The Original Primer
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.
An extremely common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams and lotions. It also helps to stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions), though it does not function as an emulsifier in itself. Its typical use level in most cream type formulas is 2-3%.
It’s a so-called fatty alcohol, a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, other two emollient fatty alcohols. Though chemically speaking, it is alcohol (as in, it has an -OH group in its molecule), its properties are totally different from the properties of low molecular weight or drying alcohols such as denat. alcohol. Fatty alcohols have a long oil-soluble (and thus emollient) tail part that makes them absolutely non-drying and non-irritating and are totally ok for the skin.
An emollient ester with a rich and creamy but non-greasy skin feel. It makes skin supple and protects dry skin.
It's a clear, slightly yellowish oil (comes from coconut or palm kernel oil) that is used as a traditional, medium spreading emollient.
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).
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.
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.
Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))
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.
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.
A 100% vegetable origin emulsifier that usually comes to the formula with its buddy called C12-20 Alkyl Glucoside. The duo is trade-named Montanov L and works as an effective oil in water emulsifier. It creates ultra-soft, light texture, has excellent dermo-compatibility and is readily biodegradable.
A 100% vegetable origin emulsifier that usually comes to the formula with its buddy called C14-22 Alcohols. The duo is called Montanov L and two together help to create ultra-soft light formulas.
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.
Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. One solution is to create stable derivatives that can be absorbed into the skin, convert there to AA and do all the magic AA is proven to do (which is being an antioxidant, a collagen booster, and a skin brightener).
SAP (the vit C derivative, not the enterprise software, obvs) is a promising derivative that has great stability up to pH 7. The challenge with it though is skin penetration. Unfortunately, it seems to be limited, or to quote a great article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology "topically applied ascorbyl phosphate salts are, at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison with AA". Regarding conversion to AA, there seems to be no data about it, so we can neither deny nor confirm it.
We have better news regarding the three magic abilities of vitamin C: there is in-vivo (tested on real people) data showing that SAP does have photo-protective (aka antioxidant) properties, though less than pure AA. SAP might also aid collagen boosting; in-vitro (made in the lab) data shows that it works, but is less effective than another vitamin C derivative, called MAP (that seems to be as effective as pure AA). As for skin-brightening, there is a trade publication with in-vivo data showing that SAP can fade brown spots.
Another thing SAP might be able to do is to help with acne. A 2005 study showed in vitro (in test tubes) that 1% SAP has a strong antimicrobial activity on evil acne causing P. acnes and it also showed in vivo (on real people) that 5% SAP can strongly improve the inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions of acne vulgaris. In fact, the results were comparable or even slightly better than with 5% benzoyl peroxide.
And there is even more regarding SAP and acne. A nice double-blind study from 2009 showed that 5% SAP reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively and when combined with 0.2% retinol the results were even better. With this combination treatment, the improvement was 29.28% after 4 weeks and 63.10% after 8 weeks of application.
Aside from research studies, anecdotal evidence also supports SAP being a promising vitamin C derivative. One of the best-selling (vitamin C) serums in Sephora is the Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, while on Amazon it's the OzNaturals Vitamin C 20 Serum. Another popular choice is the Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum, and all of these contain vitamin C in the form of SAP.
Overall, we think SAP is a goody! In terms of anti-aging, it's probably not as effective as pure Ascorbic Acid, but it's totally worth a try. However, if your skin is acne-prone, SAP is your form of Vitamin C and it's a must-try.
We all know honey as the sweet, gooey stuff that is lovely to sweeten a good cup of tea and we have good news about putting honey all over our skin. It is just as lovely on the skin as it is in the tea.
The great review article about honey in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology writes that it is arguably the oldest skincare ingredient and evidence from around 4500 BC mentions honey in some eye cream recipes. Chemically speaking, it is a bee-derived, supersaturated sugar solution. About 95% of honey dry weight is sugar and the other 5% consists of a great number of other minor components including proteins, amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, and minerals.
This unique and complex chemical composition gives honey a bunch of nice skin care properties: it is very moisturizing, has soothing and antioxidant abilities as well as significant antibacterial and antifungal magic powers. There is also a lot of empirical evidence with emerging scientific backup that honey dressing promotes the healing of wounds and burns.
One tricky thing about honey though, is that it can have lots of different floral sources and different types of honey have a somewhat different composition and thus somewhat different properties. For example, the darker the honey the richer it is in antioxidant phenolic compounds. Two special types of honey are acacia and manuka. The former is unique and popular because of its higher than usual fructose content that makes it more water-soluble and easier to stabilize in cosmetic formulas. The latter comes from the Leptospermum Scoparium tree native to New Zeland and its special thing is its extra strong antibacterial power due to a unique component called methylglyoxal.
Overall, honey is a real skin-goodie in pretty much every shape and form, and it is a nice one to spot on the ingredient list.
Cucumber is a nice, non-irritating plant extract that’s known for it’s soothing and emollient properties. It’s not something new to put it on our face: even Cleopatra used it to “preserve her skin”.
It’s commonly believed that cucumber is the answer to puffy eyes, but there is no research confirming this. What research does confirm is that it contains amino acids and organic acids that’s helpful for the skin’s acid mantle. There is also an enzyme (called shikimate dehydrigenase) in the pulp that’s shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
You probably know yeast from the kitchen where you put it into milk with a little sugar and then after a couple of minutes brownish bubbles form. That is the fungi fermenting the sugar.
As for skin care, yeast contains beta-glucan that is a great soothing ingredient and also a mild antioxidant. The yeast extract itself is a silky clear liquid that has some great moisturizing, skin protecting and film-forming properties on the skin.
The flower water coming from the flowers of the Damask Rose. In general, flower waters (also called hydrosols) are diluted versions of essential oils coming from the same plant. They contain the same components but in much-reduced concentrations.
Similar to its big sister, rose oil, rose water also has a lovely, relaxing scent. It contains some antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds, as well as some fragrant components.
If your skin is super sensitive, it is a good idea to choose products without fragrant floral waters.
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.
Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.
What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie.
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:
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.
The essential oil coming from the sweet orange. In the case of orange (and citruses in general), the essential oil is mainly in the peel of the fruit, so it's pretty much the same as the orange peel oil (also has the same CAS number - a unique ID assigned to chemicals).
Its main component is limonene (up to 97%), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).
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 than fragrance is not your best friend - 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!).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Linalool is a super common fragrance ingredient. It’s kind of everywhere - both in plants and in cosmetic products. It’s part of 200 natural oils including lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, jasmine, geranium and it can be found in 90-95% of prestige perfumes on the market.
The problem with linalool is, that just like limonene it oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. That’s why a product containing linalool that has been opened for several months is more likely to be allergenic than a fresh one.
A study made in the UK with 483 people tested the allergic reaction to 3% oxidised linalool and 2.3% had positive test results.
Ci 19140 or Tartrazine is a super common colorant in skincare, makeup, medicine & food. It’s a synthetic lemon yellow that's used alone or mixed with other colors for special shades.
FDA says it's possible, but rare, to have an allergic-type reaction to a color additive. As an example, it mentions that Ci 19140 may cause itching and hives in some people but the colorant is always labeled so that you can avoid it if you are sensitive.
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|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | anti-acne|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||1-3, 1-3|