They are everywhere! On our skin, our hair, our eyes, our nails and even our teeth! Cosmetic products are intended to be put in contact with the various superficial parts of the human body in order to clean them, to perfume them, to modify their aspect, to protect them and to maintain them in good condition. They are classified differently according to their purpose: Skin products (creams, lotions, make-up, make-up removal, anti-aging, shaving, suncare), hygiene products (soaps, shower gels, deodorants, dental and oral hygiene products), hair products (colorants, conditioners, shampoos, hair styling products, straightening products), or others (perfumes, depilatories, nail polish and nail care products).
Water: It serves as a solvent and often makes up the bulk of cosmetic products. It is usually demineralized except in products with thermal waters whose properties depend on the trace elements and mineral salts present.
Fragrance: Fragrances are found in almost all cosmetic products and even form a category of their own: eau de toilettes, eau de parfums and essences. The molecules responsible for odors are aromatic compounds of natural or synthetic origin.
Emollients: Emollients are ingredients that help soften and smooth the skin. Vegetable oils, waxes, glycerin are considered emollients for example. The more emollient a substance is, the softer it will make the skin.
Fatty bodies: Fatty bodies are widely used, in the form of oils, butters, free fatty acids, waxes or even derivatives such as fatty alcohols and esters. They help restore the hydrolipidic film, strengthen the intercorneocyte cement to reduce water loss from the skin.
Preservatives: Preservatives allow cosmetic products to be less susceptible to oxidation to slow down the rancidity of fats and extend their shelf life. There are also antimicrobial preservatives to reduce the risk of product contamination by microorganisms.
Texturizing agents: Texturizers allow as their name implies to modify the texture of the product, we find in this category gelling agents, thickeners, fluidizers.
Surfactants: These are molecules that are compatible with both water and oil. They therefore allow the formation of emulsions which correspond to the dispersion of a liquid in the form of droplets within another to which it is not miscible. The emulsion is the form most found in cosmetics, in creams, shower gels, shampoos, milks etc.. They are found under the name of surface agents, surfactants, emulsifiers or emulsifying agents.
Actives: Active ingredients are ingredients known to provide specific properties: anti-aging, moisturizing, exfoliating, humectant, anti-oxidant etc... These are the ones that are generally added to neutral bases to obtain the desired effect. We find in this category essential oils, hydrolats, vegetable oils and oily macerates.
The INCI list is the long list of complicated names most often found on the back of your cosmetic products. It details their composition according to the International Nomenclature Of Cosmetics Ingredients (INCI).
Without an expert eye, it is difficult to decipher, here are some explanations to help you:
This list is both useful to the consumer and also allows for many secrets to be kept from him.
Ingredients in quantities of less than 1% listed out of order often result in commercial and advertising abuse. For example, presenting a plant extract as the main interest of a product when it actually makes up only 0.2% of the formula packed with chemical ingredients.
The INCI list can therefore also reveal toxic ingredients for our skin and the environment, but what are they? Here are the main unsavoury ingredients that you can easily recognize in the composition of your products.
They are derived from the distillation of hydrocarbons such as petroleum or coal. Used in conventional cosmetics to stabilize them, they have an occlusive character and leave a light film on the skin but do not bring any nutritive element to it. Their manufacturing process in petrochemicals is not very ecological and they are very polluting once found in the environment.
Example INCI list: Mineral Oil, Cera Microcristallina, Petrolatum, Paraffinum Liquidum .
Like mineral oils, they stabilize the product and leave a film on the skin that can be protective if the fatty alcohols are of natural origin. On the contrary, those synthesized chemically risk to irritate the skin, even more if they are used in excess. They are also very polluting when released into the environment.
Example INCI list: Caprylyl-alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Polypropylene Glycol.
Silicones come from the chemical industry and belong to the rubber family. They are appreciated in cosmetics in the formulation of care products and make-up for the smooth finish they leave on the surface of the skin or hair. However, like most plastics, they are highly polluting for the environment and take more than ten years to decompose.
Example INCI list: Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Cyclohexasiloxane, Cyclopentasiloxane
Surfactants play a crucial role in the stabilization of emulsions by ensuring the mixture between a fatty phase and an oily phase. They allow cleaning thanks to their detergent, wetting and solubilizing properties. The least recommended and yet the most used in shampoos and shower gels in particular are sulfate-based anionic surfactants, better known by the abbreviation SLS. They come from the chemical industry, irritate the skin and have a strong allergenic potential. They are often accompanied by an amphoteric softening surfactant.
Example INCI list: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Carboxylate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Oleth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Preservatives are essential because they are used to preserve cosmetic products against bacteriological and oxidation risks. However, some are highly criticized for their potential role as endocrine disruptors such as parabens and phthalates. Others like quaterniums can also release formaldehyde which is an important allergen. We also find EDTA (Ethylene Diamine TetraAcetate) which is an antioxidant and antibacterial preservative but which is also very toxic and polluting.
Example INCI list: EDTA, Disodium EDTA, Quaternium, Polyquaternium, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCIT), Butylhydroxytoluene (BHT), Butylhydroxyanisole (BHA)
Cosmetic dyes are mainly used in hair coloring and makeup products. They are found in the INCI list thanks to the CI (Colour Index) code followed by a 5-digit number. Some of them, such as aromatic amines and azo dyes from the chemical industry, are highly allergenic or even carcinogenic.
Example INCI list: p-Phenylenediamine, Toluylen-2,5-Diamine.
Still used to ensure product stability, polymers bring a velvet texture to cosmetics. They are synthetic and belong to the ethoxylated compounds. They come from a very heavy manufacturing process requiring toxic gases for humans and the environment, one of which is very well known: ethylene oxide.
Example INCI list: Crosspolymer, Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Polypropylene Glycol (PPG).
They are used as antiperspirants in many deodorants. They obstruct the sweat glands, are often irritating and can have an impact on the endocrine system in the long term. The ANSM published in 2011 an evaluation report on the danger of aluminum chlorohydrates in cosmetics. The quantity is now restricted to 0.6% in the product.
Example INCI list: Aluminium chloride, Aluminium chlorohydrate, Aluminium zirconium, Aluminium Chlorohydrex, Aluminium sesquichlorohydrate.
Perfumes get their pleasant odors from aromatic molecules that can be naturally contained in plants or chemically synthesized. They can be problematic according to the allergic ground of each one, in particular if they are isolated which is often the case for the synthetic fragrances. It is better to choose products whose fragrance is provided by plant extracts such as essential oils or floral waters.
Example INCI list: Fragrance, Fragrance.