All-In-One Cleanser With Toner
Dr Dennis Gross

All-In-One Cleanser With Toner

Dr. Dennis Gross created this 'All-In-One' face wash to "give his patients the most effective and balanced cleanse." Equally effective for oily or dry complexions, it doubles as a toner and is infused with plumping Hyaluronic Acid, antioxidant-rich vitamins and soothing Witch Hazel. Use it daily for perfectly smooth, polished and revitalized skin.
Also-called: Aqua | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

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Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying. 

One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time. 

A thickening and foam-boasting co-surfactant with amphoteric structure meaning that its head contains both a positively and a negatively charged part (surfactants are most commonly anionic meaning their head has a negative charge). It's very mild and gentle, comes from coconut oil and is readily biodegradable. 

What-it-does: emulsifying, emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

A common multi-tasker fatty acid. It helps water and oil to mix (emulsifier), it makes your skin feel smooth (emollient) and can help to thicken up products.

Glycerin - goodie
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • Super common, used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A mild and non-drying cleanser that gives skin a nice and soft after-feel. It also has great foaming properties, comes from coconuts and it's biodegradable. 

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A mild amphoteric (contains both a negative and a positive ion in its water-loving head part) surfactant that gives a nice foam and also has the unique ability to reduce irritation from other co-surfactants. 

What-it-does: soothing, astringent

The distillate created from different parts of the hazelnut-bush-like magic tree, commonly called Witch Hazel. Hamamelis Virginiana Water is a bit of a sloppy ingredient name as the leaves, the twigs and the bark can be used to create extracts or distillates and the different parts contain different amounts of biologically active components. But what you are getting is probably a nice water with astringent, soothing, antioxidant and antibacterial magic properties.  

We went into great details about Witch Hazel in cosmetics here, detailing the main biologically active components and how they are different in different parts of the plant. Click here and read more >>

Also-called: Jojoba Oil | What-it-does: emollient

Jojoba is a drought resistant evergreen shrub native to Southwestern North America. It's known and grown for jojoba oil, the golden yellow liquid coming from the seeds (about 50% of the weight of the seeds will be oil).  

At first glance, it seems like your average emollient plant oil: it looks like an oil and it's nourishing and moisturizing to the skin. But if we dig a bit deeper, it turns out that jojoba oil is a really special and unique one: technically - or rather chemically - it's not an oil but a wax ester (and calling it an oil is kinda sloppy). 

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So what the heck is a wax ester and why is that important anyway? Well, to understand what a wax ester is, you first have to know that oils are chemically triglycerides, one glycerin + three fatty acids attached to it. The fatty acids attached to the glycerin vary and thus we have lots of kinds of oils, but they are all triglycerides. Mother nature created triglycerides to be easily hydrolyzed (be broken down to a glycerin + 3 fatty acid molecules) and oxidized (the fatty acid is broken down into small parts) - this happens basically when we eat fats or oils and our body generates energy from it.

Mother nature also created wax esters but to a totally different purpose. Chemically a wax ester is a fatty acid + a fatty alcohol, one long molecule. Wax esters are on the outer surface of several plant leaves to give them environmental protection. 25-30% of human sebum is also wax esters to give us, people environmental protection. 

So being a wax ester results in a couple of unique properties: First, jojoba oil is extremely stable. Like crazy stable. Even if you heat it to 370 C (698 F) for 96 hours it does not budge. (Many plant oils tend to go off pretty quickly). If you have some pure jojoba oil at home, you should be fine using it for years. 

Second, jojoba oil is the most similar to human sebum (both being wax esters), and the two are completely miscible. Acne.org has this not fully proven theory that thanks to this, jojoba might be able to "trick" the skin into thinking it has already produced enough sebum, so it might have "skin balancing" properties for oily skin.

Third, jojoba oil moisturizes the skin through a unique dual action. On the one hand it mixes with sebum and forms a thin, non-greasy, semi-occlusive layer, and on the other hand, it absorbs into the skin through pores and hair follicles then diffuses into the intercellular spaces of the outer layer of the skin to make it soft and supple.

All in all, the point is this: in contrast to real plant oils, wax esters were designed by mother nature to stay on the surface and form a protective, moisturizing barrier. And jojoba oil being a wax ester is uniquely excellent at doing that.

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A vegetable origin (coconut/palm kernel oil, glucose) cleansing agent that gives moderate to high stable foam. It's also biodegradable and mild to the skin.

Also-called: Grape Seed Oil | What-it-does: antioxidant, emollient

A goodie plant oil coming from the polyphenol-rich seeds of the grape. It's a light emollient oil that makes your skin feel smooth and nice and also contains a bunch of good-for-the-skin stuff. It's a great source of antioxidant polyphenols, barrier repair fatty acid linoleic acid (about 55-77%, while oleic acid is about 12-27%) and antioxidant, skin-protectant vitamin E

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here.  The TL; DR version of HA is that it's a huge polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) found in the skin that acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.

As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit  "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution". 

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In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).

What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable and much cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists. 

If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way more about the topic at hyaluronic acid (including some questions around penetration, the usefulness of low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: German Chamomile Flower Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant

Chamomile probably needs no introduction as it's one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. You probably drink it regularly as a nice, calming cup of tea and it's also a regular on skincare ingredient lists.

Cosmetic companies use it mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the terpenoids chamazulene and bisabolol both of which show great anti-inflammatory action in animal studies. On top of that chamomile also has some antioxidant activity (thanks to some other active ingredients called matricine, apigenin and luteolin).  

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Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it. 

Also-called: Acai Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Oat Kernel Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, abrasive/scrub, emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Safflower Seed Oil | What-it-does: antioxidant, emollient

The oil coming from the seeds of the yellow flowered safflower plant. Similar to other plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing and moisturizing fatty acids: it's a high linoleic acid oil (70%) and has only smaller amounts of oleic acid (11%) (this might be great for acne-prone skin). It also contains antioxidant vitamin E (44mg/100g alpha-tocopherol).

Also-called: tea oil camellia | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing

Camellia Oleifera is a type of green tea plant that's mostly known for the oil that comes from its seeds. As for the leaves, it has similar properties as the better known and more often used Camellia Sinensis leaves. You can read all the geeky details about green tea  and why it's awesome by clicking here, but in short, it has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory magic properties.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C | What-it-does: antioxidant, vitamins

A form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. (If you do not know what the big deal with vitamin C is then you are missing out. You must go and read our geeky details about it.) 

Ascorbyl palmitate (AP) is one of the attempts by the cosmetics industry to solve the stability issues with vitamin C while preserving its benefits,  but unfortunately, this guy is pretty much a failure, hence our icky rating.

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So what's the problem?

Firstly, it's stability is only similar to that of pure ascorbic acid (AA), which means it is not really stable. A great study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology compared a bunch of vitamin C derivatives and this derivative was the only one where the study said in terms of stability that it's "similar to AA". Not really that good.

Second, a study that examined the skin absorption of vitamin C found that ascorbyl palmitate did not increase the skin levels of AA. This does not mean that ascorbyl palmitate cannot penetrate the skin (because it can, it's oil soluble and the skin likes to absorb oil soluble things) but this means that it's questionable if ascorbyl palmitate can be converted into pure vit C in the skin. And if it's not really converted, then it cannot do all the magical things pure AA can. Again, not good.

Third, another study that wanted to examine the antioxidant properties of AP was surprised to find that even though AP does have nice antioxidant properties; following UVB radiation (the same one that comes from the sun) it also promotes lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity. Also not good. 

The only good thing we can write about Ascorbyl Palmitate is that there is an in-vitro (made in the lab, not on real people) study showing that it might be able to boost collagen production, and more collagen means fewer wrinkles.

Regarding the skin-brightening properties of pure vitamin C, this is another magic property AP does not have, or at least there is no data, not even in-vitro, about it.

All in all, we have to say that AP seems to be the worst of all the vitamin C derivatives. Luckily, there are several others that all seem to be better, so click here, look around and choose one of them.

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant, vitamins | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version. 

According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E. 

Also-called: Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne. 

By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:

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retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid

As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective

What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD,  director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. 

Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here.  It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA. 

We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!

Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.

Phospholipids - goodie

A type of lipid that's the major component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient. It's also often used to create liposomes.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Tea Seed oil | What-it-does: emollient

A beautiful golden-yellow oil coming from the Camellia tree. It's a 5 -10 meters high tree with spectacular white flowers native to Asia. It's pretty common there and also used as cooking oil or salad dressing. Sometimes Camellia oil is referred to as "the olive oil of Asia". 

So what can it do for the skin? Similar to many other great non-fragrant plant oils, it's a great emollient and moisturising oil for dry skin. It's light in texture, absorbs fast into the skin and leaves it soft and supple. 

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It contains a bunch of good-for-the-skin stuff: it's very rich (70-85%) in nourishing and moisturising fatty acid, oleic acid (though if you are acne-prone be careful with oleic acid), contains significant amount of antioxidant vitamin E (0.15%) as well as great emollient and antioxidant squalene (2-3%).

All in all, a skin goodie especially for dry skin. 

Also-called: Sunflower Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more  we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.

It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.

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Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.

It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%)  and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil

Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A 100% vegetable origin, biodegradable, mild cleansing agent that gives moderate to high amount of foam. It's happy to work together with other surfactants (in general, that helps to create milder formulas). 

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 1 | Comedogenicity: 2

A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient). It also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier) and to thicken up products

It’s a so-called fatty alcohol (a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol - other two emollient fatty alcohols).  Though alcohol is in its name, its properties are totally different from the properties of “normal” alcohol, or denat. alcohol. It’s not drying and not irritating and totally ok for the skin.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

It’s a super commonly used, not-very-friendly-named helper ingredient that can help to stabilize emulsions (so that the water and the oil components stay nicely together). It can also be a thickener that helps to create nice gel formulas as well as a film-former. 

Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable. 

Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® HPO, where it helps the effectiveness of current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol

What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

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Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

What-it-does: preservative

It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It’s not a strong one and doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. To do that it has to break down to its active form, sorbic acid. For that to happen, there has to be water in the product and the right pH value (pH 3-4). 

But even if everything is right, it’s not enough on its own. If you see potassium sorbate you should see some other preservative next to it too.

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BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.

What-it-does: antioxidant, colorant, deodorant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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