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What you need to know about cosmetics


Consumers have questions

What's in cosmetics ? From simple bars of soap to ultra-sophisticated skincare creams, from shower gels to detangling balms ? Are they safe for our skin, our health and our environment ? 

What is the European INCI system ?

On 1 January 1998, it became compulsory to declare ingredients using the European INCI system (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). The ingredients must be listed on the packaging, the first on the list (4 to 8) making up the majority of the product. Those representing less than 1% are then listed in no particular order.

For example, an active agent representing 0.003% of the product may be listed before a component representing 0.99%.

Colorants are listed at the end of the list under the name CI (Color Index) followed by a 5-digit number (corresponding to the colours). For make-up products, the colourants are listed in square brackets, and the +/- sign means that these colourants may not all be present in the same product.

This declaration has a few disadvantages: the names of the plants are written in Latin... the odorous substances are only indicated globally under the term "parfum" or "fragrance"... It does, however, have the enormous advantage of informing consumers about formulations to which they previously had no access.

The "natural" appeal

Advertisers are well aware of this. They boast about the active ingredients of plants here and fruit acids there... it's precisely these famous active ingredients that make up less than 1% of the product! But what's the rest ? 


A large proportion of cosmetics come in the form of emulsions. Cleansing milks, nourishing or moisturising creams, body milks, masks, foundations... and so on.

An emulsion is made up of an aqueous phase, often water (the 1st ingredient listed on the composition label is "aqua"), an oily or fatty phase, and several emulsifiers to hold everything together. 

Why emulsions ?

The skin's natural protection is an emulsion, the hydro-lipidic film, a mixture of sebum, sweat and residues from the desquamating layer.

Applying an emulsion provides an immediate sensation of comfort, depending on its texture, which can vary: a nourishing effect on dry skin that eliminates the feeling of tightness, a refreshing effect on oily skin, etc.

The long-term effect of daily application can either be beneficial if it helps to prevent a multitude of skin problems (dehydration, spots, redness, water retention, etc.), or troublesome if it hinders the skin's natural functions and leads to the imbalances mentioned above.

Composition of emulsions

Let's return to our emulsion. What does it hide in its oily phase? Good fats, no doubt, quality lipids, the essential nourishment of our cell membranes? Unfortunately not.

The main fats used to make beauty products come from the oil industry.

This could be seen as a way of recycling waste... if it weren't for our health!

This residual product from petroleum refining is paraffin (paraffinum liquidum on the declaration of ingredients, often noted after "aqua"). Its derivatives can be found under other names such as isohexadecane, isoparaffin, ceresin, vaseline... always inert materials of no interest for skin care. But its low cost makes its use unavoidable for most manufacturers.

Another product widely used in cosmetics: silicones (dimethicone and anything ending in "icone"). These synthetic products are very fine oils that produce fluid creams with a pleasant texture.

But what's the point of using them for everyday skincare? Not to mention the fact that this silicone is not very biodegradable. 


Skin is alive, and it's by treating it as such that we maintain its vitality.

Surprisingly, all those products that claim to prevent skin ageing actually work against its natural functions.

Many skin problems are caused by using the wrong cosmetics and, above all, by using the wrong products !

Foam doesn't wash !

Ethoxylated substances (e.g. sodium laureth sulphate, the 1st ingredient after aqua (water) in the composition of shampoos, shower gels, etc.) are the source of an unacceptable polluting industry for the manufacture of so-called hygiene products, which are also far too aggressive for the skin and scalp.

Their only benefit is to quickly form a rich, creamy lather that gives the illusion of a gentle wash... However, these surfactants stimulate sebum secretion and the consumer thus enters a vicious circle.

Hair quickly becomes greasy. We shampoo more and more frequently, and in many cases every day. As the hair dries out, we try conditioners, then nourishing care products. As the skin on the face is attacked, it will pull or break out, leading to the use of new, supposedly ever more effective products, etc. 

Soap, a healthy, natural product !

This good old recipe, which dates back to ancient Egypt, is not what it used to be for most soaps currently on the market.

The cheap paraffin that replaces the precious vegetable oils, the texturising agents, stabilisers, anti-oxidants, synthetic fragrances and colouring agents make it a very aggressive product that cannot be used for daily cleansing, especially on skin that is already unbalanced (acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc.).

That's the reality of cosmetics !

All those pretty little pots, tubes and bottles of white cream that evoke purity, serenity, nature, even wisdom, and everything else we crave, are in fact just the sad remains of an oil slick...

To all this, there are non-polluting alternatives that are healthier for our skin.

Plants, in their various forms (vegetable oils, essential oils, macerates, etc.) have a lot to do with this, which is why they should form the basis of all good cosmetics.

This document is an extract from the newsletter D'Asphodèle Bio-Esthetique, Somatothérapie, Formations à St Georges /Loire (49)