Q: How can I decipher a product’s INCI?


The INCI, more commonly known as the ingredients list, is very important. Without it, we wouldn’t know what we were putting on our skin, and risking reactions or sensitivities.

But sometimes looking at the INCI on the back of a box can be a little muddling, Latin names, a seemingly unorganised pattern and generally not having a clue what Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate is can lead it to feeling as unhelpful as if it wasn’t there at all.  

Of course there are plenty of places now that can help you understand each ingredient, such as INCIdecoder, but we thought we’d do you one better… Deciphering our own INCIs for your convenience. Transparency is one of our core brand values at Q+A, and we’ll stop at nothing to achieve it!  

So kicking off in a few weeks time, we’ll be starting a new series where we go product by product, ingredient by ingredient, until you all know the products back to front just as well as Team Q+A does! Have a specific product in mind you’d like us to decipher first? Let us know!  

But this blog isn’t just an announcement, we’re going to go through some top tips to breaking down that all important INCI… 


Ingredients are listed in order of inclusion… to a point.

There’s a reason you might see water or shea butter at the start of the list, as they’re very popular base ingredients that make up the largest inclusion of the product. And so and so, until we get to ingredients which are included at 1% or lower. Because they exist in such small amounts, there’s no rule as to which order they are listed. Why would you have things at such small amounts, you ask? Formulating a product can be quite complex! Considerations for pH level, how well ingredients interact or combine together and texture can all call for a little help, literally. Plus, sometimes a little of an ingredient goes a long way. We’ll go deeper into some of these later in the series.


… And common allergens will always be listed last.

Cosmetic laws dictate that common allergens, or ingredients that commonly cause reactions for people with certain allergies or sensitivities, are listed last on the INCI. So if you know products with citrus, for example, cause you discomfort, you can fast track right to the end and know whether or not this product is right for you. Allergens can be natural or synthetic, and they’re found in many products so you don’t need to start worrying about them if you’ve never had issues before. It’s important to remember that even in such tiny amounts, they must be listed there for people who know they have those allergies, or for those with skin conditions or particularly sensitive skin.


The ingredients in a perfume or fragrance are often trade secret.

It’s not about keeping you in the dark, but brands have no requirement to explain the makeup of these elements. However, if there is an allergen in them, it does have to be disclosed on the end of the INCI, so don’t worry! 


The INCI name is not always what you might expect.

You may have noticed some strange ingredient names on the back of your skincare. Often the ingredient will be referred to by its Latin name! Or, it’s a little more complex than what we colloquially refer to it as. For example, you might be looking at our Peptide Facial Serum thinking where is the ‘peptide’? It’s listed as Tripeptide-29, because it’s a specific peptide we’ve chosen. Or maybe you’re excited to learn it also contains Hyaluronic Acid… But you can’t see that on the list either? To make sure the Hyaluronic Acid in our serums has a molecular weight small enough to penetrate the skin, the sodium salt compound has to be extracted and that’s what we include… named Sodium Hyaluronate.


And importantly... Why read the INCI?

Well, you probably have your own reasons if you’ve made it this far on the blog today, but I’ll add a few more to the list. Being able to easily decipher an INCI can help you when it comes to comparing products. Not all the information you might want or need will be on the website in normal text, but aside from any inclusion questions you have, the INCI will ease some of those unknowns. You might want to keep an eye out for one of your favourite ingredients. Or, say your favourite product is being discontinued and you’re looking for something to replace it, you can find an almost perfect match.

We also think that understanding your products is important! Serums aren’t just one or two amazing ingredients, and the rest is just to bulk it out, or dilute it down. They’re complex formulas with lots of different things at play, and finding the right balance to promote healthy skin is quite the artform.


Don't worry too much if it still feels a little confusing, that's what our new series is for! 


Amy @ Team Q+A



Amy Robson


Aspiring author, craft addict, and Q+A's eCommerce Coordinator