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Absorica Retinal

Retinal

Cream used for smoothening the skin with 0.1% Retinal.
Uploaded by: cvdk on

Absorica Retinal
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Water | 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. 

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. 

Also-called: Mineral Oil | What-it-does: emollient, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

The famous or maybe rather infamous mineral oil. The clear oily liquid that is the "cheap by-product" of refining crude oil and the one that gets a lot of heat for its poor provenance. It is a very controversial ingredient with pros and cons and plenty of myths around it. So let us see them:  

The pros of mineral oil
Trust us, if something is used for more than 100 years in cosmetic products, it has advantages. Chemically speaking, cosmetic grade mineral oil is a complex mixture of highly refined saturated hydrocarbons with C15-50 chain length. It is not merely a "by-product" but rather a specifically isolated part of petroleum that is very pure and inert.

It is a great emollient and moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. Occlusivity is one of the basic mechanisms of how moisturizers work and it means that mineral oil sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called trans-epidermal water loss, i.e water evaporating out of your skin. When compared to heavy-duty plant oil, extra virgin coconut oil, the two of them were equally efficient and safe as moisturizers in treating xerosis, a skin condition connected to very dry skin.

The other thing that mineral oil is really good at is being non-irritating to the skin. The chemical composition of plant oils is more complex with many more possible allergens or irritating components, while mineral oil is simple, pure and sensitivity to it is extremely rare. If you check out the classic French pharmacy brands and their moisturizers for the most sensitive, allergy prone skin, they usually contain mineral oil. This is no coincidence. 

The cons of mineral oil
The pros of mineral oil can be interpreted as cons if we look at them from another perspective. Not penetrating the skin but mostly just sitting on top of it and not containing biologically active components, like nice fatty acids and vitamins mean that mineral oil does not "nourish" the skin in the way plant oils do. Mineral oil does not give the skin any extra goodness, it is simply a non-irritating moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. 

The myths around mineral oil
Badmouthing mineral oil is a favorite sport of many, it is a cheap material and being connected to petrolatum makes it fairly easy to demonize. 

While it is true that industrial grade mineral oil contains carcinogenic components (so-called polycyclic compounds), these are completely removed from cosmetic and food grade mineral oil and there is no scientific data showing that the pure, cosmetic grade version is carcinogenic.

What is more, in terms of the general health effects of mineral oils used in cosmetics, a 2017 study reviewed the data on their skin penetration and concluded that "the cosmetic use of mineral oils and waxes does not present a risk to consumers due to a lack of systemic exposure."  

Another super common myth surrounding mineral oil is that it is comedogenic. A 2005 study titled "Is mineral oil comedogenic?" examined this very question and guess what happened? The study concluded that  "based on the animal and human data reported, along with the AAD recommendation, it would appear reasonable to conclude that mineral oil is noncomedogenic in humans.

Overall, we feel that the scaremongering around mineral oil is not justified. For dry and super-sensitive skin types it is a great option. However, if you do not like its origin or its heavy feeling or anything else about it, avoiding it has never been easier. Mineral oil has such a bad reputation nowadays that cosmetic companies hardly dare to use it anymore. 

What-it-does: emollient

A super common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. It’s a nice ingredient that just feels good on the skin, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular. 

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

A mildly viscous, amber-colored liquid with fatty odor, made from Castor Oil and polyethylene glycol (PEG).

If it were a person, we’d say, it’s agile, diligent & multifunctional. It’s mostly used as an emulsifier and surfactant but most often it is used to solubilize fragrances into water-based formulas.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | 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 type of glycol that - according to the manufacturer - is an extremely good replacement for other glycols like propylene or butylene glycol. Its main job is to be a solvent, but it has also very good antimicrobial properties and acts as a true preservative booster. Also helps with skin hydration without stickiness or tacky feel.

Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating. 

This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners). 

Also-called: CI 77019 | What-it-does: colorant

A super versatile and common mineral powder that comes in different particle sizes. It is a multi-tasker used to improve skin feel, increase product slip, give the product light-reflecting properties, enhance skin adhesion or serve as an anti-caking agent.

It is also the most commonly used "base" material for layered composite pigments such as pearl-effect pigments. In this case, mica is coated with one or more metal oxides (most commonly titanium dioxide) to achieve pearl effect via the physical phenomenon known as interference. 

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | 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. 

What-it-does: sunscreen, colorant

Titanium Dioxide is one of the two members of the elite sunscreen group called physical sunscreens (or inorganic sunscreens if you’re a science geek and want to be precise).

Traditionally, UV-filters are categorized as either chemical or physical. The big difference is supposed to be that chemical agents absorb UV-light while physical agents reflect it like a bunch of mini umbrellas on top of the skin. While this categorization is easy and logical it turns out it's not true. A recent, 2016 study shows that inorganic sunscreens work mostly by absorption, just like chemical filters, and only a little bit by reflection (they do reflect the light in the visible spectrum, but mostly absorb in the UV spectrum).

Anyway, it doesn't matter if it reflects or absorbs, Titanium Dioxide is a pretty awesome sunscreen agent for two main reasons: it gives a nice broad spectrum coverage and it's highly stable. Its protection is very good between 290 - 350 nm (UVB and UVA II range), and less good at 350-400 nm (UVA I) range. Regular sized Titanium Dioxide also has a great safety profile, it's non-irritating and is pretty much free from any health concerns (like estrogenic effect worries with some chemical filters).

The disadvantage of Titanium Dioxide is that it's not cosmetically elegant, meaning it's a white, "unspreadable" mess. Sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide are often hard to spread on the skin and they leave a disturbing whitish tint. The cosmetic industry is, of course, really trying to solve this problem and the best solution so far is using nanoparticles. The itsy-bitsy Nano-sized particles improve both spreadability and reduce the whitish tint a lot, but unfortunately, it also introduces new health concerns. 

The main concern with nanoparticles is that they are so tiny that they are absorbed into the skin more than we want them (ideally sunscreen should remain on the surface of the skin). Once absorbed they might form unwanted complexes with proteins and they might promote the formation of evil free radicals. But do not panic, these are concerns under investigation. A 2009 review article about the safety of nanoparticles summarizes this, "to date, in-vivo and in-vitro studies have not demonstrated percutaneous penetration of nanosized particles in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreens". The English translation is, so far it looks like sunscreens with nanoparticles do stay on the surface of the skin where they should be.  

All in all, Titanium Dioxide is a famous sunscreen agent and for good reason, it gives broad spectrum UV protection (best at UVB and UVA II), it's highly stable, and it has a good safety profile. It's definitely one of the best UV-filter agents we have today, especially in the US where new-generation Tinosorb filters are not (yet) approved. 

A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. It's often combined with IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol.

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right. 

For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.  

BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.

Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.

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.

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

Retinal - superstar
Also-called: Form of Retinoids, Retinaldehyde | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

If you are reading here, we are pretty sure the words retinoids and retinol ring a bell, but if not, you are seriously missing out, please click here immediately to catch up.  The TL;DR version is that retinoids are the royal family of skincare with tretinoin being the queen, the only FDA-approved ingredient to treat the signs of photoaging. Retinol is like a grandkid, it has to be converted (through two steps) in the skin to become retinoic acid. The conversion means retinol is both less effective and less harsh on the skin. 

So where does our current molecule, Retinal, aka Retinaldehyde fit into the family (btw, here is a nice visual family tree about who is who)?  Remember that retinol needed two conversion steps to become retinoic acid? Yes, you are right, Retinal is the intermediate step between retinoic acid and retinol, meaning it needs only one conversion step to become active in the skin. If we go with our royal family analogy, Retinal is Prince Charles, directly next in line to the throne. 

Once retinal is converted, it becomes retinoic acid and does the same things we detailed in our tretinoin description. In a nutshell, it is everything you expect from an anti-aging superstar such as decreased wrinkles, smoother, firmer and more elastic skin

This sounds good, but how does Retinal compare to retinoic acid? Good question! We found a study (a pretty good one with 125 patients) that compared 0.05% retinal with 0.05% retinoic acid (and vehicle).  They concluded that "at week 18, a significant reduction of the wrinkle and roughness features was observed with both retinaldehyde and retinoic acid." and the difference between the two was not statistically significant. (Interestingly, in both groups, the results were less significant at week 44, so it might be a good idea to have a retinoid break from time to time?) Also, our guy, Retinal was much better tolerated than retinoic acid known for its harshness. 

The good tolerability of retinal was also confirmed by another study that compared retinol (ROL), retinal (RAL) and retinoic acid (RA). They found that "the natural retinoids ROL and RAL do have a good tolerance profile, in contrast with the irritating potential of RA", meaning retinal is an awesome alternative if you have irritation and flaking issues with prescription products, such as Retin-A. 

Last, but not least, we want to mention a pretty big (but subjectively evaluated), Avene (the French pharmacy brand famous for its Retinal products) sponsored study that examined the tolerability and efficacy of a 0.1 Retinal + 6% glycolic acid product in the treatment of acne. The product was added next to the standard anti-acne regimen of 1,709 patients for 90 days and the study concluded that the formula was both very well tolerated as well as effective next to other standard anti-acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics.

Overall, if you are into retinoids, Retinal is a really awesome and well-proven member of the family that is absolutely worth trying. 

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.

It is typically used in tiny amounts, around 0.1% or less.

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.

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.

It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little xanthan gum will make it more gel-like. Used alone, it can make the formula sticky and it is a good team player so it is usually combined with other thickeners and so-called rheology modifiers (helper ingredients that adjust the flow and thus the feel of the formula). The typical use level of Xantha Gum is below 1%, it is usually in the 0.1-0.5% range. 

Btw, Xanthan gum is all natural, a chain of sugar molecules (polysaccharide) produced from individual sugar molecules (glucose and sucrose) via fermentation. It’s approved by Ecocert and also used in the food industry (E415). 

Also-called: Red 33, D&C Red 33, Red 33 Lake | What-it-does: colorant | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 1

A super common synthetic colorant that adds a purple-red color - similar to red beet - to a product.

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent
irritancy, com. 0, 0-2
A clear, oily liquid that comes from refining crude oil. Even though it is a highly controversial ingredient, the scientific consensus is that it is a safe, non-irritating and effective emollient and moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A very common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. Comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A mildly viscous, amber-colored liquid that works as an emulsifier and surfactant. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common glycol that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products. It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
A type of glycol. Its main job is to be a solvent, but it has also very good antimicrobial properties and acts as a true preservative booster. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A common helper ingredient that stabilizes emulsions and helps to thicken up products. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
A mineral powder used to improve skin feel, increase product slip, give the product some light-reflecting properties, enhance skin adhesion or serve as an anti-caking agent. A real multi-tasker. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Compared to the pure form it's more stable, has longer shelf life, but it's also more poorly absorbed by the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does sunscreen | colorant
A physical/inorganic sunscreen with pretty broad spectrum (UVB and UVA II, less good at UVA I) protection and good stability. Might leave some whitish tint on the skin, though. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial
A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A not so strong preservative that doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
If you are reading here, we are pretty sure the words retinoids and retinol ring a bell, but if not, you are seriously missing out, please click here immediately to catch up.  The TL;DR version is that retinoids are the royal family of skincare with tretinoin being the queen, the only FDA-approved ingredient to treat the signs of photoaging. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | viscosity controlling
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. [more]
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. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
irritancy, com. 2, 1
A super common synthetic colorant that adds a purple-red color - similar to red beet - to a product.