I keep seeing the term "Aqua" in the ingredient labels on several shampoo varieties, but I really don't see why it should be there in the first place.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

I mean, if the manufacturers just wanted to say it contains water, couldn't they've printed out "Water" instead?

Or could it be that "Aqua" is slang for purified water (or water that's been treated in some godforsaken way) in the shampoo industry? Well, I guess there could always be the possibility that the manufacturers think "Aqua" sounds a lot fancier than plain ol' "Water".

So why's the term "Aqua" mentioned there?

  • 18
    While I agree with the answers, I suspect it's also used to "hide" the fact that what you've just bought, is actually mainly water... – Baard Kopperud Jan 7 '17 at 18:12
  • 17
    @BaardKopperud this is a very unfair remark. What you've bought is a finished product, not a bunch of ingredients. There is an optimal range for water content in a shampoo, and if there was less water in it, it would not be a good shampoo. So, you would have a product that is worth less, not more, if they were to start putting less water in it. By your logic, anybody buying a \$200 CPU has just paid \$200 for 2 grams of sand - true on some level, but misleading, and based on bad assumptions like "the whole is the same as the sum of its parts" and "market value is determined by material cost". – rumtscho Jan 8 '17 at 14:06
  • 1
    @rumtscho, It is a fair remark/conjecture. Ultimately, the manufacturers use "aqua" because they believe they will make more money using that term rather than "water". There are, probably, multiple contributing reasons. One of which is that some percentage of people will not recognize that "aqua" is "water". What that percentage is, and how that lack of understanding actually affects buying choices is something that such companies should have taken into account when making the choice to use "aqua". Their marketing department would not be doing their job properly if it was not considered. – Makyen Jan 9 '17 at 3:22
  • @Makyen Yes, it is the marketing's department job to sell more units, but 1) deriving that this must be why they use "aqua" is a logical leap, and in this case, wrong - read the answers below, there are regulations requiring them to use "aqua" and they would not be allowed to use "water" even if they wanted. 2) my comment was not about why they use the term, it was about the implicit suggestion that a shampoo made up of mostly water is somehow worth less than what you paid for it. – rumtscho Jan 9 '17 at 10:38
  • 1
    This post could benefit from some freehand red circles. – Gallifreyan Apr 29 '17 at 16:52
up vote 46 down vote accepted

In most countries, cosmetic product labels use the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) for listing ingredients.

The INCI name “AQUA” indeed just describes water (which is used as a solvent).

  • 11
    So, why does INCI name water aqua instead of just using English terms like in most other cases? – Max Ried Jan 8 '17 at 9:51
  • 6
    Indeed. The question asks "why", so the answer should explain why, not simply restate that it is so. – Mr Lister Jan 8 '17 at 12:09
  • 5
    @MaxRied then they don't need to change the list to sell in another country. – Tim Jan 8 '17 at 12:25
  • 1
    @Tim That is a much better answer than any of the other ones. – Mr Lister Jan 8 '17 at 12:34
  • 2
    @rumtscho Of course your conclusion is arguably true, and, well, that would make the question off topic. But the question "why are some of the words on shampoo bottles in Latin, but most of them in English, even in non-English-speaking countries?" (and I just checked and it's true here on my own shampoo bottles, somewhere in Europe) is still a very interesting one, and why shouldn't it be asked here. Or, if it shouldn't, where on SE should it be asked? – Mr Lister Jan 8 '17 at 14:23

There are three reasons which I can see:

  • labelling regulation and a common nomenclature of ingredients,
  • ubiquity of the term aqua,
  • the romantic ring to the word.

I shall expand upon the first as the others are self-explanatory.


Overview of laws and regulations

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) summarises the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA).

If a cosmetic product is marketed on a retail basis to consumers—such as in stores, online, or “person to person”—the ingredients must be listed by their common or usual names, generally in descending order of predominance.

For such consumer products, the FPLA actually prohibits the use of the word aqua on its own.

Cosmetic companies sometimes ask FDA about identifying botanicals only by their Latin names ... such as “Aqua” ... instead of “Water”. Under the FPLA, however, ingredients must be listed by their “common or usual names,” and FDA does not accept these alternatives as substitutes.

They do, however, allow simultaneous use which might be something that makes uniform international labelling easier. Specifically, writing

water (aqua)

is allowed. Often times people buy their product directly from professionals, and in this case simply aqua might still end up on your bathroom counter.

[FPLA does not apply] to products distributed only

  • as free samples,
  • for professional use, or
  • for institutional use, such as at schools, hospitals, or the workplace.

In the European Union, the INCI is followed but indirectly as far as I can tell. Indeed, regulation no 1223/2009 (available as a documentation here) states

The Commission shall compile and update a glossary of common ingredient names. To this end, the Commission shall take account of internationally recognised nomenclatures including the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).

Consult your local EU lawyer for further information. :-)

  • 1
    I live in the EU and, although I don't have a direct reference at hand, I think the correct reason is indeed regulations. I remember that a couple of decades ago products in Italy were labeled using Italian ingredient names. Then I remember having heard about some kind of EU directive that imposed uniform labeling for ingredients of cosmetics. – Lorenzo Donati Jan 8 '17 at 9:08
  • @LorenzoDonati I am also in the EU (for a little longer). I thought that use of Latin names was an option rather than a requirement. A while ago, a visiting Danish friend went to a pharmacy for a treatment (I forget for what condition). I was disappointed that she was sold a homeopathic product whose principle ingredient was "allium" - Latin for garlic. She had just bought some expensive garlic tablets. – badjohn Nov 30 '17 at 12:48

Latin names are used to simplify identifying allergens.

The reason for this nomenclature is that it should be easy for everyone, wherever they are (even abroad), to identify substances they are allergic or otherwise sensitive to.

For water, this might not make much sense, but it does make a lot of sense for plants and chemicals, whose names vary widely between languages, so in this respect it's customer-friendly to have standardized terms for them.

The way by which this goal is achieved is by using the INCI nomenclature, as the other answers say. The downside of this is that ingredients unwanted by some persons (e.g. non-vegan or mineral oil based ingredients etc.) can still be hidden with rather cryptic names, which can make those labels harder to read than if they were stated in the local language.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.