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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. 

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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. 

  • It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
  • It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
  • It can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list
  • Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion (read more in geeky details tab)
Read all the geeky details about Alcohol Denat. here >>

Also-called: Sofcare STG

A synthetic copolymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that is used as a slip and surface modifier. It is claimed to give sunscreen formulas long-lasting, lightweight and non-sticky properties.

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the cheapest and most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.

As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier. Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity. 

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As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types). 

What-it-does: solvent

A clear, colorless liquid that works as a solvent and viscosity decreasing ingredient. It also has great skin-moisturizing abilities. 

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. :))

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). 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

A smallish polymer molecule (created from repeated units of Polyethylene glycol, aka PEG) that's used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent.

It is a clear, colorless liquid that is water-soluble and water-binding (aka humectant) and can help to solubilize sparingly-water soluble things (e.g. vanilla, perfumes) into water-based formulas. Thanks to its water-binding ability, it also prevents the drying out of formulas, especially when combined with the fellow hygroscopic agent, sorbitol

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

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. 

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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.

Fragrance - icky
Also-called: Fragrance, Parfum;Parfum/Fragrance | What-it-does: perfuming

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.  

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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!). 

What-it-does: buffering

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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 antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling
Alcohol with some additives to make it unconsumable. It is great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent, and antimicrobial. In large amounts, it can be very drying to the skin. [more]
A synthetic copolymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that is used as a slip and surface modifier. It is claimed to give sunscreen formulas long-lasting, lightweight and non-sticky properties.
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
A clear, colorless liquid that works as a solvent and viscosity decreasing ingredient. It also has great skin-moisturizing abilities.  [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
what‑it‑does preservative
irritancy, com. 0, 0
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) sho [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A common helper ingredient that stabilizes emulsions and helps to thicken up products. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent
A smallish polymer molecule that is used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
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 perfuming
The generic term for nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. It is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering