How to decode ingredients lists? + £100 Skincare Giveaway!

15th March 2019 in Hints and Tips, Skincare - No Comments - Talia James (The Skincare Saviour) - 4 min read
How to decode ingredients lists? + £100 Skincare Giveaway!

Welcome Skintellectuals!

I’ve been getting asked a lot lately how to read ingredients lists on products and what can you use to get better at identifying things to look out for so i thought i would get together with Judit from INCI Decoder, one of my most favourite website to use when looking at ingredient lists.

I am Judit, a computer scientist turned cosmetic formulator and currently a cosmetic science student. I have been obsessed with looking at ingredient lists for about 10 years and will try to give you some useful tips on how to decode ingredient lists.

The beauty industry is so marketing heavy that pretty much everything on a product packaging from the name through the free-from claims to the description is part of the marketing message. Even, or especially, terms such as natural, hypoallergenic or non-comedogenic are not regulated and do not mean much.
The regulated and hence probably the most honest part of a product packaging is the ingredient list.

What can you see on the ingredient list?

  • You can check if a product contains ingredients that you want to avoid for whatever reason (allergy, sensitivity or just personal preference)
  • You can see if a product contains active ingredients that you are looking for
  • You can check the position of the those active ingredients. Until the 1% mark, the ingredients are listed from highest to lowest concentration, so in general, the sooner in the list the better (though there are exceptions, and some ingredients work in tiny amounts)
  • It helps to differentiate between marketing and reality. For example, if you read the official Hylamide HA Blur description you will think hyaluronic acid makes the blurring magic, but if you look at the ingredients, it turns out, it is the silicones and blurring powders. If you just glance at The Inkey List Zinc Oxide cream you will think, it is a mineral sunscreen, but looking at the ingredients, it also uses a chemical sunscreen.
  • With some practice, you can get a pretty good idea about a product based on the ingredient list alone, but of course, it does not reveal everything. Examining ingredient lists and also reading reviews, will help you to make awesome product decisions.

So how to look at an ingredient list?

If you do not happen to be a cosmetic chemist, looking at the INCI names (the standardised names on the ingredient lists) can be daunting.

Even simple, well known ingredients such as olive oil have hard to recognise INCI names (Olea Europaea Fruit Oil), not to mention the lots of chemical, impossible to pronounce ingredients such as Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine or Tetrahydrobisdemethoxydiferuloylmethane. By the way, these impossible to pronounce ingredients are often awesome for the skin (the first example is Tinosorb S, one of the best sunscreen agents, and the second is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory from Turmeric), and there is absolutely no connection between how hard it is to pronounce and how good it is for your skin.

I believe looking and understanding ingredients one by one is the best way to decode an ingredient list, and I created INCIDecoder to help you with that.

Here is what you will see on INCIDecoder:

  • A science based, but (hopefully) easy to understand explanation of what each ingredient does in the product. These are mostly short, but some superstars (e.g. tretinoin or niacinamide) have a longer description (+ references if you want to dig deep).  
  • An overview of what the key ingredients and good things are in the product
  • What are the possible icky ingredients such as drying alcohols or fragrance allergens (including essential oils)
  • A breakdown of the ingredients by function, so you can quickly check things like what are the preservatives, the sunscreen agents, the emulsifiers etc.
  • You can also check the comedogenic and irritancy rating, but know that they are not as important as some sites claim them to be

As an example, here is what INCIDecoder has about one of my favorite retinol products, the Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol serum. If a product is not on the site yet, you can super easily upload it, or you can just take a photo of an ingredient list and the site will analyse it for you. We also have a pretty cool technology to automatically correct typos and parse ingredients even if they are not correctly separated.

I hope you will give ICNIDecoder a try, and find it useful. It is, of course, a work in progress, and I am super happy to have your feedback. 🙂

Now, on to the giveaway:

What skincare product(s) would you like to try the most from Cult Beauty up to the value of £100 GBP? Open worldwide(it has to be skincare, but it can be more than one thing so long as its within this budget. :)).

To enter You must be following both INCIDecoder and TheSkincareSaviour on Instagram then visit search for your favourite product and leave the link to it in the entry box to enter.
If you would like extra entries fill in all of the optional entries

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We will order the lucky winner the product(s) he/she would like to try! 🙂 Good luck!

Talia James (The Skincare Saviour)

Scottish science nerd obsessed with all things beauty! Creator of The Skincare Saviour, a skincare blog covering everything from reviews, tutorials to busting myths, finding dupes and breaking down trends.

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Welcome to fellow skintellectuals to The Skincare Saviour, a skincare blog covering everything from reviews, tutorials to busting myths, finding dupes and breaking down trends. All posts marked * have been sent to The Skincare Savior for consideration for review. All opinions on these products are my own. Read More


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