Astrid Vitamin C SerumIngredients explained
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.
Propanediol is a natural alternative for the often used and often bad-mouthed propylene glycol. It's produced sustainably from corn sugar and it's Ecocert approved.
It's quite a multi-tasker: can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula.
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.
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.
- It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
- It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
- It can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list
- Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion (read more in geeky details tab)
Probably the most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.
As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity.
As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types).
- A multi-functional skincare superstar with several proven benefits for the skin
- Great anti-aging, wrinkle smoothing ingredient used at 4-5% concentration
- Fades brown spots alone or in combination with amino sugar, acetyl glucosamine
- Increases ceramide synthesis that results in a stronger, healthier skin barrier and better skin hydration
- Can help to improve several skin conditions including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis
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 ATIP 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 ATIP, it's in-vitro and done by an ingredient supplier.
With this context in mind let's see what ATIP 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, ATIP 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% ATIP. 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 ATIP 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 ATIP 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).
We have to start by writing that there are about 900 citrus species in the world, and plenty of them are used to make different kinds of extracts used in cosmetics. This particular one, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Fruit Extract is a very common ingredient, however, the species "Citrus Aurantium Dulcis" seem to exist only on ingredient lists and the real world calls this guy Citrus Sinensis or, you know, orange.
To complicate matters further, there are lots of varieties and lots of extraction methods, so it is a bit hard to know what you are getting with this one, but we will try our best to summarize the possibilities.
A very common scenario is that Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Fruit Extract is on the ingredient list for its mild, natural exfoliant properties. It contains mainly citric acid and some malic acid, AHA exfoliants known for their skin renewing properties. If that's the case, it is usually combined with other AHA containing fruits such as bilberry, sugar cane, lemon, and sugar maple in a super popular ingredient mix trade named ACB Fruit Mix.
But orange fruit is loaded with lots of other active compounds with a wide variety of possible effects. A well-known one is the antioxidant vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, but the dosage will vary based on the extraction method, and it’s possible that some of the ascorbic acid content will degrade before extraction process even takes place. If you want vitamin C in your skincare, that is smart, but do not rely on orange fruit extract for it.
Flavonoids (hesperidin, naringin, luteolin, and ferulic acid) are also nice active compounds with possible antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vasoprotective effects. Some of them (namely hesperidin and luteolin) might even have skin brightening activity by inhibiting tyrosinase, the famous enzyme needed for melanin production.
The orange extract also contains carbohydrates, aka sugars (mostly glucose, fructose, and sucrose, but also some bigger polysaccharides such as pectin) giving the ingredient some moisturizing properties.
Some essential oil content is usually also present in citrus fruit extracts, which means a nice scent and antibacterial properties, but also some questionable compounds such as fragrance allergen limonene or phototoxic compound bergaptene. If the amount is big enough to worry about is questionable, probably not, however, the same question applies to all the nice beneficial compounds.
Overall, we think that the orange fruit extract is a very complex ingredient with lots of potentially good things in it, but we could not find proper in-vivo (made on real people) studies made with standardized extracts to validate what it really does or does not under real-world use cases.
It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMF, hyaluronic 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 sponge helping the skin to hold onto water, being plump and elastic. 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".
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, easier to formulate and 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 penetration-questions, differences between high and low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically.
It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.
- Works best between a concentration of 5-20%
- Boosts the skin’s own collagen production
- Fades pigmentation and brown spots
- If used under sunscreen it boosts its UV protection
- Extremely unstable and oxidizes very easily in presence of light or air
- Stable in solutions with water only if pH is less than 3.5 or in waterless formulations
- Vit E + C work in synergy and provide superb photoprotection
- Ferulic acid doubles the photoprotection effect of Vit C+E and helps to stabilize Vit C
- Potent Vit. C serums might cause a slight tingling on sensitive skin
A form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. Even though we are massive vitamin C fans, Ascorbyl Palmitate (AP) is our least favorite. (Btw, 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.)
So, AP is one of the attempts by the cosmetics industry to solve the stability issues with vitamin C while preserving its benefits, but it seems to fall short on several things.
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. Even if it can be converted, the palmitate part of the molecule is more than the half of it, so the efficacy will not be good and we have never seen a serum that contains a decent (and proudly disclosed) amount of AP. We are highly skeptical what effect a tiny amount of AP has in a formula.
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. It was only an in-vitro study meaning that it was done on cell cultures and not on real people, but still, this also does not support the use of AP too much.
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.
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.
Overall, Ascorbyl Palmitate is our least favorite vitamin C derivative. It is there in lots of products in tiny amounts (honestly, we do not really understand why), however, we do not know about any vitamin C serum featuring AP in high amounts. That is probably no coincidence. If you are into vitamin C, you can take a look at more promising derivatives here.
A sugar beet derived amino acid derivative with nice skin protection and moisturization properties. Betain's special thing is being an osmolyte, a molecule that helps to control cell-water balance. It is also a natural osmoprotectant, meaning that it attracts water away from the protein surface and thus protects them from denaturation and increases their thermodynamic stability.
It also gives sensorial benefits to the formula and when used in cleansers, it helps to make them milder and gentler.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
Citric acid comes from citrus fruits and is an AHA. If these magic three letters don’t tell you anything, click here and read our detailed description on glycolic acid, the most famous AHA.
So citric acid is an exfoliant, that can - just like other AHAs - gently lift off the dead skin cells of your skin and make it more smooth and fresh.
There is also some research showing that citric acid with regular use (think three months and 20% concentration) can help sun-damaged skin, increase skin thickness and some nice hydrating things called glycosaminoglycans in the skin.
But according to a comparative study done in 1995, citric acid has less skin improving magic properties than glycolic or lactic acid. Probably that’s why citric acid is usually not used as an exfoliant but more as a helper ingredient in small amounts to adjust the pH of a formulation.
A handy helper ingredient that has photostabilizer properties. It is useful both for color-protecting products so that they do not change color for a long time as well as for stabilizing unstable sunscreen agents, such as famous UVA filter avobenzone.
DESM can also increase critical wavelength (the higher value means more UVA protection) in sunscreens and it can boost SPF by about 5 units in high-SPF products.
- 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
A glycerin and lauric acid derived multi-functional ingredient that works as a co-emulsifier (helps water and oil to mix together next to other emulsifiers), emollient (makes skin nice and smooth) and anti-microbial agent (preservative booster). It also has some thickening and refatting properties in cleansing formulas.
This long-named, polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits) is a helper ingredient that's good at emulsifying and stabilizing oils into water-based formulas. It also acts as a thickening and gelling agent that creates nice, non-sticky and supple textures. It works over a very wide pH range (3-12) and can be used to thicken up low-ph formulas, such as exfoliants. Its recommended used range is 0.3-3%.
A light, velvety, unique skin feel liquid that is a good solvent and also makes the skin feel nice and smooth (aka emollient). It's often used in makeup products mixed with silicones to give shine and slip to the product. It's also great for cleansing dirt and oil from the skin as well as for taking off make-up.
- 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)
Exactly what it sounds: nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. Fragrance in the US and parfum in the EU is a generic term on the ingredient list that is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average (but it can have as much as 200 components!).
If you are someone who likes to know what you put on your face then fragrance is not your best friend - there's no way to know what’s really in it.
Also, if your skin is sensitive, fragrance is again not your best friend. It’s the number one cause of contact allergy to cosmetics. It’s definitely a smart thing to avoid with sensitive skin (and fragrance of any type - natural is just as allergic as synthetic, if not worse!).
A smallish polymer molecule (created from repeated units of Polyethylene glycol, aka PEG) that's used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent.
It is a clear, colorless liquid that is water-soluble and water-binding (aka humectant) and can help to solubilize sparingly-water soluble things (e.g. vanilla, perfumes) into water-based formulas. Thanks to its water-binding ability, it also prevents the drying out of formulas, especially when combined with the fellow hygroscopic agent, sorbitol.
It's a helper ingredient that helps to thicken up formulas and form a nice gel texture. It leaves a rich, elegant feel with a velvety finish on the skin and works over a wide pH range.
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
Jojoba is a drought resistant evergreen shrub native to South-western 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 really special and unique: technically - or rather chemically - it's not an oil but a wax ester (and calling it an oil is kind of sloppy).
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 many 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 for 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; 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.
On balance, 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.
A handy helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix nicely together, aka emulsifier. It is especially recommended for protective, baby care and general purpose emollient creams.
It also helps to disperse insoluble particles (think color pigments or zinc/titanium dioxide sunscreen) nice and even in cosmetic formulas.
A clear liquid with a camphor-like odor that is used as a solvent.
A handy 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.
- Primary fat-soluble antioxidant in our skin
- Significant photoprotection against UVB rays
- Vit C + Vit E work in synergy and provide great photoprotection
- Has emollient properties
- Easy to formulate, stable and relatively inexpensive
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.
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.
A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi.
It’s pH dependent and works best at acidic pH levels (3-5). It’s not strong enough to be used in itself so it’s always combined with something else, often with potassium sorbate.
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | skin brightening | anti-acne | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening | buffering|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|