing of the right product. All we need to do to find a clear answer is look for the ingredient that makes us doubtful. Here are two valid and trustworthy websites:

  • Skin Deep by Environmental Working Group gives you the possibility to look for a specific ingredient and learn about its degree of risk.
  • is an ethic project by VEGANOK S.r.l. benefit Society. Each ingredient has an instant valutation thanks to their database (vegan friendly).

The general rule.

If there are ingredients ending with one / -xane / -thicone (silicones) -fate or “eth” (sulphate) -paraben / -ycol or abbreviations in capital letters (PEG, PPG, DEA, MEA, MIPA, EDTA) on the label, you can certainly consider that the product in question is to avoid since it is not natural.

A healthy lifestyle would require the elimination from your beauty case of all the products containing these ingredients, while also limiting the overexposure to these harmful substances that can be found everywhere, in our everyday life (food, pollution, etc.).

The combination of these good habits represents the real key to a Clean and healthy change.


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