For a conscious use of a cosmetic knowing its composition is essential for the health of our skin, each with its Inci, or with a list of ingredients indicated on the label. Knowing how to read the ingredients on the label would allow us to defend ourselves against aggressive cosmetics or that could cause us allergies or irritations despite being well publicized.

What is the Inci of a cosmetic and why it is important to know it

From November 27, 1997, it is mandatory to indicate on the packaging label of cosmetic products the ingredients present in order of decreasing quantity, from the present one in a higher percentage up to the less present one, up to 1%. Below the 1% threshold, the listing may also not comply with the precedence criteria given by the quantity.

As far as the denomination of the ingredients contained in cosmetics is concerned, it has been possible to create a unique system having value throughout the European Union. This nomenclature is called INCI, which is the acronym of International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients. The European Commission elaborates and periodically updates the INCI, which defines "cosmetic ingredient" any chemical substance or preparation of synthetic or natural origin, except the odorous and aromatic compounds, which is part of the composition of cosmetic products.

How to read the Inci of a product

Here are some useful rules to read it:

– the list of ingredients starts with the ingredient present in greater quantity than the previous ones;

– the natural elements, which have not undergone chemical processes, are written with their own Latin botanical name;

– synthetic and semi-synthetic, or naturally derived, but not botanical derivatives are written in English;

– ingredients of natural and organic origin are marked with asterisks.

Not all cosmetics, however, in order to be "good" they must be certified, the important thing is that some ingredients such as SLS, SLES, Petrolati (PEG, PPG), parabens, silicones, are absolutely not contained. Do you want to check all the ingredients written on the label? you can also do it thanks to the online "biodizionario" (organic dizionary).

The ingredients to avoid in a cosmetic

In order to guarantee the safety of cosmetic products and their component ingredients, the European Commission has banned a certain number of substances because they are considered harmful, while it has admitted others only in certain concentrations in the final product, based on the risks deriving from their toxicological characteristics. The European Commission has set up an online database called "CosIng" (COSmetic INGredients), which collects information on tens of thousands of ingredients used in cosmetic products. For each of these, information on restrictions and conditions of use is provided and the opinions on the safety of use expressed by the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety are given. The EC Regulation 1223/2009 provides for lists of unauthorized substances (Annex II) or admitted with limitations (Annex III) in the composition of cosmetic products. The lists are continually updated following the indications of the technical committees that at the community level deal with the sector. Here they are also available on this Ministry page. In particular, commercially available cosmetics containing:

 aggressive surfactants of petrochemical derivation, such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), often found in common detergents. They are surfactants of synthetic origin, derived from ethylene oxide (labeled Carc. 1B – H350 / Muta 1B – H340) and are used mainly in products for body and hair cleansing. They are not compatible with our skin, they attack the hydrolipic layer generating redness, irritation and intolerance. The emulsifiers and humectants PEG (polyethylene glycols) and PPG are also derived from petroleum with ethylene oxide which form a protective and emollient film on the skin capable of absorbing water, but they increase its permeability and therefore can generate skin irritations and absorption of harmful substances from the environment. The ethoxylated ingredients in the INCI contain the "eth" particle which means ethoxylate, or in part oil.

– synthetic ethanolamine based humectants: monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine. The ethanolamines DEA, TEA, MEA, are usually found in the company of the compound. , Linoleamide DEA, Myristamide DEA, Stearamide DEA, DEA-Cethyl Phosphate, DEA-Oleth-3 Phosphate, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate, Thiethanoamine). Under some conditions, such as in the presence of nitrosating agents (nitrates, nitrites, nitrogen oxide), they could form nitrosoamines, very dangerous for their carcinogenic activity (Shin et al, Arch Pharm Res, 2016). In addition, MEA / DEA / TEA are also considered very aggressive for the skin (Lessmann et al, Contact dermatitis, 2009) and considered a possible cause of dandruff and acne.

– synthetic emollients derived from petroleum, ie paraffin and petrolatum. They form a barrier on the skin that does not let the water evaporate, they are not biodegradable. In particular, mineral lipids (mineral oils) are composed of products of fractional petroleum distillation: (liquid paraffin, white and yellow vaseline (petrolatum) and various mineral waxes (solid paraffin, ozokerite, ceresin and microcrystalline wax). Mainly used as emulsifiers, compared to vegetable and animal fats, have the advantage of being compatible with all chemical products and of not altering due to exposure to atmospheric agents.Used continuously they leave an occlusive film on the skin which predisposes to comedogenesis phenomena, ie they prevent skin transpiration. They are pollutants for the environment, as well as being harmful to humans, isoparaffins, silicone oils (methyl polysiloxanes), (they often end in in-one, -thicone or -siloxane: the best known Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Ciclopentasiloxone) which give them captivating sensory properties of the product (silkiness, rapid drying) but are not biodegradable and dermal mpatibili: they form a film on the skin and hair and makes them seemingly healthy, but in reality they do not nourish and tend to dry out. Depending on the degree of impurities they contain, the relevant European legislation has included these elements among the class II carcinogens. 

– Parabens: they are synthetic preservatives that exert an estrogenic-like activity favoring the onset of mammary tumors. In INCI they are characterized by the suffix –paraben; Triclosan, present in sanitizing disinfectant cosmetics; formaldehyde agents such as Imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM ​​Hydantoin, Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone.

– chemical syntetic antioxidants BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), BHA (butylhydroxyanisole): They can induce allergic skin reactions and are classified as potential carcinogens and interfere with hormonal functions

– cades of formaldehyde: preservatives that release formaldehyde, a potentially carcinogenic substance also known as the formalin trade name. Formaldehyde was classified as an inhalation carcinogen in 2004 by the IARC, it is able to interfere with the bonds between proteins and DNA. This substance can irritate the respiratory system, cause skin reactions and / or trigger heart palpitations, be responsible for headaches, chest pains, dizziness, allergies, asthma and eventually aggravate coughs and colds. Ingredients that release formaldehyde are found in many products such as nail polishes and hair straightening products and in some shampoos. They cause allergies and are carcinogenic. Some of these with INCI: imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, bronopol, 2-bromine, 3-diol, bronidox, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, DMDM ​​hydantoin.

Finally, a clarification on "special cosmetics": organic sunscreens stand out for having only the anti-UVA physical filters and not even the UVB chemical filters, while for hair dyes, excluding dyeing herbs, there are no 100% natural or bio.

Cosmetics should also be nickel, chromium and cobalt tested (the recommended tolerance limit is 1 ppm). These metals that come from processing residues are not dangerous, but their presence can be very annoying for those suffering from allergy to these metals, with manifestations attributable to contact dermatitis.

Final considerations and our proposals

How many of you will now promise to always read cosmetic labels? for your health and that of your children, do not run after fashions, brands and advertising without first knowing the product. Here for example some very commercial and famous brands incriminated.

In Erboristeria Como we have personally selected for our customers, ingredient by ingredient, organic cosmetics and eco bio certified by organic cosmetic companies par excellence (Flora bio srl, Domus Olea Toscana, Maternatura, Phitofilos) and the certification is explicitly indicated in their description. You will also find on Erboristeria Como also the cosmetic products not yet certified by Microcosmo, a small but serious local company from Como lake  that realizes its products in an alchemical-spagyric perspective and all the ingredients are chosen starting from a criterion of absolute purity: they are exclusively of vegetable origin. The principle behind the entire Microcosmo line is the presence of spagyric extracts and oleolites made with wild plants that expert herbalists collect in the uncontaminated areas of Italy, considering lunar, solar and planetary aspects. They are taken at the most opportune moment of their maturation, when their active qualities reach the apex of vital energy, then for a period of two lunations the extracts are scrupulously transformed into elixirs thanks to the teachings of spagyria.

Dr. Comollo.

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