How to decrypt cosmetic products’ labels

Comme Avant cosmetic products

It is often complicated to read labels on cosmetic products. Brands are subject to quite a few obligations, for example: the company’s name and address, manufacturing country, product weight, lot number, product function, precaution for use, INCI list, shelf life, etc.

Cosmetics are products that are used on different parts of the body (skin, body, hair, nails, etc.) and this is why consumers are more and more vigilant in their choices. At Comme Avant, we decided to be fully transparent and to only use four ingredients in our products. In this article, we are going to explain how to properly read and understand a cosmetic label.


INCI list

The INCI list is generally the hardest part to understand on a cosmetic product label. But first of all, what is an INCI list? INCI is the International Nomenclature for Cosmetics Ingredients.

This list of ingredients is either written in English or Latin for it to be universal and understandable in most countries. Top tip, ingredients of natural origin are usually written in Latin and chemicals ingredients in English. Only water can be written in both languages: in English (water) or Latin (aqua).

Here is an example with our cocoa butter solid deodorant INCI list:

Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Triethyl Citrate, Iris Florentina Root Extract
In Englishcocoa butter, carnauba wax, triethyl citrate, iris florentina root powder


In INCI lists, the ingredients are written in decreasing order of proportion. Also bear in mind that generally, the first three ingredients make up around 70% of the end product.

Some ingredients are interesting to identify if we want to avoid using petrochemical ingredients or ingredients suspected of being endocrine pertubators.

Here are a few:


  • EDTA 
  • Petrolatum 
  • PEG/PPG 
  • Sodium Laureth/Lauroyl/Coco Sulfate  
  • Methylisothiazolinone 
  • BHA/BHT 
  • Dimeticone 


Apps that can help you

Don’t worry, no need to learn this list of ingredients off by heart for when you go shopping for cosmetic products, many apps can help you! They help you quickly understand the ingredient list and identify unsafe ingredients (and therefore put the product back on the shelf 😉). These apps help you to identify the raw material origin, if it’s dangerous, the regulations, etc. Some mark the products you search for, but be careful, all don’t have the same criteria or level of requirements. It’s up to you to find out which one suits you best.

Here are a couple of apps we recommend:

  • INCI Beauty – an app that marks products according to the ingredients. They are classed as good, satisfactory, or controversial/at risk. INCI beauty marks products out of 20 and offers equivalents to products that have received poor scores (free app but with adverts).
  • Clean Beauty app – an app that helps to identify controversial ingredients in a product (free app).


Certificates are also ways to ensure you certain requirements when purchasing cosmetic products. Many certifications exist in the cosmetic industry, most of all for the organic and natural branch. But how can these certifications be recognised?

Each certification has its own requirements that cosmetics companies must respect in order to obtain it and for it to be renewed each year. These certifications are monitored by private entities.

Here are the certifications we have at Comme Avant:

Many other labels exist! It’s also important to know that each country has its own certifications, even though Cosmos was created to unify requirements for organic cosmetics at a European level. 

This said, a product without any certifications doesn’t mean it’s a bad product. This may be a voluntary choice not to want certifications as they require time and money.

On the other hand, beware of greenwashing! Many brands use greenwashing techniques to make their products appear natural, organic, plant-based, and safe for the planet. These brands usually use shades of green and/or so-called labels created by the brand itself. You can find out more about greenwashing in our blog article.


Reading cosmetic products’ label may give you a headache but you’ll learn by practising! We hope this article will help you to better understand your cosmetic products and have a clear out in your bathroom. 🛁