Adapted from Plant-Powered Beauty by Amy Galper and Christina Daigneault

What the Order of Listed Ingredients Reveals About the Formula

A formula is basically composed of four general categories, or types, of ingredients and each category has a very particular function within the recipe.

- The largest percentage of the recipe is composed of what many formulators and cosmetic chemists call the base or foundation ingredients. This ingredient usually makes up between 65 and 80 percent of the product, and it is always listed first.

- Next are the active and supporting ingredients. These ingredients often provide two different supporting activities to the recipe:

  1. the actual therapeutic actions, like anti-inflammatory or skin-softening effects and
  2. a textural or aesthetic function, meaning the ingredient's purpose is to combine with other ingredients to change the product's texture, consistency, or color.

- Following the active and supporting ingredients, we find the functional ingredients, which play a very physical role in the product (for example, exfoliant, emulsifier, or humectant) .Life the active ingredients, functional ingredients may constitute anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the formula. 

- Listed at the very end of the ingredient deck, you will find a category ingredients cosmetic chemists and formulators call additives, adjustment agents or harmonizers. Their role is to pull everything together, keep the product stable, make it smell and look pretty, and so on. None of these ingredients are ever more than 2 or 3 percent of the product, and they generally include preservatives, pH balancers, colors, aromas, and other aesthetic touches.

A simple trick to help you unpack the long list of ingredient names is to isolate the fist three to four ingredients listed, and then take note of where the first plant-sounding name appears. This will give you a general idea of what makes up the majority of the product and then reveal what the active therapeutic components may be. Everything listed that follows that first recognized active ingredient is likely less than 1 percent of the recipe.