Understanding INCI Labels: Expert Guide by Aleksandra Crabtree for Smart Skincare Choices

Understanding INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) labels on skincare and cosmetic products can be a daunting task. However, learning how to read these labels is crucial for making informed decisions about the products you use on your skin. Here's a guide on how to navigate INCI labels effectively: 

Know What INCI Stands For

The INCI system is a standardized method of naming skincare and cosmetic ingredients. It’s used globally to ensure consistency and clarity in ingredient lists. In the EU and the UK there are stringent regulations for cosmetic ingredient labeling, other countries might have different standards. It's always advisable for consumers, especially those with sensitive skin or specific skin conditions, to be cautious and well-informed about the ingredients in their skincare products. For individuals with skin sensitivities or specific skin conditions, it is indeed crucial to be aware of the ingredients in skincare products. In regions where regulations are less stringent, there's a higher risk of encountering products without comprehensive ingredient disclosure, which could potentially aggravate skin issues. 
Ingredients are Listed in Descending Order

Ingredients are listed in order of concentration, from highest to lowest. The first few ingredients usually make up the bulk of the product. Ingredients present at less than 1% can be listed in any order after those in higher concentrations. Keep in mind that certain skincare components, such as vitamin C and ceramides, can be advantageous to the skin in minimal amounts. Therefore, their position towards the end of an ingredient list does not diminish their effectiveness in enhancing skin health. 
Understand Common Ingredient Categories

Emollients: Ingredients like oils and butters that soften and moisturize the skin. 

Surfactants: Used in cleansers to help remove oil and dirt from the skin. 

Humectants: Ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid that attract water to the skin. 

Emulsifiers: Help mix water and oil-based ingredients. 

Preservatives: Prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in products. 

Watch for Allergens

If you have known allergies, it’s crucial to look for these allergens in the ingredient list. Common allergens include certain fragrances and preservatives. 

Be Aware of Different Names for the Same Ingredient

Some ingredients may be listed under different names. For example, Vitamin E might be listed as tocopherol. 

Check for Active Ingredients

In products like sunscreens or acne treatments, active ingredients are often listed separately and include their concentration. 

Look for Certifications and Symbols

Certifications like “Cruelty-Free” or “Organic” are usually placed on the label and can provide additional information about the product’s formulation and ethical considerations. 

Use Online Resources

If you’re unsure about an ingredient, use online databases or apps that provide detailed information about cosmetic ingredients and their functions. We recommend https://incidecoder.com/ where you can paste the full ingredient list into the search bar and it will explain the role of each ingredient. 

Remember, More Isn't Always Better

A longer ingredient list doesn’t necessarily mean a better product. Sometimes, simple formulations are more effective and less likely to cause irritation. 


Reading and understanding INCI labels is a valuable skill that helps you choose products that are right for your skin type, concerns, and ethical preferences. With practice, you’ll become more adept at recognizing key ingredients and making informed choices about the products you use.