Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum
Dr Dennis Gross

Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum

A brightening and anti-ageing eye serum to promote the look of youthfulness.
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. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
Read all the geeky details about Propylene Glycol here >>

What-it-does: solvent

It’s a nice odorless liquid that is used most often as a great solvent for some active ingredients, like vitamin C. 

Other than that it can also be used in hair care products where it gives a longer-lasting and more uniform coloring. According to a manufacturer it even prevents the formation of split ends though we have to admit we are sceptical about that.

Also-called: Gotu Kola, Tiger Grass | What-it-does: soothing

Centella Asiatica - or gotu kola as normal people call it  - has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. It’s traditionally used to improve small wounds, burns and scratches and it’s also a well known anti-inflammatory agent for eczema.

Recently science has taken an interest in gotu kola as well and it turns out it really has many active compounds with interesting benefits. Just for hard-core geeks, active compounds include pentacyclic triterpenoid saponins, asiaticoside and madecassoside, asiatic and madecassic acid.

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The triterpenoid components are interesting because they are shown to be able to stimulate GAGs  (glycosaminoglycans - polysaccharides that are part of the liquidy stuff between our skin cells), and especially hyaluronic acid synthesis in our skin. 

Madecassoside can help in burn wound healing through increasing antioxidant activity and enhancing collagen synthesis. Asiaticoside was shown to increase antioxidant levels on rats skin when applied at 0.2%. 

Centella Asiatica also often shows up in products that try to treat cellulite or striae. Of course it cannot make a miracle but it might have some effect via regulating microcirculation and normalizing the metabolism in the cells of connective tissues. 

Bottom line: Gotu Kola is a great plant ingredient with proven wound healing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Be happy if you spot it on the INCI list.  

Also-called: Licorice Root | What-it-does: soothing, skin brightening

You might know licorice as a sweet treat from your childhood, but it's actually a legume that grows around the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, central and southern Russia. It's sweet and yellow and not only used for licorice all sorts but it's also a skincare superstar thanks to two magic properties:

Nr. 1 magic property is that it has skin-lightening or to say it another way depigmenting properties. The most active part is called glabridin. The topical application (meaning when you put it on your face) of 0.5% glabridin was shown to inhibit UVB caused pigmentation of guinea pigs. Another study even suggested that licorice is more effective than the gold standard skin-lightening agent hydroquinone. All in all, licorice is considered to be one of the safest skin lightening agents with the fewest side effects.

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There is just one catch regarding glabridin and licorice: the amount of glabridin in commercial licorice extracts can vary a lot. We have seen extracts with only 4% glabridin as well as 40% glabridin. The latter one is a very-very expensive ingredient, so if you are after the depigmenting properties try to choose a product that boasts its high-quality licorice extract. 

Nr. 2 magic property is that licorice is a potent anti-inflammatory. Glabridin has also some soothing properties but the main active anti-inflammatory component is glycyrrhizin. It’s used to treat several skin diseases that are connected to inflammation including atopic dermatitis, rosacea or eczema. 

Oh, and one more thing: glabridin seems to be also an antioxidant, which is just one more reason to be happy about licorice root extract on an ingredient list. 

Bottom line: Licorice is a great skincare ingredient with significant depigmenting, anti-inflammatory and even some antioxidant properties. Be happy if it's on the ingredient list. :)

Ferulic Acid - goodie

Ferulic Acid (FA) is a goodie that can be found naturally in plant cell walls. There is a lot of it especially in the bran of grasses such as rice, wheat and oats. 

FA - whose main job is to be an antioxidant - owes its fame to a 2005 research that discovered that adding in 0.5% FA to a 15% Vitamin C + 1% Vitamin E solution not only stabilizes the highly unstable, divaish Vit C, but it also doubles the photoprotection abilities of the formula. 

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Couple of other studies show that FA just by itself is also a nice addition to cosmetic formulations: it can penetrate the skin (which is kind of important to do the job) and it has protecting properties against UV caused skin damage.

So if you spot it on the ingredient list be happy about it. :)

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Retinol (pure Vitamin A itself) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
  • Retinol is not itself active, it has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to actually do something
  • Once converted it theoretically has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
  • A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10 times less potent than retinoic acid
  • It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
  • It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
  • Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
  • Do not use whilst pregnant
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Bearberry, Kinnikinnick | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi is a little plant with nice red berries that lives in the North and is also called bearberry or kinnikinnick. According to Wikipedia the uva-ursi part means “grape of the bear”.  

As for skincare bearberry is interesting because it contains the well-known skin lightening agent arbutin. The leaves contain 5-15% percent of it and might be able to help fading brown spots on the skin. Also, kinnikinnick (such a cool name :)) is an antioxidant and has some antibacterial activity

Arbutin - goodie
Also-called: Beta-Arbutin | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

A pretty well-known and often used ingredient with the magic ability to fade brown spots. It's used traditionally in Japan and can be found naturally in a couple of plants, including the leaves of pear trees, wheat and bearberry

Arbutin seems to work its magic and hinder the pigmentation process at the second step of it. An enzyme called tyrosinase is needed to create melanin (the pigment that causes the brown spots) and while several other skin lightening agents work to inhibit the synthesis of tyrosinase itself (like vitamin C or licorice), arbutin lets tyrosinase be and rather hinders the melanin-forming activity of the enzyme. (So it might be a good idea to combine arbutin with some direct tyrosinase inhibitors for more skin lightening effect.)

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All in all, arbutin is one of the better-known skin brightening agents, that's probably worth a try if pigmentation is an issue for you.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: White Willow Bark Extract | What-it-does: soothing, astringent

The extract coming from the bark of the White Willow, a big (25 m/80 ft.) tree that likes to live on riverbanks. It's famous for containing anti-inflammatory natural salicylates (this powder, for example, is standardized to contain 53-65%), a close chemical relative to famous exfoliant salicylic acid.

Thanks to its salicin content, willow bark is often touted as a natural alternative to salicylic acid, though it's quite questionable how effective it is as a chemical exfoliant in the tiny amounts used in cosmetics. Apart from soothing salicin, it also contains flavonoids and phenolic acids that give willow bark tonic, astringent, and antiseptic properties.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Ubiquinone - goodie
Also-called: Coenzyme Q10 | What-it-does: antioxidant

Thanks to Nivea, Q10 is a pretty well-known ingredient and the fame and Beiersdorf's (the parent company of Nivea) obsession with it are not for no reason. It's an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays a big role in energy production.

In fact, it's so important for energy production that if taken as an oral supplement it has a caffeine-like effect and if taken at night you will probably not sleep very well (so you should take it in the morning). Q10 supplementation is not a bad idea: it not only gives you energy but research also shows that oral Q10 increases the Q10 level of the skin (of course, it decreases with age like pretty much every good thing in the skin) and may help to reduce wrinkles. If you are not for supplements, dietary sources include fish, spinach, and nuts.

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As for skincare, Q10 comes in the form of a yellow, oil-soluble powder that's shown to absorb into the upper layer of the skin and act there like an awesome antioxidant. It not only has preventative effects but might also be able to reduce the depth of wrinkles, though 0.3% Q10 was used in the study that counts as really high (products containing that much should be very yellow!). 

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).

Salicylic Acid - superstar
Also-called: BHA | What-it-does: exfoliant, anti-acne, soothing
  • It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
  • It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores (pH 3-4 needed)
  • It's a potent anti-inflammatory agent
  • It's more effective for treating blackheads than acne
  • For acne combine it with antibacterial agents like benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid
Read all the geeky details about Salicylic Acid here >>

Glycolic Acid - superstar
What-it-does: exfoliant
  • It’s the most researched AHA with the most proven skin benefits
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
  • It can help skin’s own collagen production that results in firmer, younger skin
  • It can fade brown spots caused by sun damage or PIH
  • Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
  • Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
  • Slight stinging or burning with a stronger AHA product is normal
  • If your skin is very sensitive, rosacea prone choose rather a BHA or PHA product
Read all the geeky details about Glycolic Acid here >>

Mandelic Acid - goodie
  • Mandelic acid is an AHA that comes from bitter almond
  • It can gently lift off dead surface skin cells and make the skin more smooth and even
  • It has antibacterial properties
  • It’s promising against acne and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • It’s light sensitive, so choose a product with opaque packaging
Read all the geeky details about Mandelic Acid here >>

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: vitamins, soothing, moisturizer/humectant

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

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Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.

Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation. 

If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.

As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Butylene glycol, or let’s just call it BG, is a multi-tasking colorless, syrupy liquid. It’s a great pick for creating a nice feeling product.  

BG’s main job is usually to be a solvent for the other ingredients. Other tasks include helping the product to absorb faster and deeper into the skin (penetration enhancer), making the product spread nicely over the skin (slip agent), and attracting water (humectant) into the skin.

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It’s an ingredient whose safety hasn’t been questioned so far by anyone (at least not that we know about). BG is approved by Ecocert and is also used enthusiastically in natural products. BTW, it’s also a food additive. 

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 >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Lecithin - goodie
What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

A very common ingredient that can be found in all cell membranes. In cosmetics it's quite the multi-tasker: it's an emollient and water-binding ingredient but it's also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. 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.

Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Urea - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

Yes, it's the thing that can be found naturally in pee. But the version used in cosmetics is synthetic and it's a goodie for your skin: an effective moisturizer that's also nice to use as it's non-tacky and non-greasy (unlike a bunch of other water-binding ingredients). 

It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 

Bht
Also-called: Butylated Hydroxy Toluene | What-it-does: antioxidant, preservative

It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.

There is some controversy around BHT. It's not a new ingredient, it has been used both as a food and cosmetics additive since the 1970s. Plenty of studies tried to examine if it's a carcinogen or not. This Truth in Aging article details the situation and also writes that all these studies examine BHT when taken orally.

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As for cosmetics, the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) concluded that the amount of BHT used in cosmetic products is low (usually around 0.01-0.1%),  it does not penetrate skin far enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and it is safe to use in cosmetics.

What-it-does: buffering

It's a very alkaline stuff that helps to set the pH of the cosmetic formula to be just right. It's similar to the more often used sodium hydroxide and pretty much the same of what we wrote there applies here too. 

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: colorant

A bit of a sloppy ingredient name as it covers not one but three pigments: red, yellow and black iron oxide.

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