There are two major ingredient labeling standards — the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) standard, which is used in the United States, and the International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) standard, which is used in the rest of the world, including Canada.
European laws require the use of the INCI labeling standard on beauty products. INCI listings show the full "scientific" name of a product and may be a little more difficult to comprehend. For instance: Aloe Barbadensis Extract is Aloe Vera Extract. Also, the word FRAGRANCE is used to describe Essential Oils as well as synthetic fragrance ingredients. Labels can show +- to indicate that an ingredient may or may not be present. For instance, the same label can be used across multiple lipsticks, with all the various color ingredients shown with +- indicators.
Numerous ingredients can be omitted from the label:
ANY PROCESSING AID ADDED AND REMOVED OR CONVERTED TO A DECLARED INGREDIENT, or
ANY INGREDIENT OF ANOTHER INGREDIENT OR PROCESSING AID PRESENT AT AN INSIGNIFICANT LEVEL AND HAVING NO TECHNICAL OR FUNCTIONAL EFFECT.
- 1. A substance added during manufacture and removed from the cosmetic in accordance with good manufacturing practices before the cosmetic is packaged in finished form. Example: Filter aid.
- 2. A substance that is added during manufacture of a cosmetic, is converted to an ingredient declared on the label, and does not significantly increase the concentration of the declared ingredient. Example: Sodium hydroxide added to a sodium stearate and stearic acid-containing cosmetic.
- 3. A substance added to a cosmetic during manufacture for its technical effect in processing but present in the finished cosmetic at an insignificant level and not having any technical or functional effect in that cosmetic. Example: De-foaming agent.
- 4. A substance added to a cosmetic as a component of a cosmetic ingredient and having no technical or functional effect in the finished cosmetic. Example: Preservative of a raw material added to a cosmetic as an ingredient at a concentration which reduces the preservative to a level at which it is no longer effective.
Ingredients Deemed Trade Secret
This is typically a blend of fragrance ingredients to create a "signature scent" for a line of products. For products, this is listed as "Fragrance (Parfum)" and is a unique blend of natural essential oils.
To read more, check out the FDA guidelines. Also, check out the European Union's Cosmetic Directive and in particular, note the section ANNEX II, which lists all banned cosmetic ingredients, and the remaining annexes that are permitted with limits and conditions.
With the above listed exceptions, many fragrances can be listed as "Other Ingredients" in the US. In the EU, these are listed as "Parfum" or "Fragrance". The list is very long of fragrance ingredients that can trigger allergies and otherwise irritate the skin. The EU amended their rules to mandate listing of 26 problematic fragrance ingredients. According to the EWG," Phthalates are often used in cosmetics and personal care products to carry fragrances. Under current law, they can then simply be labeled “fragrance,” even though they may make up 20% or more of the product." Contaminants such as lead and other heavy metals are not listed.
Certification labels help to provide added protection that the cosmetic you buy does not contain undesired ingredients. Both BDIH and USDA Organic certification labels require a higher standard from the manufacturer - BDIH ensures that your cosmetic is completely free of synthetic ingredients and petrochemicals, while USDA ensures that the ingredients are at least 95% certified organic.