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How Do Cosmetic Raw Materials Get Their Names?

I must confess. One of my favorite things about being a chemist is getting to say long words and knowing what they mean. I loved learning the IUPAC system for naming chemicals.

That’s why I found ingredient lists on shampoos & conditioners baffling. I didn’t know what most of the chemicals were. They were similar to IUPAC terms, but not quite. It turns out that the cosmetic industry doesn’t use the IUPAC naming system. Instead, they follow their own system as laid out in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) dictionary. This volume is produced by the main cosmetic industry trade group called the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC, formerly the CTFA but we’ll save that for another time). inci naming

List of Ingredients

The first thing to know about cosmetic ingredients is the ingredient list. In the United States, every personal care and cosmetic product is supposed to have their ingredients listed. In the business, we called it the LOI (list of ingredients). Any ingredient above 1% is required to be listed in order of concentration (by weight). At 1% or below, the ingredients can be listed in any order. Typically, preservatives and dyes are listed at the end. In a future post, we’ll show how this labeling requirement can help you formulate new products.

Any ingredient above 1% is required to be listed in order of concentration (by weight).

To be proper, companies are supposed to follow the naming conventions as laid out in the INCI.

Cosmetic Ingredient Naming Conventions

While many chemical names in the INCI seem arbitrary, there are some standard rules. The following will help you make heads or tails out of the ingredients on most LOIs. We can’t list all the conventions here, but we’ll point out the major ones and give examples.

Common Names

When they first came up with the INCI (originally called the CTFA Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary) in 1973, many cosmetic ingredients already had names. These common names were incorporated into the dictionary even though they didn’t follow any specific naming rules. Therefore, we use Glycerin instead of the more accurate Glycerol and Menthol instead of (1R, 2S, 5R)-2-isopropyl-5-methylcyclohexanol. Common names are also used for various natural ingredients like Lanolin and Beeswax.

Stem Names

Probably the most important thing to learn about naming cosmetic ingredients is to memorize this list of hydrocarbon stem names. It’s a bit different than the IUPAC.

So, if you have a 16-carbon alcohol, you call it Cetyl Alcohol instead of Hexadecanol. For an 18-carbon acid, you would use Stearic Acid instead of Ocatdecanoic acid.


You’ll run into names like Cocamidopropyl Betaine that don’t match any of the stem names. This is because the raw material uses coconut oil as a starting raw material. In these cases, you use an abbreviation of that starting material. Other ones you might see include Palm Kernel oil, Soybean oil and Sunflower oil. In a future post, we’ll show the fatty acid distribution of these materials.


The INCI tries to follow established conventions from other systems. For example, when you want to name an ether, you take the stem names from both fatty acids and add the term ether. Thus, a molecule made with a 14-carbon and 16-carbon chains connected by an oxygen would be called Cetyl Myristyl Ether. An ester of the same molecules would be Cetyl Myristate.

Nitrogen Containing

Hydrocarbons that contain nitrogen are amides and have the phrase included in their name. Therefore, Lauramide is used to describe a 12-Carbon molecule (Lauryl) that has a NH2 group on its end. If the Nitrogen has other hydrocarbons attached, those are also named. So, Lauramide DEA would be that same 12-Carbon molecule attached to a Nitrogen which also has Ethyl groups attached to it.  When these Nitrogen containing compounds are turned into salts, the suffix “-monium” is added. So, a 16-Carbon attached to a Nitrogen with three methyl groups is Cetrimonium Chloride.


A variety of conventions are used to name polymers. For Nitrogen containing polymers, the term “Polyquaternium” is used. There is also a number associated with the ingredient but it doesn’t refer to anything chemically. It just happens to be the order in which the material was registered.

Other polymers use common abbreviations. PEG is Polyethylene Glycol. PPG is Polypropylene Glycol, etc. Then a number is included to refer to the moles of ethoxylation in the polymer.


For silicone containing materials, terms like Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone and amodimethicone are used. Whenever you see some form of these words in a chemical name, you know there is some silicone in it.


Ten years ago, you used to see the abbreviation FD&C in front of many chemical colorants. Today, however, the INCI has adopted a simplified method for naming colors. They just list the color followed by a number (e.g. Yellow 5). This doesn’t tell you anything about the chemical composition but you can get the structure by looking it up in the INCI. An alternative naming system is the EU one in which each colorant is assigned a 5-digit chemical index (CI) number. Yellow 5 in the EU is called CI 19140.

Miscellaneous Rules

There are many other rules that you’ll have to learn over time. To give you a flavor here are a few more.

  1. Water is just called Water. (Not deionized or purified or anything else. Just water)
  2. Fragrance is called Fragrance no matter what compounds are used to make it. This is changing but for now, it’s correct.
  3. Botanicals use the Latin name of the plant or part plus the term Extract. So, if you use an ingredient taken from the leaf of a lemon, the ingredient is called Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Leaf Extract.


The naming of raw materials in cosmetics share some characteristics with the IUPAC system you learned in Organic Chemistry. However, there are many differences and for some things it is impossible to determine the chemical structure from just the name. For more information, your best bet is to go to your company’s library (or your city’s) and take a look at the latest version of the INCI.

Do you have any ingredient naming questions? Leave a comment below and let us know.

{ 46 comments… add one }

  • Guillermo 07/06/2014, 8:53 pm

    Hi Perry

    Dou you have idea about the botanical extract of Muntingia calabura leaves is nominated to INCI name, for use in cosmetics ingredients?

    • Perry Romanowski 07/07/2014, 6:08 pm

      Hello – No, I do not know. You can check with whoever supplies the ingredient or with the PCPC.

  • AJ McGuire 05/23/2014, 2:12 pm

    You stated more or less…..If using a Botanical ingredient from the leaf of a lemon, its called lemon extract………so, an “ingredient” could be an aroma molecule right? I have scented “natural” skin care products that have an ingredient list stating things like: pommegranite juice, rosemary extract, mint extract, wine extract, Syringa Vulgaris (Lilac) Leaf Cell Culture Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, etc. One product lists “essential oils” as the very last ingredient (I know the 1% and lower rule). And they all smell Fabulous. This must be fragrance molecules right?

    • Perry Romanowski 05/29/2014, 6:42 pm

      Yes, most likely.

  • Adindu Victor 05/22/2014, 4:39 pm

    I am an Industrial Chemist from Nigeria, though I have been producing some cosmetic products but this site has been of immense help to me for the past two days now. You guys should keep the good work on. I love chemistry

  • Kelvin 04/15/2014, 1:41 am

    Hi Perry,
    I would like to say that your article is really spreading great information with us about various chemical reaction and raw material of cosmetics used in fashion industry. I like to read this kind of well written post so please keep it continue.

    • Perry Romanowski 04/17/2014, 8:29 am


  • Cris 03/23/2014, 7:29 pm

    Hi Perry,

    My question is, in listing ingredients for the label of a cosmetic product, for example if I’m using two ingredients, a compounded ingredient A (and) B (and) C, where A = 80%, B = 15% and C = 5%, and an ingredient D that is 90% pure. If my formulation is something like this:

    Water = 94%
    A (and) B (and) C = 5%
    D = 1%

    Is the purity relevant? If I don’t consider the purity, the list will be something like this:

    Water, A (and) B (and) C, D

    If I consider the purity, the concentration of each ingredient will be (A = 5 x 80% = 4) (B = 5 x 15% = 0.75) (C = 5 x 5% = 0.25) (D = 1 x 90% = 0.90) and the list will be like:

    Water, A, B, D, C

    This has confused me for quite a while now.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Perry Romanowski 03/25/2014, 11:29 am

      Hello Cris,

      Great question! In your example the only ingredient that would have to be listed in order would be Water & A. So all of the following would be acceptable.

      Water, A, B, C, D
      Water, A, B, D, C
      Water, A, D, C, B


      That’s because whenever the concentration is 1% or below the ingredient order does not matter.

      But suppose your example was Water = 80%, ABC = 10% and D = 2%
      Then the proper order would be…

      Water, A, D, B, C

      Because the actual % of A = 8%, B = 1.5%, C = 0.5% and D = 2%

      Hope that makes sense.

  • mounir 10/07/2013, 10:19 am

    The inci name of methyl cedryl ketone is acethylcedrene and the common name is vertofix the cas number is 32388-55-9. The molecular formula is C17H26O.

  • Elena 10/06/2013, 9:49 pm

    Hi, what would be the name for the chicken eggshell membrane?

    • Perry Romanowski 10/07/2013, 5:39 am

      I do not know. You would have to check with the INCI dictionary.

      • Elena 10/07/2013, 5:20 pm


  • Matthes 09/08/2013, 3:31 am

    Thanks for the article. Do you have a source that explains the chemical reaction of the production process to get from the pure first raw material the cosmetic ingredients?

    • Perry Romanowski 09/11/2013, 5:52 pm

      What type of raw material are you talking about? They are just typically organic chemical reactions.

  • Jasmine 06/26/2013, 7:29 am

    Hi Perry
    I would like to ask you for advice about the colorant in the cosmetic label. For the “mica” when it as a colorant be listed in the” may contain”,is’t necessary list its CI number for the product will export to the EU&U.S.
    And my opinion trended towards list Mica’s CI number ,but my client disagree.
    Many thanks!

    • Perry Romanowski 07/01/2013, 7:04 am

      For sale in the US there is no requirement to list the CI number for Mica. I’m not sure about the EU.

      • Jasmine 07/02/2013, 6:18 am

        thanks for your comment

  • sergio 06/13/2013, 8:52 am

    We are creating a new product (a face & body creamy balm) in Italy to be sold here in USA. Can we use the word “skincare” on the front label?

    • Perry Romanowski 06/14/2013, 12:50 pm


  • Maree 02/14/2013, 4:20 pm

    I am trying to advise someone that INCI names should begin with a capital letter in the ingredients list on a label (eg Isopropylphenylbutanal, Amyl Cinnamal etc, NOT isopropylphenylbutanal, amyl cinnamal etc). This is standard convention, and have been told it is correct INCI format, but can not actually find it in any official guidelines.
    Do you know if this is written in any EU legislation? Thank you!

    • Perry 02/15/2013, 9:11 am

      This would be found in the front pages of the INCI. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy to verify which page. I’m not certain about the EU but they use the INCI too.

    • Adri 02/18/2013, 7:16 am

      In the EU capitalizing is not prescribed. Usually you will find first letter capatilized (your example). In that case you should use PEG-10 and not Peg-10, etc. Also CI 42060 and not Ci 42060 for colours, etc. Fully capitilized: used to make the list hard readable… Full lowercase is easiest to apply and readable.

  • Jeffrey 02/03/2013, 8:44 pm

    I want to make an eyeshadow formulation in a stick format. I’ve tried one but it tends to crease. Can someone give me some good formulation that doesn’t crease and long wearing? Long wearing formula without using a lot of volatile materials like isododecane or D5 because most of the long wearing product formulation I’ve seen in the market were usually using volatile raws.

  • Stuart 11/02/2012, 6:52 am

    Hi there.
    Do you know a good source for preservatives? Google recommends the company McBoeck http://www.mcboeck.com
    Does anyone know this company? Are they a reliable partner for materials like potassium sorbate and sorbic acid?

    • Perry 11/02/2012, 7:07 am

      I’ve never heard of them but that doesn’t mean much. They are a distribution company. If the price is right, they would be worth working with. Potassium sorbate and Sorbic acid are common compounds and even if that company doesn’t work for you, you’ll be able to find replacements easy enough.

  • Darcy Joslin 12/22/2011, 5:12 pm

    Hey Perry,
    I am curious why some ingredients are initial capped and some are not. Is there a standard convention? I work on packaging and get conflicting direction between attorneys and copywriters on what to initial cap on the list.

    Would love your input on this!

    Darcy Joslin

    • Perry 12/23/2011, 7:57 am


      It has always been my understanding that ingredients were supposed to be all caps. That’s what all the big companies in the industry do so following their lead is probably the best strategy.

  • Perry 06/05/2011, 8:03 pm

    @Trevor – in that case you could still list the individual ingredients

  • Trevor King 05/31/2011, 10:10 am

    We would actually be a raw material supplier to a cosmetics formulator. We would not produce a finished good for the consumer market. It would be components for a cosmetic formulation, but simple compounding not reaction chemistry.

  • Trevor King 05/26/2011, 12:17 pm

    If your are compounding multilple ingredients together from sources that contain an estblished inci name, are you require to apply with the PCPC for approval.

    I.E. If you are blending Cocoamide DEA with Vitamin E. Can you just list the inci names on your label or product literature or must you go thru the PCPC?

    • Perry 05/26/2011, 12:32 pm

      What you are describing is the batching of a cosmetic formula, so no you would not have to go through the PCPC, just follow their naming rules.

  • Perry 03/29/2011, 12:36 am

    @Helene – The way to explain this is that companies are not following the proper INCI ingredient naming rules.

  • Hélène 03/28/2011, 10:10 am

    Hello Perry,

    How can you explain that some raw materials have a INCI name where don’t appear ingredients (like preservatives) while they are in the composition of the raw material ?

  • adam 02/10/2011, 10:58 am

    Hello Perry
    thank you very much for response.
    I’m looking for how to mix perfume oily and what additives such as solvents and materials that make the fragrance last longer
    thank you so much perry

  • adam 02/07/2011, 2:11 pm

    hello perry
    Please I’m looking for chemistry of perfumes and their contents. thanks

    • Perry 02/07/2011, 8:49 pm

      Hello Adam,

      What specific information are you looking for?

  • Perry 09/03/2010, 3:19 pm

    Hello Milind

    I’m not an expert on CAS numbers (the cosmetic industry uses the INCI) but I believe it really depends on the ingredient. Benzyl Alcohol should be the same no matter which manufacturer makes it. But there could be different kinds of silica. Yes precipitated silica can have two different numbers.

  • Milind 09/02/2010, 2:30 am

    Hi Perry,
    could you pls.tell me if same raw material from different manufacturers have different cas nos ? for example-
    benzyl alcohol by Merck & benzyl alcohol by another manufacturer.
    Some times while searching u find different cas nos for same material .silica for e.g has different cas nos. I know it could be of different grades.can precipitated silica have two different cas nos if the manufacturers are different ?

  • Mahesh Panchal 06/26/2010, 12:50 am

    Respected Sir,
    I am trying to find out the INCI names for Following Material s…
    1.0 Essential Phospholipids
    2.0 Cetosteryl alcohol
    3.0 Cetameragol-1000
    4.0 White Petroleum jelly
    5.0 Isopropyl Myristate
    6.0 Propylene glycol
    7.0 Methyl paraben
    8.0 Propyl peraben
    9.0 Isopropyl Alcohol
    10.0 Benzalkonium Chloride 50%
    11.0 Dimethicone
    12.0 Butylated hydroxy toluene
    13.0 Hard paraffin wax
    14.0 Purified Water

    Mahesh Panchal

    • Perry 06/26/2010, 6:51 am

      Hello Mahesh,

      I suggest you look these ingredients up on the INCI Directory. Most of them are the correct INCI name already.

  • John Fernandes 11/02/2009, 3:23 pm

    How can I get a cosmetic ingredient to be listed in the INCI database, does anybody know the process?

    • Perry 11/03/2009, 11:26 am

      @John – if you want to get an ingredient lists, you need to go through the PCPC website. You can get it here. http://www.personalcarecouncil.org/

      On the left column under ‘Featured Services’ you’ll see a text link for ‘INCI Application (Form TN)’

      Hope that helps.

  • Rob Ephraim 04/24/2009, 8:38 pm

    Hi there.
    I am trying to find out the INCI names for…

    1) Helional
    2) Methyl Cedryl Ketone
    3) Octanal
    4) 2-(phenylmethylene)
    5) Benzenepropanal

    Can you help? Please?



    • Perry 05/12/2009, 10:31 pm

      Rob, so sorry for the delay. Here is what I found from the INCI

      1. Helional – Methylenedioxyphenyl Methylpropanal
      2. Can’t find this one…
      3. Octanal – Hexyl Cinnamal
      4. 2-(phenylmethylene) – Amyl Cinnamal
      5. Benzenepropanal – Isopropylphenylbutanal

      Hope that helps.

      Perry, 44

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