ingredient names

What Is That Ingredient Name Anyway?


This is the third post in a series on understanding ingredients in body care products in Australia.


It’s all very well for me to say ‘read the label’ and I’ve written about how ingredient labels don’t always have to include all the ingredients.

So you know you want to avoid the list of chemical ‘nasties’ in your personal care products.  It seems like everyone is warning you about avoiding ingredients like mineral oil, parabens, phythalates and SLS.  But how do you know what they are?  How do you know what the label is telling you?  Are the ingredients safe or not?

To be sold to consumers in Australia, products must be considered safe for human use by the appropriate regulatory body. But remember how polycarbonate plastics were considered safe for food packaging, despite the health issues associated with BPA.  Or how thalidomide was prescribed for morning sickness with terrible unforeseen consequences?

The processes put in place for our protection are only as good as the research to date, and the ability of regulators to keep up with it.

Additionally there is no regulation around use of the terms ‘natural or ‘organic’ in advertising.  Companies are increasingly using ‘greenwashing’ in their marketing to appeal to customers looking to decrease their toxic load.  Even if you don’t have allergies or sensitive skin, it is important to do your own research.  That way you can make informed choices that you are comfortable with for yourself and your loved ones.


Most ingredients in body care products go by several different names.

You may think it’s better to choose a cosmetic product that uses natural sounding ingredients like “beeswax” or “vitamin E” over one that uses “cera alba” or “tocopherol”.  But actually they are different names for the same things.

Cera alba is the INCI name for natural beeswax. Tocopherol is the INCI name for vitamin E.  In Australia, cosmetic brands can use either the English or INIC name on the label.  And depending on the supplier of beeswax or vitamin E it could be a natural or synthetic version.

If the product is therapeutic, then the ingredient would probably only be listed if it was used as an active ingredient.  Then it would need to use the AAN names “white beeswax” and “beta-tocopherol” (or d-alpha-Tocopherol or dl-alpha-Tocopherol depending on the chemical structure).

To add to the confusion, many body care products regulated by the TGA are next to cosmetic ones on store shelves.   So even when you think you’re comparing products side-by-side, you’re getting a different story about the ingredients.


A leading natural Australian beauty brand markets a small range of lip balms.


The marketing description for their moisturising lip balm claims

“Vitamins E, A and K smooth, restore and render the skin satin-soft. Also contains Aloe Vera to moisturise and cool lips”

and lists the ingredients using INCI names in descending order of quantity as required.

“Mineral Oil, Ozokerite, VP/Eicosene Copolymer, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Microcrystalline Wax, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Silica, Tocopheryl Acetate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Synthetic Wax”

Note the Vitamin E and Aloe Vera are at the bottom of the list.



The marketing description for the equivalent SPF30 lip balm claims

“vitamin E softens, smooths and repairs skin. Aloe Vera moisturises, conditions and calms”

and lists the active ingredients using AAN names as required.  Notice the therapeutic product claim to repair the skin even though none of the therapeutic actives have any skin repair function?

“ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Octyl Methoxycinnamate 85mg/g, Octocrylene 50mg/g, Oxybenzone 25mg/g, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane 20mg/g”

The ingredient list makes no mention of mention of the vitamin E or Aloe Vera referenced in the marketing description, nor any other excipient ingredients.  You could assume the balm formulation to be at least somewhat similar to the non SPF one.


Here are the ingredients for the moisturising balm with their corresponding AAN names and synonyms.

INCI AAN Synonyms What is it?

(Mineral Oil)

Parraffinium Liquidum

liquid paraffin


paraffin – liquid

Mineral oil white

Liquid petrolatum

purified clear odorless liquid obtained from refining petroleum
Ozokerite ceresin


Purified Ozokerite

Earth wax


mineral wax, derived from coal and shale
VP/Eicosene Copolymer

PVP/eicosene copolymer


VP/Eicosene copolymer

Polyvinyl pyrrolidone/eicosene copolymer

used for binding, film forming, controlling viscosity
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride medium chain triglycerides

Fractionated coconut oil

Caprylic/capric triglyceride

Medium-chain triglycerides

Miglyol 812

Caprylic/Capric acid triglyceride

gentle moisturizer derived from coconut oil and glycerine
Microcrystalline Wax

microcrystalline wax


Petroleum wax

wax – microcystalline

wax derived from petroleum
Butyrospermum Parkii Butter shea butter unsaponifiables

Butyrospermum parkii unsaponifiables

Vitellaria paradoxa unsaponifiables

Shea butter from the shea tree
Silica Silicon dioxide

Silica – colloidal hydrated


Silicic acid

Silica gel


Silica mineral
Tocopheryl Acetate dl-alpha-Tocopheryl acetate

All-rac-alpha-Tocopherol acetate

Vitamin E acetate

dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate

Vitamin E ester
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract aloe barbadensis

Aloe vera

Barbados aloes

Curacao aloes

Aloe vera
Synthetic Wax

synthetic wax


Paraffin wax

wax – synthetic

Manufactured waxes

It doesn’t look particularly ‘natural’ to me.

And the only ingredients listed for the SPF balm – all for sun protection:

INCI AAN Synonyms What is it?
Octyl methoxycinnamate octyl methoxycinnamate

Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate


Absorbs/filters UV rays
Octocrylene octocrylene



Absorbs/filters UV rays
Benzophenone-3 oxybenzone Benzophenone-3 Absorbs/filters UV rays
Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane

avobenzone (INN)



Absorbs/filters UV rays

Even if the SPF balm DID list its excipient ingredients (which is perfectly fine and some brands have a greater level of transparency), they are difficult to compare because of the two different naming standards.

What would you choose?

The next post in this series will be about how to research ingredients and find out what the ingredient name actually means.

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