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Ingredients explained

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 >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: chelating

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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. 

The neutralized form of gluconic acid. It's a great ingredient to neutralize metal (especially iron and copper) ions in a cosmetic product. This helps to prevent discoloration of the formula over time or rancidity of cosmetic oils. It can also be a pH regulator and a humectant (helps skin to cling onto water).

It's also used in oral care products where it reduces the bitterness of other ingredients. And it's natural, both Ecocert and Cosmos approved. (source: manufacturer info)

Also-called: SLS | What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing, emulsifying | Comedogenicity: 0

The famous or rather infamous SLS (not to be confused with SLES). It is a cleansing agent known for being too good at the job and potentially irritating the skin. But, on the positive side,  it can produce copious, creamy and luxurious foam compared to the more gentle and thus nowadays much more commonly used Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

In fact, SLS is so good at irritating the skin that it is very commonly used in dermatological studies just for that. It is a so-called "primary irritant", a substance that irritates the skin in one go (without prior sensitization) but doesn't do any other big harm (such as being carcinogenic or systematically toxic - those claims are not true). Also, the formula can greatly influence the irritating potential of SLS, and mixing it with other cleaning agents makes it milder

If it's not in a cleanser, it works as an emulsifier or even as a penetration enhancer for active materials. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A natural polysaccharide (big sugar molecule) coming from red edible seaweeds. It is used as a helper ingredient for its gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties.  

What-it-does: buffering, chelating

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

These three letters stand for Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone, a big molecule created from repeated units of Vinyl Pyrrolidone, aka VP. Its main thing is being an important film former. It was the first synthetic polymer introduced as a hair fixative in the 1950s instead of insect-derived Shellac. 

So PVP likes to attach itself to surfaces such as the hair and the skin and forms a nice, thin, even film there. The film is useful for holding a hairstyle or extending the wear of color cosmetics and sunscreens. The disadvantage of PVP is that the film is a bit brittle and that PVP loves water (hygroscopic) that tends to destroy the film. This is the reason why hair styled with a PVP based product loses its style in high humidity. To fix this problem, there are now several versions of VP containing film formers that are less sensitive to humidity, for example, the molecule called VP/VA Copolymer

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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). 

Super common ingredient in all kinds of cleansing products: face and body washes, shampoos and foam baths. 

Number one reason for its popularity has to do with bubbles. Everyone loves bubbles. And cocamidopropyl betaine is great at stabilizing them. 

The other reason is that it’s mild and works very well combined with other cleansing agents and surfactants. The art of cleansing is usually to balance between properly cleansing but not over-cleansing and cocamidopropyl betaine is helpful in pulling off this balance right. 

Oh, and one more nice thing: even though it’s synthetic it’s highly biodegradable. 

More info on CAPB on Collins Beaty Pages.

What-it-does: perfuming

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Eugenol - icky
What-it-does: perfuming

A colorless or yellowish oil that's used as a fragrance. It has a spicy scent and can be found for example in basil, clove or cinnamon oil.

A 2006 in-vitro  (made in the lab not on real people) study examined if clove oil is cytotoxic and found that not only clove oil but also its main constituent, eugenol is cytotoxic even at very low concentration (0.03%). It’s also one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid at least in leave-on products.

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: colorant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative

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.

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

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 abrasive/scrub | viscosity controlling
what‑it‑does chelating
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 chelating | moisturizer/humectant
The neutralized form of gluconic acid. It's a great ingredient to neutralize metal (especially iron and copper) ions in a cosmetic product. This helps to prevent discoloration of the formula over time or rancidity of cosmetic oils. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
com. 0
The famous or rather infamous SLS (not to be confused with SLES). It is a cleansing agent known for being too good at the job and potentially irritating the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A natural polysaccharide (big sugar molecule) coming from red edible seaweeds. It is used as a helper ingredient for its gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering | chelating
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
These three letters stand for Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone, a big molecule created from repeated units of Vinyl Pyrrolidone, aka VP. Its main thing is being an important film former. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | viscosity controlling
Super common ingredient in all kinds of cleansing products: face and body washes, shampoos and foam baths. Number one reason for its popularity has to do with bubbles. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
what‑it‑does perfuming
A colorless or yellowish oil that's used as a fragrance with a spicy scent. [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 colorant
what‑it‑does preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi. Has to be combined with other preservatives. [more]