Ingredient labelling

The facts

The labels on all cosmetic and personal care products must contain a list of ingredients used. This information is identical for the same product across the European Union.

Some people may be allergic to one or more ingredients that are used in cosmetic products. These allergies must first be diagnosed by a doctor, who will advise the patient of the relevant ingredient name(s). Then, by checking the ingredients on the label, the patient knows which products to avoid.

If the container is in an outer package (e.g. a carton) the labelling will be on the carton. If there is no outer packaging the labelling will be on the container.

For products that are small and difficult to label, there are special exceptions. Here the ingredient listing may be on a leaflet, this being indicated by the use of a hand pointing to an open book logo on the outer packaging.

Alternatively, the ingredient listing should be displayed close to where the product is offered for sale.

The principles

The nomenclature for use in the ingredient declaration is set out in the cosmetic inventory, known as INCI (International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients). The INCI list can be viewed online on the European Commission website for cosmetics. It was published as Commission Decision 96/335/EC and is amended by Commission Decision 2006/257/EC.

This list contains over 6000 ingredient names and will be updated by the European Commission.

The INCI names (International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients) for "chemical" ingredients are based principally on the International Dictionary produced by the US trade association for cosmetic and personal care products.

Because of the number of European languages, with more to follow in the future, it was necessary for the Commission to find a European solution for colours, "common" names and plant names. This being essential to maintain the free circulation of products in the European Union.

Their decisions were:

  • Colours the international nomenclature of the Colour Index (CI) followed by five numbers, e.g. CI 42053
  • Ingredients of plant origin the Linnean nomenclature, used by botanists worldwide,
  • "Common" names e.g. water, milk and honey, the name given in the European Pharmacopoeia.

There are also conventions for:

  • "Parfum" indicating the presence of perfume,
  • "Aroma" indicating the presence of flavour,
  • [+/- ...] means the product (decorative cosmetics only) may contain any or all of the colours listed.

The look

Below we have illustrated the contents requirements of ingredient labelling.

example ingredient label

  1. The INCI name which appears in the European Cosmetics Inventory.
  2. The generic name for any perfume ingredient or composition.
  3. The generic name for flavour.
  4. [+/- ...] For decorative cosmetics marketed in several shades, all colouring agents used in the range may be listed preceded by the words 'may contain' or '+/-'.
  5. Colours listed by Colour Index Number (may be listed in any order).