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It's all double Dutch to me.... (part 2)

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Last week we talked about how confusing a beauty product label can be to customers.

self confidence


But I hope you are now feeling more aware and confident when you go shopping for your beauty products in future.



legal requirements

And last week we also discussed that all cosmetic manufacturers, whether large or small, whether producing factory-made or hand-made products, whether they are a shop retailer or market seller, ALL cosmetic manufacturers must include all EU-required points on their labelling (ie Company name & postal code, Batch number, BBE, Minimum weight, Directions for use, Ingredients list, and INCI ingredient names)


This week we are going to look at one specific area of beauty product labels: the ingredients listing.

As an example, here's the ingredients listing for my coconut ruffle whipped body butter:

body butter - coconut ruffle


Ingredients: Mangifera indica seed butter, Caprylic / Capric triglyceride, Alpha topcopherol, Parfum, Benzyl alcohol, Coumarin


So..... tell me...... what's in a Simply Skin coconut ruffle whipped body butter?


Not sure?

Bit difficult to decipher?

I thought you might be scratching your head a bit.... and to be honest, quite often I will read an ingredients label also and go "Huh?"

Cosmetic ingredients labels are most definitely not the easiest thing in this world to decipher.


"But why make it impossible to read an cosmetic ingredients label?" I hear you ask

Well, I know if sounds like there's a huge conspiracy going on out there.  I know it sometimes can look like the manufacturers are trying to hide what they put into their products.  But that's not (or shouldn't be) the case.



Let me ask you:  How many languages are there around the globe? 

A lot, right?


Then imagine if every different language listed their cosmetic ingredients in their mother tongue.

For example: Olive Oil could be Olijfolie in Dutch, Olivenöl in German, Olívaolaj in Hungarian, Oliwa z oliwek in Polish..... you get my meaning, right? 

There would be a shed-load of confusing 'foreign' ingredients labels out there.

And that's one reason why the law states that companies must use the same language on their ingredients label. 

Each ingredient is therefore given its own International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients name or INCI name, for short.


But there's another reason.

Let's suppose you use a product and you come out in a rash, your skin gets itchy and bumpy, or your lips start to swell a bit.  You'd want to know what could be causing that reaction, right?

So what would you do?


You'd go to your doctor and get an appointment with the dermatologist.

And the dermatologist might do some scratch tests on your back to see how you react to different 'ingredients'

And after a few days or a week, she'll look at your back and give you a list of ingredients to avoid.

Now let's say you display an intolerance to Coconut Oil.

Do you think the dermatologist would only tell you to avoid any beauty products with Coconut Oil in them? 

No - She would probably also suggest that you avoid any products which contain Cocos nucifera oil as that should be in the INCI name on the label.


Let's think about this for a second and play out a couple of scenarios.

Suppose you go to your bathroom cabinet and look at the brand new Body Butter you bought last week from the local market which you suspect contains the ingredient that you could be intolerant to.

Now suppose this beauty product does not list its ingredients using the INCI names.  You might read:

Ingredients: Shea butter, Aloe butter, Sweet almond oil, Vitamin E


Looks good, right?



Not only is the labelling not compliant with EU-law, it is 'deceiving'.  Now, certainly, the intention to deceive was most probably not there.  But by not following EU regulations, the manufacturer could be actually putting you in danger or, at the very least, continuing to irriate your skin.


So let's replay the scenario again:

replayAfter testing your skin for intolerances, your dermatologist tells you to avoid beauty products which contain Coconut oil (or Cocos nucifera oil).

So you go to your bathroom cabinet and look at the brand new Body Butter you bought last week from the local market which you suspect contains the ingredient that you could be intolerant to.

Now suppose this beauty product lists its ingredients correctly using the INCI names.  You would read:

Ingredients: Butyrospermum parkii, Cocos nucifera oil / Aloe barbadensis extract, Prunus amygdalus dulcis,Alpha topcopherol


Can you spot the difference?



In the second scenario you can clearly read Cocos nucifera oil, the very ingredient that your dermatologist advised you to avoid.

But in the first scenario, you would have never have spotted this.

That's because in the first scenario, the manufacturer listed only the layman term for the ingredient "Aloe butter" whilst in the second scenario the manufacturer listed the INCI name Cocos nucifera oil / Aloe barbadensis extract

Aloe butter is made from a combination of aloe vera extract and coconut oil!

not easy

Do you now appreciate why it's not easy to always read the ingredients label?

Do you now see why EU law states that it is really important to list all ingredients according to their INCI name?


Thankfully, however, more and more manufacturers are inserting laymans terms in brackets on their ingredients label beside the INCI name.

Indeed, this year I started to do the same thing myself as I want my customers to understand what they're buying from me.

So, for example, when you buy my Body Butter you could read:

body butter - citrus zing



Ingredients: Butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), Cocos nucifera oil / Aloe barbadensis extract (aloe butter), Prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond oil), Alpha topcopherol (vitamin E)...




Whilst this is helpful for the customer, it does mean that the label can become quite lengthy, especially if there are a lot of ingredients. But I think it is a positive move in the right direction.

However there's also a down-side: not all ingredients have a layman term.  So there may be times manufacturers incorporating this method cannot  use brackets to explain an ingredient. 

For example many foaming agents used to create the bubbles in your shampoo, shower gel etc etc only have an INCI name.  They do not have a layman term. 

But just because the manufacturer doesn't list an layman term in brackets, doesn't mean to say that a particular ingredient is bad for your skin.


Has this post helped a little?  If so, please leave a comment below.


I know it still doesn't make the ingredients label super clear and readable.  There is little I can do about that, unfortunately.  But I hope by explaining this a bit you have a better appreciation of how and why ingredients are listed as they are. 

What I would recommend, however, is if you are buying a beauty product and are unsure about an ingredient:

ASK the shop assistant to explain it

Now.... be patient...... like I said above, reading cosmetic ingredients labelling is not easy..... even for the experts as there is such a wealth of ingredients available out there.

So he/she may not immediately know the answer to your question BUT they should be happily able and willing to find out the answer for you.



Next week, I'll dive even further into ingredients labelling.  And throughout this series of posts I'll look at the variety of ingredients out there, allergens that must be listed, the difference between allergen-free and unscented..... and much, much more.

In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below and to share this post with your all friends.



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  1. Vivienne

    Thanks Vanessa... you're too kind.

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  2. Vanessa

    Thank you Vivienne, this post was so helpful and enlightening. You are an absolute credit to the cosmetic business!

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