Ask a Cosmetic Chemist: How to Read a Skincare Ingredient List

Ask a Cosmetic Chemist: How to Read a Skincare Ingredient List

Published by Simone on Sep 29th 2023

Hello readers!

Welcome back to another blog. I am excited for this one today because I hope to share some useful information for consumers looking to make more informed, science-based beauty decisions! When we are at the store looking for the perfect product for our skin, we are surrounded by so many options. You're standing in the aisle, faced with a dazzling array of products, each promising the world with their cutting-edge ingredients and revolutionary claims. It's all so captivating: the cute packaging, the bold claims, and of course, the price! The truth is, the key to making informed choices about the products you apply to your skin, hair, and body lies in one essential skill: the ability to read and understand a product label. So, whether you're a seasoned skincare enthusiast or someone just beginning to explore the world of personal care products, join us as we go over some helpful hints about product labels so that you can navigate the aisles with confidence. Say goodbye to confusing ingredient lists and dubious claims – it's time to become a label-reading pro!

First, let's get familiar with some terminology.

Cosmetic Ingredients 

Cosmetic raw materials can be broken up into three categories for simplicity: 

  1. Functional Ingredients - These ingredients are responsible for doing the job, such as making the skin feel soft, cleansing the face, helping fight acne, etc. 
  2. Aesthetic Ingredients - These ingredients are all about enhancing the feel of the product and help boost the performance of functional ingredients. 
  3. Claims Ingredients - Claims ingredients are what sell the product and draw consumers in. While they may have some effect on the formulations, their primary purpose is to provide the product with that "wow" factor that drives sales.

So, when you're looking over the ingredient list of your favorite beauty products, keep a mental note of these categories so that when you do look into certain ingredients, you can better understand how they contribute to the product's overall performance.

When assessing various beauty products, paying close attention to the functional ingredients is key because these are the components responsible for delivering the promised benefits. As you become more acquainted with the world of cosmetic terminology and the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names of commonly used ingredients, you'll develop a keen eye for recognizing what might work wonders for your skin. This knowledge empowers you to make informed choices and select products that align with your unique skincare needs and preferences rather than marketing ads.

Labeling rules 

Ingredients in cosmetics must be listed in descending order of concentration, if they are in the formula at concentration levels higher than 1%. Ingredients used at 1% or below can be listed in any order.

This seemingly minor detail can be pretty crucial. Why, you ask?

Well, it's because many companies use the allure of "claims ingredients" to market their products, yet these very ingredients often lurk below that 1% threshold, meaning they're not as prominent in the formula as their marketing might suggest.

Now, don't get me wrong – an ingredient falling below the 1% mark doesn't automatically render it useless. Many raw materials and active ingredients have specific usage levels that stay comfortably below 1%, and some can wield remarkable power even in small quantities. However, it's equally important to recognize that some companies employ a clever marketing tactic. They might introduce a trendy ingredient, just including enough of it to make it onto the product label, without it actually contributing significantly to the product's performance.

Why does this matter? Well, consider those products adorned with exciting new "miracle" ingredients or the latest "must-have" trend. They might seem enticing and novel, but when you dig into the scientific research, you may find that the claims fall short.

Tip: Materials such as fragrance, preservatives, color additives, and plant extracts are typically not used at levels above 1%. This would be a good starting point when deciphering where the 1% line lies. Remember that these ingredients can be placed in any order after the 1% cut off.

Label Reading Time! 

Now, let's delve into the ingredients of Blemfree™ Cleansing Wash Concentrate and see which ones support its claim:

  • Claim: Gently exfoliate skin, loosen oil and debris from clogged pores without being abrasive on irritated skin.
  • List of Ingredients: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Methococoyl Taurate, RO Water (Aqua), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Lauroyl Sarcosine, Hexylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Diol, Methylcellulose, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Matricaria Recutita (Chamomilla) Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Mentha Spicata (Spearmint) Oil
  • Note: Given the simplicity of the Blemfree™ Cleansing Wash Concentrate's formula, it's easy to pinpoint the 1% line, which is where it lists phenoxyethanol. This knowledge helps us dissect the product's composition effectively.

Functional Ingredients: 

  1. Sodium Laureth Sulfate: This ingredient serves as a surfactant, a cleanser that effectively removes dirt and debris from the skin, leaving pores clean and unclogged. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a gentler alternative to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). 
  2. Cocamidopropyl Betaine: Another surfactant that aids in the gentle cleansing process. 
  3. Lauroyl Sarcosine: This ingredient plays a role in cleansing and maintaining the cleanliness of the skin, once again contributing to the product's overall effectiveness in exfoliating and unclogging pores. 
  4. Phenoxyethanol: A preservative that helps maintain the product's shelf life and prevent bacterial growth, ensuring its quality over time. 
  5. Caprylyl Diol: This is a skin-conditioning agent and is often used as part of a preservative blend with phenoxyethanol and/or chloroxylenol.

Aesthetic Ingredients

  1. Sodium Methococoyl Taurate: It plays a crucial role in providing a smooth and gentle, almost creamy, foam when the product is applied. 
  2. Hexylene Glycol: It aids in thinning out the formulation, improving its absorption, texture, and allowing other active ingredients to work more effectively. Enhances the user's experience by promoting a smoother and more comfortable moisturizing application. 
  3. Methylcellulose: A versatile and natural polymer. In this formula, It acts as a thickener, helping to give the product the desired consistency, binding agent, and emulsifies the formula, which is crucial for retaining moisture.

Claims Ingredients:

  1. Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract: This ingredient is known for its astringent properties, making it effective in tightening and toning the skin. It also helps maintain pH balance, ensuring that your skin remains in an optimal and healthy condition. 
  2. Matricaria Recutita (Chamomilla) Extract: Chamomilla extract is valued for its anti-inflammatory properties. It can soothe and calm irritated skin, making it an excellent addition to a skincare product designed for individuals with sensitive or easily irritated skin. 
  3. Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil: Rosemary oil is known for its antiseptic qualities. It can help cleanse the skin and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. 
  4. Mentha Spicata (Spearmint) Oil: Spearmint oil provides a refreshing and invigorating sensation, it can contribute to the overall user experience by adding a pleasant scent and a feeling of freshness during use.

What does all this mean? 

The functional ingredients consist of well-known and effective surfactants that efficiently whisk away dirt and debris from the skin, ensuring that pores are left clean and unclogged, as the product promises. The aesthetic ingredients aren't just about appearances here; they also play a crucial role in enhancing the product's functionality. These components ensure that the cleansing wash concentrate doesn't merely cleanse but also provides a delightful and moisturizing experience. Using this product leaves your skin feeling not only refreshed but also revitalized. Let's not forget the claims ingredients; they offer extra benefits that elevate the overall effectiveness and sensory delight of the product. These ingredients contribute to exfoliation, soothing irritation, and maintaining a balanced pH, all while delivering a refreshing and invigorating sensation during use.

In essence, the Blemfree™ Cleansing Wash Concentrate's well-balanced combination of functional, aesthetic, and claims ingredients makes it not just a cleanser but a holistic skincare experience that caters to your skin's needs and your senses. That is why I love the Blemfree™ Primary package! Finding a product that uses a minimal amount of research-backed ingredients provides its users with a product they can trust. This does not have to be rocket science, and once you become familiar with more commonly used ingredients, you will be able to pick products that work and not be drawn to the marketing fluff.

Tip: Access valuable resources like INCIdecoder and SpecialChems’ INCI Database Directory for further research on specific finished products or specific raw materials! And of course, for more information about BlemFree™ Primary Package ingredients, click here!

So, there you have it – armed with this newfound knowledge, you're now well-equipped with a keen understanding of how to decipher product labels, recognizing the role of functional, aesthetic, and claims ingredients to make informed and savvy choices when it comes to your skincare and beauty product purchases. This will ensure that the products you select truly serve your needs and deliver the benefits they promise. Whether you're hunting for that perfect cleanser or exploring the latest skincare trends, remember that your skin deserves the best, and may your choices be guided by science and knowledge, leading to a radiant and confident you.

Happy shopping! 


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