How to read the INCI of creams

INCI, acronym of "International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients", is an international name that serves to identify the active ingredients and excipients contained in a cosmetic product. Since 1997, the inclusion of INCI on cosmetic labels has been mandatory: it serves, in fact, to understand the content of any cosmetic, whether we are in a perfumery in Italy, or whether we are in a beauty store in New York. It is a complex list to decipher, but in this article we will try to teach you how to read the INCI of creams and cosmetics in general.


Within the INCI list, the ingredients are shown in descending order, starting from those contained in higher percentages, up to the ingredients present at 1%. At concentrations of less than 1%, the ingredients follow a random order, chosen by the manufacturer. All compounds can be grouped into three different categories: plant compounds, synthetic compounds and dyes.

Plant compounds

They are reported with their botanical name in Latin, followed by the part used and the wording in English (For example: Helianthus Annus Seed Oil which corresponds to Sunflower oil)

Synthetic compounds

They report in English the corresponding synthetic name (For example: COCO-CAPRYLATE corresponding to an emollient obtained from coconut)


With the exception of those contained in hair products, they are indicated with the abbreviation CI (Color Index) followed by an identification code (For example: CI-14700). Based on their number we can trace their origin:

Figures from 10000 to 74999 indicate synthetic organic dyes

Figures from 75000 to 75999 for natural organic dyes

Figures from 76000 to 76999 for oxidation and nitro dye bases

Figures from 77000 to 77999 are inorganic pigments

Looking at the INCI, it can be seen that any cosmetic can be divided into three parts:

Structural substances, such as surfactants, gelling agents and humectants (the first third, approximately equal to 90%)

Active ingredients (the central body, approximately 7-8%)

Dyes, preservatives and perfumes (the final part, about 2-3%)

Reading the INCI of creams is difficult to perform even for those in the trade and does not guarantee the effectiveness of the product, which depends on many factors, including the raw materials used and the way it was formulated, as well as the type of skin on which it is applied.

However, small tricks can help us make an informed choice and understand what to expect from the product we are purchasing. One of the tips to keep in mind is to always buy cosmetics produced in Europe and preferably in Italy, which are safer and subject to stricter regulations than cosmetics produced in other countries.