BHA Exfoliating Concentrate
Balance Me BHA Exfoliating ConcentrateIngredients 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.
A water-loving emollient that is used as a solubilizer in water-based, toner-like formulas. Solubilizers are handy helper ingredients to dissolve small amounts of oil-loving materials (such as essential oils or fragrances) into watery liquids. Polyglyceryl-4 Caprate also has some emollient properties, making the skin feel nice and smooth.
- 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
- It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
- It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores
- It's a potent anti-inflammatory agent
- It's more effective for treating blackheads than acne
- For acne combine it with antibacterial agents like benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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).
Centella Asiatica - or gotu kola as normal people call it - has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. It’s traditionally used to improve small wounds, burns and scratches and it’s also a well known anti-inflammatory agent for eczema.
Recently science has taken an interest in Gotu Kola as well and it turns out it really has many active compounds with several benefits. Just for hard-core geeks, the main biologically active compounds are pentacyclic triterpenoid saponins called asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic and madecassic acid (also called centellosides).
One of the biological activities of the centellosides is to be able to stimulate GAGs (glycosaminoglycans - polysaccharides that are part of the liquidy stuff between our skin cells), and especially hyaluronic acid synthesis in our skin. This is probably one of the reasons why Centella Asiatica Extract has nice skin moisturizing properties that was confirmed by a 25 people, four weeks study along with Centella's anti-inflammatory effects.
Madecassoside can also help in burn wound healing through increasing antioxidant activity and enhancing collagen synthesis. Asiaticoside was shown to increase antioxidant levels on rats skin when applied at 0.2%.
Centella Asiatica also often shows up in products that try to treat cellulite or striae. Of course, it cannot make a miracle but it might have some effect via regulating microcirculation and normalizing the metabolism in the cells of connective tissues.
Bottom line: Gotu Kola is a great plant ingredient with proven wound healing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Nice to spot on any ingredient list.
It seems to us that squalane is in fashion and there is a reason for it. Chemically speaking, it is a saturated (no double bonds) hydrocarbon (a molecule consisting only of carbon and hydrogen), meaning that it's a nice and stable oily liquid with a long shelf life.
It occurs naturally in certain fish and plant oils (e.g. olive), and in the sebum (the oily stuff our skin produces) of the human skin. As f.c. puts it in his awesome blog post, squalane's main things are "emolliency, surface occlusion, and TEWL prevention all with extreme cosmetic elegance". In other words, it's a superb moisturizer that makes your skin nice and smooth, without being heavy or greasy.
Another advantage of squalane is that it is pretty much compatible with all skin types and skin conditions. It is excellent for acne-prone skin and safe to use even if you have fungi-related skin issues, like seborrhea or fungal acne.
The unsaturated (with double bonds) and hence less stable version of Squalane is Squalene, you can read about it here >>
You probably know olive oil from the kitchen as a great and healthy option for salad dressing but it's also a great and healthy option to moisturize and nourish the skin, especially if it's on the dry side.
Similar to other emollient plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing fatty acids: oleic is the main component (55-83%), and also contains linoleic (3.5-20%) and palmitic acids (7-20%). It also contains antioxidant polyphenols, tocopherols (types of vitamin E) and carotenoids and it's one of the best plant sources of skin-identical emollient, Squalene.
Overall, a great option for dry skin but less so for acne-prone or damaged skin.
Hello, our favorite molecule that helps us wake up in the morning and then keeps us going through the day. As a super well-known stimulant from coffee, tea and plenty of other soft drinks, Caffeine needs no introduction. So we will skip right to the part where we talk about what the hell it does in so-so many cosmetic products.
Looking at the research, we were surprised to find how versatile Caffeine is. It is a small, water-loving molecule with pretty good skin penetration abilties. Once in the skin, it has nice antioxidant properties, meaning that it reduces the formation of evil free radicals and it might even be useful in preventing UV-induced skin cancers.
A well-known thing about Caffeine is that it improves the microcirculation of the blood vessels. Though conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence says that this property is helpful for dark under-eye circles and puffy eyes, we have to mention that the double-blind research we have found about a 3% caffeine gel concluded that "the overall efficacy of the selected caffeine gel in reducing puffy eyes was not significantly different from that of its gel base." But you know, the proof is in the pudding.
Another thing Caffeine is used for in body care products is its anti-cellulite effects. In theory, it can speed up the lipolysis process (the "fat burning" by our cells) and stimulate the draining lymph system that might lead to the improvement of cellulite. But here again, the evidence that it actually makes a measurable, let alone visible, improvement on actual human beings is limited (we could find only some animal skin studies or caffeine being combined with other actives).
Last, but not least, we have to write about caffeine and hair growth. The theory is that it can inhibit the activity of the 5-α-reductase enzyme that plays an important role in hair loss and allows a renewed growth phase of the hair. We have found some recent and promising research to back this up. A 2017 study compared a 0.2% caffeine liquid with a 5% Minoxidil (an FDA approved active to treat baldness) solution and found that "a caffeine-based topical liquid should be considered as not inferior to minoxidil 5% solution in men with androgenetic alopecia", or English translation means that the caffeine liquid was pretty much as good as the FDA-approved Minoxidil stuff. Not bad!
Overall, we think that caffeine is a very versatile and biologically active ingredient. Even though some of its effects are more hyped up than backed up, it is still a nice to have on many ingredient lists.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
The essential oil coming from the peel of the mandarin orange or tangor. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (77-86% for mandarin peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer). Apart from smelling nice (and thus being a popular natural fragrance alternative), Mandarin Orange Oil also has significant antioxidant properties that's comparable to synthetic antioxidant BHT or oil-soluble antioxidant big shot vitamin E.
On the con side, the fragrant components of citrus peels might irritate sensitive skin and citrus peels also contain the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them (mildly) phototoxic. Orange mandarin peel contains less from it than some other citruses (like bergamot or lime), but still, be careful with it especially if it's in a product for daytime use.
The essential oil coming from the rind of the grapefruit. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (86-95% for grapefruit peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).
Other than that, citrus peel also contains the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them mildly phototoxic. In general, the more sour-bitter the fruit, the more problematic it is regarding phototoxicity: orange and clementine peel contain less of it while lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot contain some more. Be careful with it if it is in a product for daytime use.
Sweet, exotic and floral, it’ no surprise that Ylang Ylang is a popular essential oil. It is coming from the yellow, fragrant flowers of the Cananga tree native to tropical Asia and, similar to other essential oils, it is a chemically complex mixture with several pros and cons.
Unfortunately, these are a bit tricky to pin down as the composition varies largely depending on where it is sourced, how the oil is extracted and the grade of it that is used in the product, but we’ll do our best!
Let’s start with the easy stuff. The main components are fragrant molecules, including super common linalool (1-19%), benzyl benzoate (2-10%) and several others adding up to a max amount of 37.6% of EU sensitizers. The most expensive Extra grade is the most fragrant (has more benzyl acetate and cresyl methyl ether) and is used in high-end perfumes, while the First and Second grades are less fragrant, and used mainly in cosmetics.
Other than smelling nice and making cosmetic formulas also smell nice, Ylang Ylang might have some antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits and also works as an insect repellent. Its nice smell is also commonly known as being relaxing and calming (also backed up by a few recent studies), but it is an aromatherapy use case (when inhaled) so this probably does not count much skincare-wise.
On the other hand, the nice smell also means allergen fragrant components and 37.6% of EU sensitizers counts as quite high and the oil is considered to have high skin sensitization potential. It is a good idea to avoid if your skin is sensitive.
We have to start by writing how fascinated we are by the amazing lavender fields of Provance and we do love pretty much everything about lavender: its look, its color, its scent.... but, when it comes to skincare, lavender is a questionable ingredient that you probably do not want in your skincare products.
First, let us start with the pros: it has a lovely scent, so no wonder that it is popular as a fragrance ingredient in natural products wanting to be free from synthetic fragrances but still wanting to smell nice. The scent of lavender is famous for having calming and relaxing properties and some smallish scientific studies do support that. Inhaled volatile compounds seem to have a soothing effect on the central nervous system and studies have shown that lavender aromatherapy can improve patient's anxiety and experience in hospitals.
Another pro is that lavender oil has some nice antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It also has some local pain relieving and muscle relaxing magical powers. Lavender oil is also often claimed to have anti-inflammatory properties. We have found a study confirming this but it was the essential oil of the leaves and not the much more commonly used flowers and the two differ in their main chemical compounds very much. (The main components of the flower essential oil are linalyl acetate and linalool [around 80% the two together] while it is 1,8-Cineole [around 65%] in the essential oil of the leaves.)
Now, let us look at the cons: similar to a bunch of other essential oils, the main components of lavender oil are potentially irritating fragrant components. The two main components are linalyl acetate (about 50%) and linalool (about 35%) and both autoxidise on exposure to the air forming strong contact allergens. To make things even worse, lavender oil seems to be cytotoxic from concentrations as low as 0.25% (concentration up to 0.125% were ok).
There is also an often cited Japanese study that made patch tests with lavender oil for 9 years and found a huge increase in lavender oil sensitivity in 1997 (from 1.1% in 1990 to 8.7% in 1997 and 13.9% in 1998). This was the year when using dried lavender flowers in pillows, wardrobes, and elsewhere became fashionable in Japan, so it seems that increased exposure to lavender results in increased risk of sensitivity.
Overall, it makes us sad to write bad things about such a lovely plant, but when it comes to skincare, you will be better off without lavender.
- 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 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.
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.
A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria.
It is Ecocert and Cosmos approved, works quite well at low concentrations (0.1-0.6%) and is popular in natural products.
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically.
No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. Has to be combined with some other nice preservatives, like potassium sorbate to be broad spectrum enough.
In high amounts, it can be a skin irritant, but don’t worry, it’s never used in high amounts.
With a sweet, light and floral scent, Farnesol is a popular fragrancing ingredient to make your cosmetics that bit nicer to use. It starts its life as a colorless liquid that can either be synthetically created or extracted from loads of plants like citronella, neroli, ylang-ylang, and tuberose.
The reason we list it as icky is because Farnesol is one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labeled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential, so it is best avoided if you have super sensitive skin.
A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.
It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer.
Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.
All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.
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.
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that smells like lemon and has a bittersweet taste. It can be found in many plant oils, e.g. lemon, orange, lime or lemongrass.
It’s 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 if your skin is sensitive.
A common fragrance ingredient that has a faint sweet balsamic smell. It can also be a solvent and can fight against microbes and insects very well.
It's one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.
Geraniol is a common fragrance ingredient. It smells like rose and can be found in rose oil or in small quantities in geranium, lemon and many other essential oils.
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that has a light floral smell. It’s 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 if your skin is sensitive.
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | anti-acne | soothing | preservative|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient | perfuming|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | perfuming|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | perfuming | antimicrobial/antibacterial|