Cosmetic products encompass a wide range of consumer products intended for facial and body care, hair care, sun protection, make-up and oral hygiene.

Their texture, activity, stability, comfort of use and performance is provided by their ingredients.

Cosmetic ingredients that comply with safety rules

Cosmetic products are subject to very strict regulations in Europe, whose aim is first and foremost to ensure consumer safety and prevent misleading claims. To comply with these regulations, cosmetic products must be composed of ingredients whose safety has been demonstrated through the constitution of a very comprehensive toxicological file, without the use of animal testing.

The major categories of cosmetic ingredients

Cosmetic ingredients perform various functions. They are therefore very diverse and are generally grouped into the following major categories:

Texture agents

Active ingredients

Opacifiers and pigments


UV filters


Six categories of cosmetic ingredients
subject to very strict regulations

The texture agents category groups ingredients that provide the cosmetic product with its structure, its rheological characteristics (viscosity, smoothness, etc.) and its performance during application on the skin (ease of spreading and flow, softness, etc.). They give the final product the sensory properties perceived from the outset by the consumer.
These performances can be provided by emulsifying, emollient, thickening, foaming or dispersant functions. They can also contribute to skin moisturisation and nutrition.
They are generally made up of polymers (polyacrylates, polysaccharides, gums, etc.) or fat derivatives (oils, esters, wax derivatives, etc.). They are used in most cosmetic products: Shower gels, shampoos, hair gels, hair mousses, face and body creams, sun creams.
Active ingredients are mainly used in skin care products, but may also be contained in hair care and make-up products.
They are ingredients that have a biological activity on the skin and thus provide the final product with the effectiveness it claims:

  • Slimming products
  • Anti-oily skin products
  • Anti-ageing products
  • Anti-wrinkle products
  • Soothing products
  • Anti-oxidant products
  • Moisturisers/Skin repair products
  • Skin firming products
  • Skin tightening products, etc.

Made up of a molecule or a complex of molecules, active cosmetic ingredients have several characteristics:

  • The molecule or molecules responsible for the claimed activity are identified, purified and stabilised.
  • Their effectiveness is proven through stringent laboratory tests on cellular and tissue skin models in vitro and on voluntary panellists in vivo.
  • They can be of synthetic or natural origin (plant extracts, algae extracts, mineral extracts).
Opacifiers modify the appearance of the final cosmetic product.
hey are made up of emulsion polymers that diffuse and diffract light and render the formula uniformly opaque. They are effective at low doses (<1%).
They are mainly used in liquid or semi-liquid formulations: shower gels, shower creams, liquid soaps, shampoos, conditioners.

Pigments are the key ingredients of make-up products.
They are generally mixtures of coloured powders whose composition enables the desired colour to be obtained. They are dispersed in a base that can be solid (lipstick), pasty (colouring creams) or powdery (foundation). Pigments can provide the final product with a specific appearance in addition to the colour (pearl effect, etc.)

Preservatives are essential to all cosmetic preparations to prevent the proliferation of germs, bacteria, yeasts and moulds (fungi), for which cosmetic products constitute an environment conducive to their development.

Preservatives are substances of natural or synthetic origin that enable a cosmetic product to be preserved over time without oxidising or being altered by the presence of germs.

They are essential to all cosmetic product formulations, since they avoid:

  • The product having an unpleasant odour or taking on a colour or a cloudy appearance;
  • The active substances in the product losing their effectiveness;
  • The alteration of the product leading to various skin allergies and reactions.

The purpose of UV filters is to protect the skin against ultraviolet rays: UVA rays that penetrate the skin to the dermis causing accelerated skin ageing, and UVB rays, the highest in energy, which lead to burns. Both wavelength ranges contribute to the formation of skin cancers.

The filters incorporated into sunscreen products are cosmetic ingredients subject to specific regulations: marketing authorisation, positive list of authorised molecules (27 ingredients in Europe).

They are of two types:

  • Organic filters, which are chemical molecules that are able to absorb ultraviolet rays (especially UVB rays).
  • Mineral filters composed of mineral microparticles, generally zinc or titanium oxide, act physically by forming a barrier that prevents UV rays from passing into the skin.
Many texture agents have surfactant properties, notably emulsifiers, which ensure the stability of a large number of cosmetic products that are produced in the form of emulsions.

However, the surfactant nature may be the main property of certain cosmetic products that claim a cleaning activity: shampoos, shower gels, liquid soaps. The surfactant then represents the main ingredient of the formula.

EIn the cosmetics field, “mild” surfactants with moderate detergent properties are generally used. These may be anionic, non-ionic, cationic or amphoteric surfactants, with the last two categories often being present in hair care products.

Focus on Natural Extracts

Many cosmetic products contain plant, algae or mineral extracts.

These extracts are obtained through extraction from various parts of plants (stems, leaves, flowers, roots, fruit), algae or stones, through maceration in water or a suitable solvent, usually alcohol, glycerine or polyols. More complex processes are sometimes used such as supercritical CO2 extraction, vacuum and microwave extraction, etc. Petroleum or chlorinated solvents are not used.

These extracts are chosen according to the properties of the raw material used. The extract can be purified or filtered, but usually its composition is neither modified nor enriched by any process, unless a minimum content of a particular component is claimed.

These extracts can be subject to various certifications (biological, natural, fair trade, organic, etc.) issued by various organisations (Natrue, Cosmos, Ecocert, BDIH, etc.).

All you need to know about Surfactants

Useful links

Professional organisations in the sector, administrative bodies, etc. Access all useful links for the sector.

Partner federations

France Chimie