Compliance Corner: Deciphering Ingredient Decks

Written by: | July 24, 2015 | Leave a Comment

Deciphering Ingredient Decks


Deciphering Ingredient listings can be confusing, but if properly written they are fairly easy to interpret. The key to remember is that ingredients are listed in order of predominance starting with the ingredient used in the greatest quantity followed by the ingredient used at the next greatest quantity.

Each ingredient must be listed in descending order of predominance down to 1% at which point ingredients thereafter can be listed in any order. This may give the consumer a clear idea of what a product is primarily composed of as well as a rough idea of the relative proportions of each ingredient used in its manufacture, but it is vague enough to allow the manufacturer to protect their formulas. The ingredient list gives the consumer enough information to know if the product contains raw materials they consider desirable or whether this is a product which they would prefer to avoid, but it does not give enough information to allow a competitor to reverse formulate the product.

Here at Essential Wholesale & Labs, we try to compose our ingredient lists with all of the information you would need to have either a USA compliant ingredient list or an EU compliant ingredient list.  This helps you create a compliant ingredient list for your products’ labels.

Disclosing Incidental Ingredients or Trade Secrets.

Generally speaking all ingredients must be declared in the ingredient list with the exception of incidental ingredients and trade secrets. Incidental ingredients are those which are used in the production of the product, but which contribute nothing to the function of the finished product. For example, if after manufacturing a product you found that the pH was a touch too high, you could use a pinch of citric acid to lower the pH and you would not have to declare this citric acid in the ingredient list as these would be considered incidental ingredients. In the United States fragrance blends are automatically considered trade secrets. Therefore the components of an essential oil blend do not have to be listed individually, but can simply be identified as “fragrance”.

Applying for an FDA Exemption

The natural products industry is filled with imaginative and industrious people who have invested a great deal of work in developing outstanding and unique products. In the event that you have produced some very special blend of ingredients that you do not wish to publicly disclose you have the option to apply to the FDA for an exemption from public disclosure. If granted by the FDA, your secret blend can be identified as “and other ingredients” at the end of the ingredient listing. However, in absence of an FDA exemption from public disclosure all ingredients must be clearly identified in the ingredient listing with the exception of incidental ingredients.

Using the Word “Natural” on Your Labels.

As a side note on this ingredient list discussion, I’d like to suggest that when designing a label you exercise some discretion when using the word “natural”. I know this is the Natural Products Industry and natural is better, but I’m sure you have all noticed the word “natural” being used almost indiscriminately on cosmetic and personal care labeling. You should exercise due diligence and make sure an ingredient really is natural before you describes it as such. Also, remember that there is no legal definition of a “natural” ingredient or product, so the term is subject to interpretations varying between the extremely conservative to the extremely liberal. There are examples of companies that have been successfully sued over the use of the term “natural”. Because there is no legal definition of “natural”, should you find your claim being challenged by the FDA or FTC you will have to be prepared to argue why a product / ingredient can fairly be described as natural and there is no guarantee that the authority assigned to your case will agree with your definition. For this reason, we recommend avoiding absolute terms like “all-natural” or “100% natural” and stick with qualifiable terminology.

What Do You Want to Know?

Upcoming Compliance Corner blogs will talk about different types of ingredient qualifications and how to truly read the claims that the cosmetics industry makes. We’d like to know what you are most interested in learning, so please leave a comment below or send us email at 





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