In France, the labeling of cosmetic products is regulated by the DGCCRF (e.g., General Directorate for Fair Trade, Competition and Fraud Control). Its purpose is to “protect consumers and provide them with transparent and fair information”.
The labeling of products must provide information on: the origin of the product, the country of manufacture, the volume, the dates of limits, the batch number – to allow traceability should an issue arise, the functions of the product to avoid misuse, and finally the list of ingredients to inform the consumer on all the substances that enter into its composition.
The cosmetics manufacturers have relied on INCI designations for almost the past 50 years to establish this list of ingredients. Created in 1973, INCI stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It has been mandatory since 1999 and is amended regularly to ensure greater transparency for consumers to make informed choices.
In addition, be aware that any product developed and manufactured in France or Europe is subject to stringent rules and regulations to protect the consumer against dangerous products and unfair commercial practices, such as false claims. Furthermore, France has a long tradition in skincare, both medical and cosmetics. Therefore, the aura of French brands is not just about the “Parisian chic”. Instead, it is the consequence of the proven results of the cosmetic care they offer that rely on the expertise of R&D teams always at the forefront of the latest technology, especially in the formulation and the use of natural ingredients.
The good news is that if you buy French or European products, the health authorities are watching over for your protection. As a result, no skincare product developed and produced in France, then put on the market can be either toxic or risky. In addition, all communication displayed on the product must be legitimate and validated by the authorities.
How to decipher the composition of my cosmetic products?
Despite the absolute safety of French European cosmetic products, you may have to consult the ingredients that make them up, especially if you are hypersensitive to certain ingredients, natural or not. For example, you may be allergic to strawberries, sensitive to citrus fruits, or else.
The first thing to understand the composition of cosmetic products is to familiarize yourself with the INCI list. You know, that somewhat barbaric list that we find on the boxes of our skincare products.
You will have to recall old memories from school since the list of plants appears with their Latin names. For some, it will be easy: Aqua is water, and Centella Asiatica remains the same. However, it may be less obvious for Butyrospermum Parkii: Shea Butter.
All ingredients must be listed when the product containing them is available for purchase. It is a legal obligation controlled by the authorities. The components must be visible on the product itself or its secondary packaging (the box). The display of the ingredients on the websites of cosmetic brands is also a legal obligation so that internet users can make their online purchases safely and with full knowledge of the facts.
But it is not that simple when your try to understand the list of ingredients that compose a face cream or the active ingredients of an anti-aging treatment. The mission seems complicated, and we quickly feel ignorant when reading so many strange names. Very soon, we start wondering about what we are about to apply to our skin.
Here are a few tips that will allow you to understand (a little) better the information hiding in the INCI list of ingredients displayed on the product you are about to buy or on the product description on the website of the brand.
What you need to know about the INCI information
To comply with legislation, the list of ingredients of each cosmetic product must follow the INCI International Classification to appear in a calibrated and consistent manner. Rest assured that you are well protected! France is the leading cosmetics manufacturer worldwide, and we are the forerunner (along with Japan) in terms of regulations, transparency, and safety for the consumers.
In the lists of your cosmetic products:
- Ingredients proceeding from plants are named in Latin, in English for chemical substances.
- The list is established in descending order of importance of the ingredient in the formula. Generally speaking, the first 3 or 4 ingredients account for 80% of the product formula.
- Ingredients that account for less than 1% of the formula can appear in no specific order after that.
How to better understand the INCI list
- Water is the ingredient the most used in cosmetic products. It is the ingredient that you will most often find at the top of the list under its Latin name, «aqua »
- Plant extracts are most often used for their hydrating, soothing, and antioxidant properties. Natural plant extracts appear in their Latin name, often with the wording “extract”, like Sesamum Indicum for Sesame. Some are easy to identify, like Centella Asiatica, while others may require more research. With Cosmetics 27 unique online detailed product descriptions, you can quickly identify the actual plant/ingredient hiding behind their Latin names.
- Vegetal oils show under « oil »: they contribute to the softness of the texture and offer hydrating and antioxidant properties.
- Alcohol has a bad press in cosmetics – and it is most often unfair. Indeed, it can sometimes be drying to the skin. However, it is an excellent preservative and occasionally appears on the list due to the essential oils in the formula. Alcohol can be found as “Alcohol denat” for denatured alcohol and “yl-alcohol” for fatty alcohol. At Cosmetics 27 we balance this alcohol with softening plants so you can benefit from its properties without its potentially detrimental effect on the skin.
- The fragrances contribute to the sensoriality of the product. In natural and organic cosmetics, the scents are often derived from the essential oils present in the formula, but must be listed as perfume. In addition, some molecules may be allergenic if used in high concentrations. At C27, we are very attentive to these questions to provide you with pleasure and efficacy safely and responsibly.
- Preservatives too are often criticized for their potential allergenic risk. Therefore, it is essential to look into their percentage in the formula and their place in the INCI list understand their effect objectively. Despite their chemical name (benzoïc acid, sodium benzoate, benzyl alcohol, sorbic acid) many preservatives are recognized for their non-toxicity and their good tolerance.
What about cosmetic applications?
For a few years, we have seen new applications emerge. They claim to dedicate themselves to the well-being of consumers. This phenomenon arises not only in the cosmetic industry but also in the food sector.
Among the applications dedicated to cosmetics, you have probably heard about YUKA, INCI Beauty ,or QuelCosmetics in France (an extension of the “Que Choisir” association) or even websites like “la vérité sur les cosmétiques” (the truth about cosmetics).
What to make of these applications?
The key is to remain cautious and to question the rating method of each application. In this respect, the scores given by some of these apps have been strongly criticized. Indeed, they are based upon criteria specific to the app and not necessarily complying with the scientific studies which are the basis of the development of the product formulas. Therefore, the bias used can either be about your expectations or mislead you, by selecting criteria that may not be of your concern. Some cosmetic applications are so “stiff” that all the products will appear in red, and it all quickly becomes off-putting and too alarming.
Here are some points that can and should guide your choice in the use of these apps:
- Who is hiding behind the application? What is their legitimacy, neutrality, approach, and scientific background if this is a group of individuals,?
- Is the application linked to manufacturers or distributors? What should make you suspicious is that the application repeatedly offers your alternatives of a particular brand, and of course, when advertising banners appear.
- Does the application provide you detailed information regarding the way it establishes its ratings?
- What is the angle of ranking of the app: is it more concerned with the product’s safety or its environmental impact, and is this in line with your concerns?
- What are the ranking criteria regarding the ingredients? Indeed, they are not the same from one app to the other.
- Does the application take into account your age or your skin type before rating the product. Indeed, the same product may not be recommended for sensitive skin yet be the best option for thicker and stronger skin.
At Cosmetics 27, we prefer the QUELCOSMETIC app because it is a branch of UFC-Que Choisir, a French non-profit association renowned for its seriousness and focus on consumer rights and defense, an informed and responsible consumer.
What we like even more about the QuelCosmetic application, it that you are invited to enter your information and create a profile, allowing you to customize the results according to your specific needs and condition (child, teenager, adult, pregnant woman …). You can even include the allergens that concern you, and thus, the app will warn you about products that could be detrimental to your health.
Thus, there is no comparison with any other applications that are sometimes too alarmist, non-targeting, even biased and under-informed, and do not decipher the reasons behind their ratings.
Full disclosure and information on cosmetic ingredients and formulas
At Cosmetics 27, we are well aware of the difficulty for a greenhorn and the average person to sort through the long INCI lists and to make sense of things when consulting apps that seem too alarmist or, on the contrary superficial or biased.
One of the often-stated golden rules is to rely on shorter formulas. Yet, when we look at the Cosmetics 27 formulations, our INCI lists can sometimes be relatively long.
It is normal since when using any ingredient that could present a risk, even minimal, of allergenic factor, we compensate it with molecules and natural extracts that make it harmless from this point of view while retaining and benefiting from its treating power.
In addition, the use of molecules of different sizes that complement each other allows for better penetration of the product in the different layers of the skin and thus to act progressively and more efficiently, immediately, and in time.
To make it easier for our customers to access information, we have set up an interactive module in the list of ingredients of each of our product on our website, by simply hovering the mouse over the formula and ingredients, additional data displays, such as the common name of the plant used, the reason for its choice, and its functions in this particular product.
True to our ethics and full-disclosure policy towards our clients, we are at the forefront in the setting of such a cosmetic information system. However, it would be beneficial if this full-disclosure notion could become more common among most cosmetic brands, so the consumers could be better informed and comforted by the safety of the formulation of their skincare products.
Furthermore, at Cosmetics 27, our customer service and our beauty resellers are at your disposal to answer your questions and to guide you in a personalized way to help you find the skincare routine best suited to your needs, your skin type, and condition, the season and all the factors that can affect your skin.