Vitamin C Serum
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 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 clear, colorless to slightly yellowish oil that makes the skin nice and smooth (emollient), spreads easily on the skin and is marketed as a good alternative to volatile (does not absorb into the skin but rather evaporates from it) silicones like Cyclomethicone.
A clear, colorless, almost odorless oil that spreads nicely and easily and gives a velvet dry skin feel. It is good friends with sunscreen agents and helps to solubilize them. Also, it makes sunscreens feel lighter and spread easier.
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.
So now you know that because pure vitamin C is such a diva (very unstable and hard to formulate) the cosmetic industry is trying to come up with some derivatives that have the badass anti-aging properties of vitamin C (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) but without the disadvantages. This is a hard task, and there is not yet a derivative that is really proven to be better in every aspect, but Ascorbyl Glucoside is one of the best options when it comes to vitamin C derivatives. Let's see why:
First, it's really stable and easy to formulate, so the problems that come with pure vitamin C are solved here.
Second, in vitro (meaning made in the lab, not on real humans) studies show that ascorbyl glucoside can penetrate the skin. This is kind of important for an anti-aging ingredient to do the job, so this is good news, though in-vivo (made on real humans) studies are still needed.
Third, in-vitro studies show that after ascorbyl glucoside is absorbed into the skin it is converted to pure vitamin C (though the rate of conversion is still a question mark). It also shows all the three anti-aging benefits (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) that pure vitamin C does.
Bottom line: ascorbyl glucoside is one of the best and most promising vitamin C derivatives that shows similar benefits to that of pure vitamin C, but it's less proven (in vivo vs. in vitro studies) and the extent of the benefits are also not the same.
Cellulose is an important component of the cell walls of green plants and it's the most abundant natural polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) on Earth. If the polymer structure is not too big (less than 200 repeated units), cellulose becomes microcrystalline cellulose.
In skin care, it comes as a fine or less fine white powder. The less fine (bigger particle size) version is used as a gentle scrubbing agent (a nice natural, biodegradable alternative to now banned plastic polyethylene) and the ultra fine version is used as a helper ingredient that gives a super-silky, soft touch, reduces tackiness or greasiness and can also be used as a mattifying agent.
Combined with Cellulose Gum, it also works as a nice gelling agent.
A natural emulsifier that helps oil and water to nicely mix together. It is claimed to bring a silicone-feel to natural formulations and to give an ultra-soft texture and cushion touch.
It is a natural wax derivative (from rice bran, candelilla, and jojoba waxes) that also has some moisturizing properties as it can retain 6 times its own weight in water, forming a water cushion on the skin.
A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) in a pretty simple, "green" process that is similar to soap making. It's readily biodegradable.
It also occurs naturally in our body and is used as a food additive. As cosmetic chemist Colins writes it, "its safety really is beyond any doubt".
We feel that this one is a bit under the radar probably because the Borage plant is not very well known. Maybe because its name isn't as cool as some others, it's hard to compete with kukui or baobab, not to mention murumuru. But let us tell you when it comes to skin care, borage seed oil is one of the best oils that can happen to your skin. Especially, if it's dry, sensitive, easily irritated, often itchy or eczema prone.
So what is so special about it? It is the richest known plant source of the super important essential fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is soothing and nourishing, and can repair even severely dry and irritated skin, but it's pretty rare and borage contains by far the most of it (17-28%). Next to GLA, it also contains more common fatty acids, like linoleic (36%), oleic (18%) or palmitic acid (10%).
If your skin is dry and sensitive, this one is totally for you.
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, and it’s also easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular.
A so-called fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that does all kinds of things in a skincare product: it makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier). Can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.
The emollient plant oil coming from the seeds of Crambe Abyssinica, a not very well-known plant native to the Ethiopian Highlands. It has a unique fatty acid profile and contains high amounts of erucic acid (50-65%), a 22 carbon long unsaturated fatty acid.
The oil is described as having an elegant, silky and cushioning skin feel, kind of silicone-like. Also ideal for hair-care as it gives slip, softness, and shine to the hair.
Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid is a low molecular weight, chemically chopped up version of the naturally big molecule and current IT-moisturizer, Hyaluronic Acid (HA). 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 retain water, making it plump and elastic. As HA is a polymer, the subunits can be repeated many times (as a high-molecular-weight version), or just a few times (as a low-molecular-weight version).
We wrote in detail at HA about how different molecular weight versions do different things both as a component of the skin and as a skincare ingredient, so click here and read about all the details. Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid can also come in different molecular-weight versions with different properties:
- 100-300 kDa version: apart from moisturizing, this size might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense. It is also claimed to boost the wound healing process and is especially helpful for sensitive skin types (acne, rosacea, inflammation-related skin diseases).
- 50k Da version: this is the size that is claimed to be able to absorb into the skin and plump up wrinkles, so it is used mainly as an "anti-aging ingredient"
- below 50k, around 10k Da version: there is a Japanese version trade named Hyalo-Oligo that has only a 10k molecular weight and is claimed to penetrate the skin very well, have a unique touch and give deep and long-lasting moisturization. Based on the Evonik-research and the natural role of LMW-HA in the body working as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule, this ultra-low molecular weight version is a controversial ingredient.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert, you can read much 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).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A yellow-greenish oil coming from the seeds of Cranberry. Similar to other emollient plant oils, it is loaded with nice fatty acids. It contains a very balanced 1:1 ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 (aka linolenic acid) and barrier repairing omega-6 (aka linoleic acid) (30-38%), and also a decent amount of skin-nourishing omega-9, aka oleic acid. It also has high vitamin E content and significant antioxidant properties.
Other than being a nice emollient plant oil, we also found a research showing that cranberry oil has wound-healing potential.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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 >>
Though it says fruit oil in its name, the rosehip fruit contains the seeds that contain the oil. So this one is the same as Rosa Canina Seed Oil, or Rosehip Oil, known for its high omega fatty acid content (linoleic acid - 51%, linolenic acid - 19% and oleic acid - 20%) and skin-regenerative properties.
There is a common misconception that rosehip oil contains vitamin C as the fruit itself does, but vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin hence it is not contained in the oil. The antioxidant and regenerative properties of the oil probably come from the oil-soluble tocopherols (vitamin E) and carotenoids (pro-vitamin A). Read more here.
The essential oil coming from the rind of the orange (the sweet one). In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (83-97% for sweet orange 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. Orange peel contains less of it than some other citruses (like bergamot or lime), but still, be careful with it especially if it is in a product for daytime use.
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.
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.
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 don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A cellulose (the big molecule found in the cell wall of green plants) derivative that is used as an emulsion stabilizer and thickener.
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.
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 of 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).
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).
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.
It's a little helper ingredient coming from corn, rice or potato starch that can help to keep skin mat (absorbent), to stabilise emulsions, and to keep the product together (binding).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Citronellol is a very common fragrance ingredient with a nice rose-like odor. In the UK, it’s actually the third most often listed perfume on the ingredient lists.
It can be naturally found in geranium oil (about 30%) or rose oil (about 25%).
As with all fragrance ingredients, citronellol can also cause allergic contact dermatitis and should be avoided if you have perfume allergy. In a 2001 worldwide study with 178 people with known sensitization to fragrances citronellol tested positive in 5.6% of the cases.
There is no known anti-aging or positive skin benefits of the ingredient. It’s in our products to make it smell nice.
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|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||2, 2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | perfuming | antimicrobial/antibacterial|