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Balm Labs Power Elixir

Power Elixir

Clearbalm's pore-refining liquid exfoliant effectively targets stubborn breakouts without the use of harsh, drying ingredients. Its innovative plant-based formula gently revitalizes uneven skin tone and texture, while reducing the appearance of fine lines.
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Balm Labs Power Elixir
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua | 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. 

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 >>

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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. 

A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. According to manufacturer info, it's also a moisturizer and helps to make the product feel great on the skin. It works synergistically with preservatives and helps to improve water-resistance of sunscreens. 

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 

Also-called: Fermented Radish Root | What-it-does: antimicrobial/antibacterial, preservative

It's an alternative, natural preservative that comes from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, a lactic acid bacteria that has been used to make traditional Korean dish, kimchi. During the fermentation process, a peptide is secreted from the bacteria that has significant antimicrobial properties

It is one of the more promising natural preservatives that can be used even alone (recommended at 2-4%), but it's not as effective as more common alternatives, like parabens or phenoxyethanol

  • It’s naturally in our skin and behaves there like a sponge
  • It can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water
  • It is a big molecule from repeated subunits (polymer) so different molecular weight versions exist (unfortunately there is no way to determine MW from INCI list only)
  • High-molecular-weight-HA (>500 kDa) is an excellent surface hydrator, skin protectant and can act as an osmotic pump helping water-soluble actives to penetrate deeper into the skin
  • Low-molecular-weight-HA (< 500 kDa) can hydrate the skin somewhat deeper though it is still a big molecule and works mainly in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin)
  • Low-molecular-weight-HA might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense (~ 200kDa used in the study)
  • Ultra-low-molecular-weight-HA (<50kDa) is a controversial ingredient and might work as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule
Read all the geeky details about Hyaluronic Acid here >>

What-it-does: solvent

A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives

Biosaccharide Gum-1 is a pretty interesting kind of sugar ingredient that is created from sorbitol via bacterial fermentation. 

According to the manufacturer it’s a “S.M.A.R.T.” sugar: it has Soothing, Moisturizing, Anti-aging, Restructuring and Touch properties. Let’s look at them quickly one by one.

Soothing: the manufacturer tested out the soothing effect in vivo (meaning on humans that is always a good thing!) by measuring how 3% Biosaccharide Gum-1 decreased the tingling sensation caused by 10% lactic acid. The result was good: the tingling was decreased by 47%.

Moisturizing: Compared to famous hyaluronic acid, it turns out that the two are great together. HA has a quicker effect and provides more instant hydration (much more hydration was measured after 1h of application), while our nice sugar has a somewhat delayed effect demonstrating stronger hydration after 3h of application. After 8 hours both had similar moisturizing effect. 

Anti-aging: According to ex-vivo tests (meaning not on humans, so do not trust it too much) Biosaccharide Gum-1 can stimulate a protein in our skin called sirtuin-1. This is supposed to help our skin cells to live longer, and function better. 

Resurfacing:  The sirtuin-1 stimulation also results in quicker cell renewal - something that happens anyway but slows down as we age. And the quicker cell renewal is good because it helps the regeneration of the barrier function. That is especially nice for fragile, sensitive skin.

Touch: our fermented sugar is not only good to the skin, but it also feels great on the skin. It gives a nice “soft touch” feeling and makes the products pleasant to use. 

The bottom line is that the above info is from the manufacturer (and we could not find any relevant independent research) so obviously take it with a grain of salt. But Biosaccharide Gum-1 does look as an interesting and promising ingredient that’s why it earned our goodie rating. 

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

What-it-does: antioxidant

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). 

What-it-does: preservative

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.

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.

Also-called: Bilberry Fruit Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Sugar Cane Extract | What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

Also known as Sugarcane, Saccharum Officinarum is a handy moisturizing ingredient mostly used as a humectant. This means that it can help the skin to attract water and then to hold onto it. 
 
It bears a close relationship to AHA superstar, Glycolic Acid that can be derived from it, so it's often claimed that Sugarcane Extract itself also exfoliates and brightens the skin. We could not find any research studies to back this up, but Saccharum Officinarum very often comes to the formula combined with other acid containing plant extracts trade named ACB Fruit Mix. According to manufacturer data, 5% of the fruit mix increases cellular renewal by 24%, while 4% pure Glycolic did the same by 33%. So maybe, a tiny bit of exfoliation, but if you want proven efficacy, stick to pure acids. 

Also-called: Orange Fruit Extract

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. 

Also-called: Lemon Fruit Extract

If life gives the cosmetic industry lemon, it makes lemon fruit extract.  As to why, we can write here extremely similar things to our shiny description of orange fruit extract.  Being both of them citruses, they contain very similar active compounds with very similar (potential) effects on the skin. 

Just like orange fruit, lemon fruit also contains citric acid so it is commonly used as a natural, mild exfoliating agent. If this is the case, it is usually combined with other AHA containing fruit extracts such as bilberrysugar cane, orange, and sugar maple in a super popular ingredient mix trade named ACB Fruit Mix.

But, citrus fruits are chemically complex mixtures with a bunch of other active components such as vitamin C, flavonoids, phenolics, carbohydrates and essential oil (this latter one coming from the rind of the fruit, but still present in some amount in the fruit extract). These have the potential to give lemon extract antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-dandruff, venotonic and moisturizing properties, but the essential oil also brings some questionable compounds such as fragrance allergen limonene or phototoxic compound bergaptene. If your skin is sensitive, be careful with citrus extracts. 

Also-called: Sugar Maple Extract

The extract coming from the Sugar Maple tree, the one whose leaf is on the Canadian flag and gives us maple syrup.

The main reason it is used in skin care is that it contains natural AHA acids, namely Malic and Tartaric, and hence why it supposedly helps slough off dead skin cells in combination with other acid-containing fruit extracts as part of the trade name ACB Fruit Mix. The manufacturer claims that both malic and tartaric increase elasticity in the skin, but from our research, the only confirmed uses of these acids are as pH adjusters, especially in the tiny amounts they can be found in the Fruit Mix (less than 1%).  

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). 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.

Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation. 

If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.

As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily. 

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

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

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 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 moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent, and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | preservative
It's an alternative, natural preservative that comes from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, a lactic acid bacteria that has been used to make traditional Korean dish, kimchi. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
A famous natural moisturizing factor that can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water. Works as an excellent surface hydrator in skincare. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
A multi-functional helper ingredient that acts as a humectant and emollient. It's also a solvent and can boost the effectiveness of preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
Biosaccharide Gum-1 is a pretty interesting kind of sugar ingredient that is created from sorbitol via bacterial fermentation.  According to the manufacturer it’s a “S.M.A.R.T.” sugar: [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [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 moisturizer/humectant
Also known as Sugarcane, Saccharum Officinarum is a handy moisturizing ingredient mostly used as a humectant. This means that it can help the skin to attract water and then to hold onto it.  It bears a close relationship to AHA superstar, Glycolic Acid that can be derived from it, so it's often claimed that Sugarcane  [more]
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" [more]
If life gives the cosmetic industry lemon, it makes lemon fruit extract.  As to why, we can write here extremely similar things to our shiny description of orange fruit extract.  Being both of them citruses, they contain very similar active compounds with very similar (potential) effects on the skin.  [more]
The extract coming from the Sugar Maple tree, the one whose leaf is on the Canadian flag and gives us maple syrup.The main reason it is used in skin care is that it contains natural AHA acids, namely Malic and Tartaric, and hence why it supposedly helps slough off dead skin cells in combination with other acid-containing fruit extracts as part of the trade name ACB Fruit Mix. [more]
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). 
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]