|Ingredient name||what-it-does||irr., com.||ID-Rating|
|Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media||cell-communicating ingredient|
|Glycerin||skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant||0, 0||superstar|
|Polysorbate 20||emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing||0, 0|
|Cellulose Gum||viscosity controlling||0, 0|
|Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate||antioxidant, skin brightening||goodie|
|Tocopheryl Acetate||antioxidant||0, 0|
|Lactic Acid||exfoliant, moisturizer/humectant, buffering||superstar|
|Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil||perfuming||icky|
|Caprylyl Glycol||moisturizer/humectant, emollient|
AQ Skin Solutions Active SerumIngredients explained
Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media (HFCM) essentially means a "Growth Factor Cocktail" for your skin. We have written more about the most common GF used in skincare, the Epidermal Growth Factor here, so if you are new to the topic head over there to catch up. The TL;DR version is that a Growth Factor is a medium long amino acid sequence (= small protein = big peptide) that works as a cell signaling molecule to stimulate cell growth, proliferation, healing and/or differentiation.
Ingredients called "Conditioned Media" cover not one but a mix of Growth Factors derived from some cells grown in a lab. In the EU, human cell-derived ingredients are illegal, so GF products available in the EU usually use a plant source (e.g. barley). In the US, human-derived GFs are all OK, and Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media is derived, as its name suggests, from human fibroblast cells (VIP skin cells for collagen production).
The company Skinmedica was a pioneer in using GFs in cosmeceutical skincare, and their version of HFCM contains a "proprietary mixture of growth factors, cytokines, and soluble matrix proteins secreted by cultured neonatal human dermal fibroblasts during the production of extracellular matrix (ECM)". It is claimed to be a physiologically balanced mix of GFs that are ideal for skin cells to regenerate themselves. More specifically, it contains growth factors that can promote angiogenesis (VEGF and hepatocyte growth factor), modulate inflammation (IL-6 and IL-8), and enhance ECM deposition (TGF-β1 and platelet-derived growth factor-A).
Skinmedica has pretty convincing research showing that their products containing GFs (TNS line) work and have great anti-aging benefits. Multiple clinical studies show that the TNS Recovery Complex improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, skin tone and texture. The benefits are even greater when GFs are combined with tried and true anti-aging actives such as antioxidants and retinol.
This all sounds really good, however, GFs in skincare are somewhat controversial. As potent mitogenic (= stimulates cell proliferation) molecules, you should not use them if you have any of the skin cancer risk factors high or if you have psoriasis. We have written more about the concerns at EGF.
Overall, Growth Factors have increasing evidence (both proper clinical studies as well as some GF products with a cult following) showing that they have great anti-aging benefits. Whether you are comfortable with using human-derived ingredients or if you feel the cons outweigh the pros, is up to you. If you are a better safe than sorry type, daily SPF + retinol is still the golden standard of anti-aging.
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.
- 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 for dry skin at higher concentrations up to 20-40%
- High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
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.
A cellulose (the big molecule found in the cell wall of green plants) derivative that is used as an emulsion stabilizer and thickener.
Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is a stable, oil-soluble form of skincare big shot Vitamin C. If you do not know, why Vitamin C is such a big deal in skincare, click here and read all about it. We are massive vitamin C fans and have written about it in excruciating detail.
So now, you know that Vitamin C is great and all, but it's really unstable and gives cosmetics companies many headaches. To solve this problem they came up with vitamin C derivatives, and one of them is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (let's call it THDA in short).
It's a really promising candidate (see below), but while reading all the goodness about it in a minute, do not forget that derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin but also have to be converted to pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid or AA) and the efficacy of the conversion is often unknown. In addition, vitamin C's three magic properties (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener) are all properly proven in-vivo (on real people), but for the derivatives, it's mostly in-vitro studies or in the case of THDA, it's in-vitro and done by an ingredient supplier.
With this context in mind let's see what THDA might be able to do. First, it is stable (if pH < 5), easy to formulate, and a joy to work with for a cosmetic chemist.
Second, because it's oil-soluble, its skin penetration abilities seem to be great. So great in fact, that it surpasses the penetration of pure vitamin C threefold at the same concentration and it penetrates successfully into the deeper layers of the skin (that is usually important to do some anti-aging work). There is also in-vitro data showing that it converts to AA in the skin.
Third, THDA seems to have all three magic abilities of pure vitamin C: it gives antioxidant protection from both UVB and UVA rays, it increases collagen synthesis (even more than AA) and it has a skin brightening effect by reducing melanogenesis by more than 80% in human melanoma cell cultures.
So this all sounds really great, but these are only in-vitro results at this point. We could find Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate mentioned only in one published in-vivo study that examined the anti-aging properties of a silicone formula containing 10% AA and 7% THDA. The authors theorized that the 10% AA is released slowly from the silicon delivery system and probably stays in the upper layer of the skin to give antioxidant benefits, while THDA penetrates more rapidly and deeply and gives some wrinkle-reducing benefits. The study was a small (10 patients), double-blind experiment, and the formula did show some measurable anti-aging results. However, it is hard to know how much pure vitamin C or THDA can be thanked.
Bottom line: a really promising, but not well-proven vitamin C derivative that can be worth a try especially if you like experimenting (but if you like the tried and true, pure vitamin C will be your best bet).
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.
- It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
- It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
- It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
- In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
- 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)
The essential oil coming from the fruit (probably the rind) of the bergamot orange. It's a common top note in perfumes and contains (among others) fragrant compounds limonene (37%), linalyl acetate (30%) and linalool (8.8%).
A well-known issue with bergamot oil (apart from the fragrance allergens) is that it contains phototoxic compounds called furanocoumarins, but more and more commonly furanocoumarin-free versions are used in cosmetic products. Still, if you have sensitive skin and prefer fragrance-free products, bergamot oil is not for you.
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.
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.
A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives.
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||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|