Skincare Competence

Cosmetic ingredients

10 July 2024

Cosmetic ingredients are the active and inactive chemicals used to make cosmetics and other personal care products. Each ingredient plays one or more important roles in the end formulation, ranging from function and chemical stabilization, to appearance and texture. For consumer transparency, all ingredients in cosmetics must be listed on all product labels. But what types of cosmetic ingredients are there, and what are the requirements for labeling those ingredients?

In this post, we will provide a brief overview of cosmetic ingredients, in addition to other tips and useful information, including a cosmetic ingredients analysis, how to check cosmetic ingredients, and what cosmetic ingredients are banned in Europe and the US.

Understanding Cosmetic Ingredients

Cosmetic ingredients are chemical compounds that come in many forms and serve a variety of different purposes. However, unlike the ingredients listed on food products, cosmetic ingredients are often overlooked. Although they are not intended for consumption, it’s still important to understand what you’re putting on your skin or hair. Depending on the chemical, these ingredients may have positive or negative effects either externally and internally, through absorption into the bloodstream. Cosmetic ingredients can be grouped into three categories:

  • Synthetic Ingredients: Synthetic cosmetic ingredients are artificial chemicals that are produced in a lab using a combination of naturally occurring chemicals. Synthetic ingredients are either produced for a unique purpose or to mimic a natural chemical. These ingredients are generally mass-produced, cheaper than natural alternatives, and have a longer shelf-life. 
  • Natural Ingredients: Natural cosmetic ingredients are chemicals derived from nature. These usually include plant-based and mineral-based chemicals. The term “natural ingredients” is very vague, meaning they may or may not be processed with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. 
  • Organic Ingredients: Organic cosmetic ingredients are also derived from nature, however, “organic” differs from “natural” in that the farming and processing is strictly regulated. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or other harmful chemicals can be used in the farming or processing of organic ingredients. Cosmetics can have two types of organic labeling: “made with organic ingredients” (minimum of 70% organic ingredients) and “certified organic” (minimum of 95% organic ingredients). 

Within these three categories, the vast majority of the chemicals are classified according to their characteristics. Some examples of these classifications include:

  • Emollients
  • Emulsifiers
  • Preservatives
  • Fragrances
  • Color additives
  • Thickeners 

To best understand what cosmetic ingredients are, their function, and any potential risks associated with them, it’s important to research both the individual ingredients and any available information about the manufacturer and their mission or best practices.

How to Check Cosmetic Ingredients

Checking cosmetic ingredients is an advisable thing to do. But knowing where to start, what you should look for, and where you can find the information that you need might be a bit of a challenge. 

The easiest place to start is the product label. Look for certifications like: organic, natural, vegan, or cruelty-free. Each of these types of certifications verify that the product has been manufactured in accordance with certain regulations. While active ingredients are the main components providing the product’s effects, both active and inactive ingredients can present potential health or environmental concerns.

Some ingredients, such as certain parabens (synthetic preservatives), have been the subject of safety debates, with some countries restricting their use. However, many parabens are still legally allowed and considered safe for use in cosmetics when present at low concentrations. It’s essential to research all ingredients listed on the label and consult reliable sources to determine their safety and potential effects. 

Alternatively, there are also convenient online “ingredient scanner” or “ingredient analyzer” tools and apps, such as SkinCarisma or SkinSAFE. These tools enable you to quickly research information about cosmetic ingredients or filter out products that contain potential allergens and skin irritants.


How Must Ingredients Be Listed on Cosmetic Labels?

Cosmetic ingredients must be listed on a product’s information panel according to their common name or INCI registered name. The INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) is an official cosmetic labeling system used in the United States, European Union, China, Japan, and several other countries. INCI registered names for botanicals are usually Latin names to help specify exact plant species. 

In the US, official FDA guidelines require cosmetic product labels to list ingredients in descending order of predominance. Cosmetic ingredients with the highest concentration will be listed first, followed by each ingredient with a lower concentration. Color additives and any other ingredients with a concentration of 1% or less do not have to be listed in descending order of predominance. Any ingredients that are also considered drug ingredients must be listed as cosmetic active ingredients. 

EU Commission guidelines for cosmetic labeling are similar to those outlined by the FDA. The ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight. Color additives and ingredients with a concentration of 1% or less do not have to be listed in descending order of weight. In both the US and the EU, flavorings and fragrances added to cosmetics should simply be listed as “fragrance” and “flavor”.

Cosmetic Ingredients Analysis

Both the US and EU have comprehensive frameworks that set requirements for safety, labeling, and ingredient use. However, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act does not require cosmetic ingredients to be pre-approved by the FDA before entering the market – with the exception of color additives. On the contrary, the European Commission requires that cosmetic products sold within the EU are first notified on the Cosmetic Products Notification Portal (CPNP) before being placed on the market. CPNP is a central EU database. Certain ingredients such as color additives, preservatives, and sunscreen active ingredients, require pre-approval before entering the market. 

There are certain ingredients that are either restricted or prohibited in the US and the EU. In the US, the FDA has either banned or restricted the use of nine cosmetic ingredients. In the EU, a total of 1,378 chemicals are listed as banned substances on the European Cosmetics Directive Annex II list. However, approximately 80% of those substances have never been used in cosmetics.


List of Natural Ingredients Used in Cosmetics

Ingredients INCI names Effect
Olive oil Olea Europaea Fruit Oil
  • Hydrates & moisturizes the skin
  • Antioxidative
  • Regenerating
  • Anti-inflammatory
Almond Oil Prunus amygdalus dulcis Oil
  • Nourishes the skin
  • Reduces irritation
Aloe vera Aloe Barbadensis
  • Regenerating
  • Moisturizes the skin
  • Reduces irritation
Shea butter Butyrospermum Parkii Butter
  • Nourishing
  • Moisturizing
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Regenerating
Sage Salvia Officinalis Extract
  • Reduces irritation
  • Antioxidative
  • Antimicrobial


List of Controversial Chemicals in Cosmetics

Ingredients INCI names Risks
UV Filters Benzophenone

Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate





  • Potentially cell-damaging
  • Allergies and skin irritations
  • Bioaccumulative
Parabens Benzylparaben







  • Potentially carcinogenic
  • Allergies and skin irritations
Silicones Cyclomethicone


Phenyl Trimethicone


  • Bioaccumulative
  • Suspected of having carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic effects for reproduction
Microplastics Acrylates Copolymer

Acrylates Crosspolymer








  • Bioaccumulative
  • Environmental toxin
Nanomaterials Nano-Titandioxid


  • Bioaccumulative
  • Environmental toxin
Mineral Oil Ceresin

Cero Microcristallina

Microcristallina Wax

Mineral Oil



Paraffinum Liquidum

Paraffinum Subliquidum


  • Bioaccumulative
Formaldehyde-releasing Preservatives

Diazolidinyl Urea


Imidazolidinyl Urea

Methylisothiazolinon (MIT) 

Methylchlorisothiazolinon (MCIT)


Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate

  • Potentially carcinogenic
  • Allergies and skin irritations


List of Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

Ingredients INCI names Origin
Elastin ELASTIN Skin or tendons from cattle or pigs
Collagen COLLAGEN Fish or pig skin
Keratin KERATIN Ground hooves, feathers, horns
Lanolin LANOLIN Sheep’s wool fat


ADA Cosmetics: Committed to Formulas Without Harmful Ingredients

The health and wellness of our consumers and the environment is our foremost priority. We labor to continuously improve our cosmetic formulations with environmentally friendly ingredients sourced directly from nature that also promote skin and hair health. Furthermore, we have established our own list of banned ingredients and manufacturing processes:

  • pH Neutral
  • No Parabens​
  • No Mineral Oils​
  • No Microplastics​
  • No Nanomaterials​
  • No MIT & MCIT Preservatives​
  • No Silicones​
  • No Benzophenone UV-filters​
  • No Formaldehyde Releasers
  • No Animal Testing

As a leading provider of sustainable hotel amenities, we are committed to providing our customers with the best cosmetics in the industry. From individual ingredient resourcing to product packaging, we have put considerable thought and concern into every aspect of the production process. With ADA Cosmetics, you can rest assured that each of our products have been ethically manufactured without the use of harmful ingredients and in compliance with EU cosmetic regulations.


What are the basic ingredients in cosmetics?

Most cosmetics contain these five basic ingredients:

  1. Water: water is the most common base ingredient found in cosmetics
  2. Emulsifiers: ingredients that bind two or more immiscible ingredients
  3. Preservatives: ingredients that increase the shelf-life of a cosmetic product
  4. Thickeners: ingredients that improve consistency and increase viscosity
  5. Color Additives & Fragrance: ingredients that add desirable color and scent

What is the difference between US and EU cosmetic regulations?

In Europe, cosmetic ingredients are more strictly regulated than in the US. The EU takes a more precautionary approach to ingredient safety. Some key EU restrictions include:

  • Ingredients must undergo safety assessments before being allowed for use
  • Certain ingredients like preservatives, colorants, and UV filters require pre-market approval

So, what cosmetic ingredients are banned in Europe, but not in the US? Here are some of the cosmetic ingredients banned in the EU, but still used in the US:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Phthalates
  • Selenium Sulfide
  • Lead

What does INCI mean?

INCI is an acronym for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It is a standardized naming system for cosmetic ingredients. The INCI was first introduced in 1973 by the global cosmetic trade association, Personal Care Products Council, and is now recognized as the standard in the personal care products and cosmetics industry.

Does the FDA regulate cosmetic labeling?

Yes, the FDA does regulate cosmetic labeling. Companies are required to adhere to the regulations outlined under the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). However, cosmetic labeling does not require pre-approval from the FDA. If a company fails to comply with these regulations, they will be held accountable for product misbranding and subject to regulatory action.