Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting to know INCI names

If you want to formulate your own products - whether they're duplicates or something you've cooked up in your head - you need to know INCI names so you can figure out what ingredient is what. The common name for an ingredient - evening primrose oil - is not the same as the INCI name - Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil - which you may or may not see with the common name in brackets.

What is an INCI name? INCI stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, and it's a system of naming ingredients based on scientific names or Latin or English words. Sometimes you'll see the name of something natural - say, shea butter - with its botanical name (Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) Fruit). Other times, it's a break down of what's in an ingredient like red 40, propylene glycol, water.

For more information, click on this link for the Wikipedia entry.

When buying ingredients, I cannot stress enough the importance of reading the INCI name of the ingredient if you're in doubt. We find suppliers renaming emulsifiers, preservatives, and surfactants a lot, and if you don't want to end up with three bottles of disodium cocoamphodiacetate (which can be found as Coco SilkyCleanse at the Herbarie, under the INCI name at others), learn the INCI name and check before you buy!

For instance, I have been experimenting with a sample of Ritamulse SCG (an emulsifier), which has an INCI name of glyceryl stearate, cetearyl alcohol, and sodium stearoyl lactylate. I'm running out and I want more because I'm quite liking this emulsifier (plus it's Ecocert, which is a bonus if you're selling products). I can't find it under that name at any supplier, but I can find it at the Herbarie as Natramulse or at Lotioncrafter as Ecomulse. By knowing the INCI name, I'm able to find it quickly and only buy one bag instead of two!

Reading the INCI name can help you interpret what you're buying. If you're looking for lavender hydrosol, you want to buy something like Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Flower Water, Methylparaben, Proplyparaben or Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) flower water - you don't want to buy something like water (and) polysorbate 20 (and) Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) essential oil, because that's just water with essential oil in it and some polysorbate 20 to emulsify it all together.

If you read the INCI name for this version of witch hazel - INCI: Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) water (and) Ethanol - you'll see it contains alcohol. But read this version from another supplier - Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Distillate, Phenoxyethanol - and you know you're buying pure witch hazel with some preservative in it to ensure it won't go off on you!

If you're in doubt about knowing the INCI name of an ingredient, read this post on the Everlasting Flower Absolute from Lush's Afterlife moisturizer. There's a big difference between helichrysum and marsh cudweed! 

INCI names are really helpful for North Americans reading blogs from Europe, Europeans reading blogs from North America, Australians reading blogs from anywhere, and so on. If I reference something like Amphosol AS-40, look for an INCI name of C14-16 olefin sulfonate when you're at a suppliers' shop to get this product, not the brand name. Brand names can be quite different in different markets! Not only might you not find Stepan brand surfactants in Europe, but they might not distribute over there under that name or might not distribute at all! Learning the INCI names makes it much easier to translate ingredients from one market to another, and will save you a lot of headaches! 

You don't have to memorize the names! Keep a list of the ingredients you want with the INCI name beside it. When you see a surfactant - for instance - that looks interesting, check it against the list to make sure you're not buying a third batch of DLS mild! 

Here's my example about the confusion one faces when trying to buy "conditioning emulsifier" if you're interested in learning more about the value of learning INCI names. 


Ged said...

Oh, I love impressing people with my knowledge of INCI names! When I worked with a business partner, we used to challenge each other with essential oil INCIs while we were working - the more obscure the better. The person one who got the least right had to do the clean-up. It was usually me ... so I had to learn them pretty quickly!

Penny said...

I believe there might be a problem with your comment on witch hazel. There is a great deal of misinformation out there. Witch Hazel USP and Witch Hazel INCI are two different processes from two different parts of the plant. In Europe I found hazel nut leaf is often passed off as witch hazel. The production actually comes from the United States and there are a couple of tiny producers in Europe. In the US there is 1 company that makes all the witch hazel regardless of brand.