INCI catalogue

Search for INCI and see the relevant products from the PCC Group offer. Use the search engine to filter the INCI.

Search for INCI

What is INCI? Cosmetic composition deciphered

International consumer protection law requires that the composition of cosmetics is clearly specified by the manufacturer. INCI names are intended to ensure the transparency and universality of these mandatory descriptions. How should they be interpreted?

What is an INCI composition?

INCI originates from English and it stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients. This system was developed as early as the beginning of the 1970s and is now obligatory throughout the European Union, as well as in other developed countries, such as the USA and Canada. The idea is simple – to provide the consumer with reliable information for an optimal purchase.

INCI names’ goal is to overcome the language barrier that, today, often separates the cosmetics’ manufacturer and consumer. In a global market, information about a product’s composition must be understandable, in different countries. The INCI system is also supposed to eliminate any inconsistencies between the common names of individual substances and their scientific nomenclature.

How to understand the ingredients of INCI cosmetic products?

The basic principles of determining the ingredients of INCI cosmetics are very simple. Firstly, the manufacturer is obliged to list, on the packaging, all compounds used in the manufacturing of a given product. This includes waxes, oils, pigments, preservatives and fragrances. Chemical substances should be listed under their official English names, while plant extracts have to be listed under their Latin names.

Secondly, the order of listing of the individual ingredients must reflect their quantitative contribution to the product. Base ingredients are listed first (e.g. alcohols), followed by active ingredients (e.g. retinol), after which you write down auxiliary ingredients (e.g. colourants or emulsifiers). Importantly, INCI ingredients with a concentration of less than 1% in the product may be listed in any order, at the end of the list.

INCI names in English

One of the most commonly used ingredients in cosmetics is water. It may be purified, distilled, deionised or demineralised. According to INCI rules, it should always be referred to as Aqua. In this way, consumers receive abbreviated, essential information in a form that is easy to understand.

Some chemical substances can, of course, be difficult to interpret for the layman. However, it is useful to know the basic ingredients of a cosmetic product, under the various INCI names, e.g:

  • Citric Acid, Mandelic Acid and Lactic acid;
  • Vitamin E is Tocopherol;
  • bees’ wax is referred to as Beeswax;
  • Urea;
  • saponified coconut oil is Sodium Cocoate;
  • saponified palm oil is referred to as Sodium Palmate.

Contrary to popular belief, the official-sounding names on the labels of cosmetics do not necessarily hide ‘chemicals’ in the negative sense of the word. The length of the INCI composition is also not a definitive criterion for assessing the effectiveness or safety of a given preparation!

Latin INCI names

Even the names of plant ingredients, which are particularly sought after in cosmetics today, may be more incomprehensible. The majority of manufacturers inform about beneficial botanical extracts as part of advertising or designs on the packaging. However, it is worth being able to recognise key INCI names such as:

  • Avena sativa, i.e. oats;
  • Aloe barbadensis Leaf Juice, or aloe vera gel;
  • Mentha piperita, or peppermint extract;
  • Lavandula angustifolia, or lavender extract;
  • Citrus medica limonum Peel Oil, or lemon oil;
  • Olea europaea Fruit Oil, or is olive oil;
  • Simmondsia chinensis Seed Oil, or jojoba oil;
  • Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil.

Why is it important to pay attention to the INCI composition?

The unification of the naming of cosmetic ingredients is not just a legal formality. For every consumer, the INCI composition is a basic source of information about the content of individual products. Thanks to this, the consumer can make a rational, economic and healthy choice.

What does it look like in practice? By comparing INCI names on packaging, you can verify whether the differences between the prices of two creams are actually justified with better composition. At the same time, you have the chance to avoid ingredients to which you are allergic or which do not suit you for ideological reasons.

Online databases offer comprehensive INCI catalogues, where you can check the advantages and disadvantages of each ingredient. In this way, over time you can learn to draw conclusions about the optimal cosmetics for you. Today, knowledge is the consumer’s most important weapon!

What is worth remembering?

Just because you understand the INCI names, it does not mean that you have full knowledge of the product or its potential effects. Cosmetics that are similar in composition may, for example, have different functions, because one has more active compounds than another. It is therefore difficult to make a fair comparison without knowing the concentrations.

Also, pay attention to the origin of the ingredients. In this case, you cannot discern much just from the INCI list. If you are concerned about safety and ecology, look for additional information on the cosmetics label, e.g. in the form of international pictograms.

Please also note that the complete list of INCI names contains up to 1,600 names! You do not need to know or understand all of them. However, basic knowledge will certainly help you to make more informed and responsible purchasing decisions.

FAQ - INCI questions and answers
Why is the INCI system important for cosmetics?
The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) standardises the way cosmetic compositions are described, making it clear and understandable regardless of the product type, manufacturer and country. It also makes it obligatory for all cosmetic products to include a description of their ingredients on the packaging. Moreover, INCI ensures transparency and safety of use of the products.
How does the INCI system work?
Each substance included in the cosmetic has a one unique name written in the appropriate language – Latin or English. Individual items are presented using technical and/or scientific terminology – such a system reduces uncertainties associated with common names. Chemical groups, e.g. oils, are assigned to the same category with detailed distinctions in brackets. The order of ingredients on the list is based on the quantitative share (concentration in %) of the compounds in the formulation. If a substance constitutes less than 1% of the composition, it is listed at the end with other ingredients regardless of its precise concentration.
Who uses INCI names?
The INCI system is used primarily by manufacturers of cosmetics and raw materials utilized for their production. The INCI nomenclature is also used by relevant regulatory and legal organizations as well as physicians, pharmacists and other specialists involved in the cosmetic and dermatological industries.
What substances are listed in INCI composition?
The INCI composition lists all, synthetic and natural, chemical compounds used in the composition of a given cosmetic. Depending on their function in the formulation, individual ingredients may act as, e.g. active substances, foaming and anti-foaming agents, emulsifiers, dispersants, wetting agents, preservatives, pH regulators and others.
Are all ingredients listed in the INCI composition?
Yes, the INCI composition is a complete composition of a cosmetic formulation written in a standardised form using the INCI naming system. Manufacturers are required to list every ingredient contained in the product.
Which language is used in the INCI composition?
Chemical ingredients of synthetic origin are listed in English under their official, internationally-used names. The names of plant-derived ingredients are written in Latin, in accordance with their biological nomenclature.
Are INCI names the same all over the world?
Yes, the INCI system is standardised and described according to fixed rules. The names of chemical compounds are listed in English and the names of plants are in Latin. They are not translated into different languages. Also, no alternative name for a given compound can be used. The standardised method of describing INCI allows for consistency and transparency in cosmetic labelling.
What are the Latin and English INCI names used for?
The INCI names are a kind of code used to easily identify cosmetic ingredients regardless of the product or its country of origin. The Latin name indicates the plant that is the source of the obtained extract. In addition to the organizing function, it also gives information about potential allergens. The English names of chemical substances are consistent with other scientific nomenclatures.
Do all cosmetics have to have INCI names on their labels?
Yes, manufacturers are obliged to include the INCI composition on packaging to describe the ingredients used in cosmetics. In the European Union, Canada and the USA, this nomenclature is mandatory. The INCI law is applied in most countries, even if it is not mandatory.
FAQ - INCI questions and answers

Are there exceptions to the use of INCI names on product labels?
For “classic” cosmetics, the INCI composition should always be present on the packaging. However, it does not exclude the possibility of adding other data on ingredients in the form of marketing information or popular science facts as well as infographics. However, in the case of classification of other products, there may be regulations or special guidelines overriding INCI law. Examples include herbal products or traditional medicines, which are sometimes described using local names. Other compounds may be commercially protected, but this does not lift the obligation to inform about them.
How can the consumers use the INCI composition?
The INCI composition provides detailed information about any substances used in cosmetics. Based on this data, it is possible to determine ingredients that cause allergies, irritations or have other adverse effects. At the same time, it enables consumers to select cosmetics that meet their needs and to compare the cosmetics with others.
Can ingredients on product labels be listed under non-INCI names?
It is mandatory to include a complete INCI composition on cosmetic packaging and it cannot be replaced by another nomenclature. However, taking into account existing regulations, manufacturers may provide packaging with additional educational, commercial or marketing content on individual ingredients.
[acc nazwa="Are organic and natural products highlighted in the INCI composition?" ikona="flask-outline" otwarty="0"]
INCI names are distinguished linguistically based on plant origin. However, the INCI composition does not provide direct information on whether a given ingredient is of organic, natural or synthetic origin. For this purpose, manufacturers often include additional information on the packaging.
Does the INCI database get updated?
The INCI database is regularly updated. The process of adding a new ingredient begins with an official application submitted to INCI committees. The next stages are assessment, review and name assignment. The finished item is entered into the database and this fact is publicly announced.
Where can you find a list of INCI names of popular cosmetic ingredients?
The PCC Group Product Portal contains classified and described popular INCI names. The collection of over 120 items includes all products available in the PCC’s offer. A cosmetic ingredient database and other information can be found on the official EU website, in the cosmetics sector:
Are INCI names different from the common names of cosmetic formulation ingredients?
Yes, the difference is mainly due to the fact that INCI names are used in specified languages and have a scientific form indicating the chemical structure of the substances. Commonly used terms, e.g. for vitamins, compounds used in everyday life (table salt), may not clearly refer to a specific ingredient or may have different meanings depending on the region. In addition, in some cases, in order to protect trade secrets, the ingredient’s generic INCI name is used.
What is the order of substances in the INCI composition?
In the INCI composition, the items are presented in descending order according to the percentage concentration in the cosmetic formulation. Ingredients present in amounts below 1% are listed at the end of the list in random order.
Does the INCI system only apply to cosmetics?
The INCI nomenclature was created primarily to regulate the naming system for ingredients used in cosmetic formulations. The system is also used in other areas where there is a need for unambiguous and technical identification of ingredients, e.g. in the pharmaceutical industry (products and supplements) or the chemical industry (cleaning products).

Check out our infographic about INCI!
Download the infographic in PDF format

INCI infographic