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A Guide to Ingredients used in your Cosmetics

The Definitive Guide to Cosmetic Ingredient Nomenclature

Let’s start our look into what is inside cosmetics by taking a look at how ingredients are named. It seems basic, we know. But if you are like us, you might be a bit surprised at just how many names one plant or ingredient has. It can all be a bit confusing to know what you are getting! Let’s break it down.

Chemical Names and Formulae

To begin with, we have the ever daunting chemical names and formulae. Interesting information, to be sure. No way around it: it is the scientific and precise way to know what you are getting. But unless you happen to be browsing for your latest body butter with your biochemical engineer aunt, words like 6-methyldiosgenin might not be particularly helpful in making choices in the shop. While we won’t go into too many details, the nomenclature for organic chemical compounds is regulated by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and depends on the chemical structure of the compounds.

To give some examples, when looking at chemical components for cosmetics, most of us are familiar with the names of a couple of main ones. For example, fatty acids have time and again been proven to inhibit the oxidation process which damages skin cells. Their names are often seen on packaging and include palmitic, linoleic, oleic, and stearic acids. Chemical names (IUPAC) and accompanying formulae for some common fatty acids include:

However, each natural or plant ingredient will contain vast numbers of organic compounds, most of which will not be recognizable. Take desert date oil for example. In addition to containing the palmitic, linoleic, oleic, and stearic acids listed above, active ingredients for cosmetic purposes also include things like Diosgenyl saponins, yamgenin, balanitoside (furostanol glycoside) and 6-methyldiosgenin, balanitin-3 (spirostanol glycoside).

As you can see in this list, there are both common chemical names and their IUPAC equivalents, some of which might be recognizable, but most of which are not. For most of us, we rely instead on the scientific or common names of ingredients to determine what is inside our cosmetics.

Scientific Name, Latin Name, and Binomial Nomenclature

Moving through the sciences, we come to biology and the Scientific Name, also known as binomial nomenclature, binary nomenclature, latin name, or botanical nomenclature (if a plant). A bit more familiar, or at least an abstraction down from the chemical names. Think those signs you see at the botanical gardens. Where something like the desert date is called Balanites aegyptiaca.

The Scientific Name is composed of two parts, the ‘generic name’ and the ‘specific name’ which both use latin grammar though words have also been used from other languages and refer to levels in taxonomic rank. The ‘generic name’ identifies the genus to the species and the ‘specific name’ identifies the species itself. For the desert date, the binomial nomenclature goes like this:

Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Numbering

Bridging the gap between chemistry and biology for cosmetic ingredients, there is the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) numbering system, also known as Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number (CASRN). Every chemical substance which has been described in scientific literature is given a unique number. Currently, there are CAS numbers for over 144 million unique organic and inorganic substances and 67 million protein and DNA sequences. Every chemical compound in your cosmetics will be assigned number. Though worth knowing for in-depth research, you will likely not be thinking about CAS numbers when shopping.

International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI)

Next, every sector generally also tends to have its own specific naming and accreditation to ensure commonality and consistency of products in line with governmental regulations. In cosmetics, we have the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). Depending on the country, INCI names for ingredients are mostly required to be listed in that fine print at the bottom of the packaging, so they are something you can see and use. To use the desert date as an example again:

INCI Name: Balanites Aegyptiaca Kernel Oil

As you can see, for the desert date, it bears a lot of resemblance to the scientific name Balanites aegyptiaca and even to some of the common chemical component names which contain the keyword balanites. The addition of ‘kernel oil’ gives the consumer a bit more of an idea of what the relevant product actually is. But it’s still a bit of a jump between Desert Date and Balanites Aegyptiaca Kernel Oil.

Existing Cosmetic Ingredients in China (IECIC 2015): The Chinese List

In addition to the INCI, countries and markets may rely on their own regulatory system for naming products and chemical compounds for cosmetic purposes. One of the most relevant is the Chinese counterpart to the EU/USA INCI, called the Inventory of Existing Cosmetic Ingredients in China (IECIC 2015), also known as the Chinese List.

Before cosmetic ingredients maybe be used in China, they must be first approved by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration. On the Chinese List, names of common ingredients often differ from their names on the INCI list. For example, the Desert Date is listed as Balanites roxburghii rather than Balanites Aegyptiaca.

IECIC Name: Balanites Roxburghii

Differences in regulatory names and conventions can have implications for both the purchasers and suppliers alike. Notably, cosmetic companies based in Europe or the US which intend to sell products in China will only source natural ingredients that feature on the IECIC. Therefore for example, the Balanites Aegyptiaca Kernel Oil (INCI Name) could not be sold in Chinese market while Balanites Roxburghii Kernel Oil (IECIC Name) can be, despite the fact that they are both names for the same natural ingredient.

Vernacular Name: Local and Common Names

But let’s not forget about the common and local names. Especially for natural ingredients and plants that have been used for communities around the world for hundreds of years, any given ingredient can have any number of local names. These will tend to be the headliners on the front of the packaging, but even these will differ depending on the region.

To stick with our example, in addition to being called the ‘desert date’, in english the tree is also known as the Egyptian Balsam, Soapberry Tree, or Thorn Tree whereas its folk names include Hingol, Hingota, Hingothaa and within Ayurveda it is known as Ingudi, Angaar Vrksha,or Taapasadrum.

Confused? Ask Nauki.

Nauki Responsible Sourcing works to source sustainable and climate-smart agricultural products and ingredients in the cosmetic sector. We work diligently to deliver to our clients the best natural cosmetic ingredients while making a social impact and building resilient communities.

Need more information on natural ingredient sourcing or ingredient naming which you don’t see answered here? We are here for you! Get in touch now! We are happy to answer your all your sourcing questions and provide technical datasheets (TDS) for all our natural ingredients.

 

Nauki Responsible Sourcing partners with landscape restoration and forest conservation projects to bring their commodities such as certified organic Desert Date Oil to the European market.

 

For more information on our partner Toogga, wholesale prices and samples of Balanites Aegyptiaca Kernel Oil sourced directly from the Sahel region, please get in touch.

Need more information on natural ingredient sourcing or ingredient naming which you don’t see answered here? We are here for you! Get in touch now! We are happy to answer your all your sourcing questions and provide technical datasheets (TDS) for all our natural ingredients.

Nauki Responsible Sourcing partners with landscape restoration and forest conservation projects to bring their commodities such as certified organic Desert Date Oil to the European market.

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