Article by: Perry Romanowski

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.


  1. Avatar

    Dear Perry,
    IS the International Cosmetc Dictionary available to look at? How do I get a copy?

  2. Avatar

    My dear friend Perry, i will need a help from you. I would want a lotion formula that has the following functions: 1. Very good lightening effect. 2. Skin clearing, nourishing and smoothing 3. Good SPF. 3. Anti aging, Anti wrinkle and Anti Stretch marks. I am from Africa, Precisely Nigeria and our people are naturally blacks but our women these days tend to go for lightening lotions and creams that will make them look fair and light. Please help me with this formula. I will appreciate it immensely. I am one of your fans from Nigeria and commend you for the good work you are doing here. I look forward to hearing from you asap. Thanks

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Sorry, I’m not taking on new formulation jobs at the moment. I’d suggest you post your question in our forum. There are chemists there who help people formulate products.

  3. Avatar


    What is the INCI name of the Poly(alkyl (meth)acrylate) depressants for paraffin oils name?
    Other words the Poly16? It is a polymer additive for paraffin. I need it for Client.

    Thank you!

    Best regards

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I don’t know. What is the trade name? Who is the supplier?

  4. Avatar

    Hello friends, kindly guide me what is Polysilicone-11 and what is common name used for this product. is there any alternative for Polysilicone11.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Polysilicone 11 a crosslinked siloxane rubber formed by the reaction of vinyl-terminatedsiloxane and methylhydroxydimethyl siloxane in the presence of cyclomethicone. It is produced by Grant Industries. What are you using the ingredient for? I’d suggest you post your question in our forum.

  5. Avatar

    Hi Perry
    We have 12 essential oils which is taking too much room on the package to say anything else. As a work around can you put on the package “essential oils listing see website” is that legal or are you required to put it on package?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      No, that’s not permitted by the FDA.

  6. Avatar

    Hello Perry,

    Great information in the site. I am creating a product that uses various combination or “blends” of essential oils as part of the ingredient. The blend itself is actually less than 1% of the total ingredients ; more like drops to be precise. Is it appropriate to list “blends of essential oils” on the label?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      No, you should really list every essential oil that you use individually.

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  8. Avatar
    raul garcia

    I read in FDA that some products that has not been tested must include a warning about the safety of the product, we are producing facial lotions, shampoo, with must INCI ingredientes (not sure if this means those are safe) adding agave essence, should i need to place the legend about that “product” safety of this applies only for new products/additives/chemicals used in cosmetics

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      No. If you have not done safety testing on your product you need to put the warning. It doesn’t matter that you are only using INCI ingredients. Each company is responsible for ensuring the safety of their product.

  9. Avatar

    Hi Perry,
    Please I need to know how to properly give my product a name like in my product I have vitamin a and some whitening product like alpha arbutin should I call it a rejuvenating moisturizer or I call just skinwhitening with retinol

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Your supplier of the raw material can tell you the proper name (INCI name) to use. Note: Skin Whitening products are drugs in the US and you have to follow the FDA monograph to legally sell them.

  10. Avatar

    I have a question. What is INCI of Gold color? Gold CI No. 77480 or Gold CI 77480? THANK YOU DEAR

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I guess that would depend on where you are selling the product. I think in the US it would just be Gold

  11. Avatar

    Hi, Thanks for a great read.
    I have a question.
    E.g. the INCI of Castor oil is:
    ‘ricinus communis seed oil’
    Sometimes you see on the packaging of cosmetic products:
    ricinus communis (Castor) seed oil
    They add the common name (Castor) to make it more clear to customers what is inside.

    Can both be used?
    Is one considered better than the other?
    Is there a source to find out where to add the common name in the INCI?
    E.g. here it is added somewhere in between and not in the end. Is there a standard way of adding common names in official INCI’s?

    Thanks a lot for your time!

    Reg. Rob

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      You are only supposed to add common names if it is already included in the INCI dictionary. You can’t optionally add words to an INCI listing. Only the official names should be used. To make it more clear you can talk about the common name of the ingredient in your marketing materials on the packaging. But the ingredient listing should not be used for marketing purposes. To find the official INCI names you can check with the PCPC.

  12. Avatar
    Michael Rallis

    We have seen that INCI name CAVIAR EXTRACT is used only for Sturgeon fish eggs.
    Dear Sir,
    We wish to use a raw material wich is an extract from Fish- Grey Mullet Roe in cosmetics products. Can we use the INCI name HYDROLYZED ROE??? for this raw material????
    Please Note that Grey Mullet is also named as Kefalos -family Mugilidae .
    Grey Mullet Fish eggs are also named as Bottarga.
    Thank you in davance for you reply
    With kind regards
    Michael Rallis
    University of Athens
    School of Pharmacy

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I don’t know. You’ll have to see what the supplier says the INCI name of the ingredient is. You can’t just make up your own.

  13. Avatar
    Karen Trenk

    I am using a solution for a hand wipes product that contains Castile Soap (among other things). On the label can I list Castile Soap as an ingredient or do I have to list out all the ingredients in the soap as well?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Yes, you need to list out all the ingredients. Soap is only exempt from cosmetic regulation if it is bar soap and makes no cosmetic claims.

  14. Avatar
    Dr. Omji PoRWAL

    Dear Perry!
    we have 1 of branded product but not INCI name. can we sell this as a branded product if yes then how and no then how to resolve this issue.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I don’t exactly know what you question means. If you are trying to sell a raw material to the cosmetic industry you need to get an INCI name for the ingredient. If you are selling a cosmetic you need to get a proper INCI listing of the ingredients before selling.

  15. Avatar
    John DeNoia Jr

    What about using Tradenames as INCI Names?
    Are there any rules about their use in INCI labelling – like adding Coca-Cola instead of water.

    An example of this would be seen recently as Grant Industries has applied for and received a trademark for the INCI Name Polysilicone-11.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      You can’t use trade names as INCI names. You can only use officially approved INCI names.

  16. Avatar

    Hi Perry

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

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

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

  17. Avatar
    AJ McGuire

    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?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Yes, most likely.

  18. Avatar
    Adindu Victor

    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

  19. Pingback:A Cosmetic Chemists Guide to Ingredient Lists

  20. Avatar

    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.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski


  21. Avatar

    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.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      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.

      1. Avatar

        How to make a calculation and define an order of ingredients if producer of some raw material gives you data on purity in some range, e.g. I use some raw material in concentration of 30% in the finished product, but that raw material consist of: ingredient A 75-80%, ingredient B 10-12%, and ingredient C 1-4%?
        Thanks in advance.

  22. Avatar

    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.

  23. Avatar

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

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

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

  24. Avatar

    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?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

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

  25. Avatar

    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!

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

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

      1. Avatar

        thanks for your comment

  26. Avatar

    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?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski


  27. Avatar

    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!

    1. Avatar

      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.

    2. Avatar

      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.

  28. Avatar

    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.

  29. Avatar

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

    1. Avatar

      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.

  30. Avatar
    Darcy Joslin

    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

    1. Avatar


      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.

  31. Avatar

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

  32. Avatar
    Trevor King

    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.

  33. Avatar
    Trevor King

    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?

    1. Avatar

      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.

  34. Avatar

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

  35. Avatar

    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 ?

  36. Avatar

    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

  37. Avatar

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

    1. Avatar

      Hello Adam,

      What specific information are you looking for?

  38. Pingback:Cosmetic Formulation Philosophy

  39. Avatar

    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.

  40. Avatar

    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 ?

  41. Avatar
    Mahesh Panchal

    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

    1. Avatar

      Hello Mahesh,

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

  42. Pingback:Search the Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary for Free

  43. Avatar
    John Fernandes

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

    1. Avatar

      @John – if you want to get an ingredient lists, you need to go through the PCPC website. You can get it here.

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

      Hope that helps.

  44. Pingback:How to Label Cosmetic Products

  45. Avatar
    Rob Ephraim

    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?



    1. Avatar

      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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