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.
- It’s a polyhydroxy acid (PHA), that is often referred to as next generation AHA
- It gently lifts off dead skin cells form the skin surface making skin smooth and even
- In the long term it provides anti-aging benefits, like increased skin thickness and decreased wrinkles (though a tad less than even more proven superstar AHAs)
- It’s a great moisturizer and even helps to repair impaired skin barrier
- It’s antioxidant, and does not make your skin more sensitive to the sun
- It can be used even if your skin is very sensitive, rosacea prone or if you are post cosmetic procedure
- It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
- It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
- It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
- In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
- Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
- Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
- A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
- Super common, used for more than 50 years
- Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
- High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
- It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
- It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
- It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
- A multi-functional skincare superstar with several proven benefits for the skin
- Great anti-aging, wrinkle smoothing ingredient used at 4-5% concentration
- Fades brown spots alone or in combination with amino sugar, acetyl glucosamine
- Increases ceramide synthesis that results in a stronger, healthier skin barrier and better skin hydration
- Can help to improve several skin conditions including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis
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.
A nice odorless liquid used mainly as a superior solubilizer and efficacy booster for cosmetic active ingredients such as skincare bigshot vitamin C, self-tanning active DHA or the anti-acne gold standard, benzoyl peroxide.
Other than that it can also be used in hair care products where it gives a longer-lasting and more uniform coloring. According to a manufacturer, it might even prevent the formation of split ends.
A kind of salt that's used as a thickener in cosmetic products.
Malic acid comes from apple 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 malic 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 not much research out there about malic acid itself. We could find one comparative study, that compared the effectiveness of glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and malic acid. The first two ones were the winners while malic and citric acid were less effective.
The thing that you put on your salad with some olive oil. But in a more scientific sense vinegar is usually a 5% solution of acetic acid. It's used in cosmetic products to adjust pH. Larg amounts of vinegar on the skin could be irritating and drying.
Though its name says acid, it's not really an exfoliant. It's a plant extract with some antioxidant properties. Its main thing in cosmetic products is to neutralize the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes. It's a natural alternative to sometimes bad-mouthed chelating agents, EDTAs.
- It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
- It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores (pH 3-4 needed)
- 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
Horseradish seems to be a rarely used plant extract with little info about what it's doing in a cosmetic product. Some sources say that it's purifying and stimulating, while others say that it's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Paula Begoun thinks that horseradish is an irritant, but she does not cite any sources.
Burdock root is a goodie plant extract that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Also, it has some anti-fungal and seborrhea regulation magic powers that make the ingredient especially useful for greasy and flaky skin and scalp.
Searching high and low, all we could find about Rumex Acetosa is that it's the fancy name for sorrel and its function in cosmetics products seems to be an emollient.
Myrtle is a nice evergreen shrub that's native to the Mediterranian region. When it comes to skincare it seems to have some pros and cons. On the pro side, it has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, works as an astringent and might be useful for acne-prone skin. On the con side, it contains essential oils and other not-so-nice components (like 1,8-cineole, linalool, eugenol) that can be a skin irritant and might be worth avoiding if your skin is sensitive. If you wanna know everything about this plant you can read this microbiological reasearch paper about it.
A yellow-brown viscous liquid with a balsamic smell. It's a natural antiseptic, astringent and disinfectant. As an antibacterial, it might help acne prone skin and greasy hair. As a strong fragrant gum, it is also a potential skin irritant.
You probably meet this guy more often in your kitchen than in the bathroom, but yes, onion extract is also used as a skincare ingredient. Its major - but also doubted - skin benefit seems to be that it can improve the cosmetic appearance of postsurgical scars (there is also a scar-fading gel called Mederma, that has hardly anything else in it but onion extract).
According to manufacturer info onion is not only a scar healer, but it has also antibacterial and antifungal activity, it can help to reduce acne and stimulate hair growth.
Thyme oil is an essential oil with some pros and cons to it. On the up side, it has potent antioxidant and antibacterial properties but on the downside, it has fragrant components that might irritate skin.
A yellowish element that smells of rotten eggs and it might be familiar to you from the periodic table (has the symbol S in there). It has a long history of medicinal use thanks to its antifungal, antibacterial and keratolytic activity. It used to be a very common ingredient in the treatment of inflammation-related skin diseases such as acne, rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis, however, due to its malodorousness, it is less popular nowadays.
Sulfur's precise mechanism of action is not known, but we do know that its effectiveness depends on its direct interaction with the skin surface, meaning the smaller the particle size, the better the effect. The United States Pharmacopeia lists two types of sulfur, sublimed and precipitated. The latter one has a smaller particle size and counts as a superior version.
Sulfur is also a team-player and works well when combined with other anti-acne agents, such as salicylic acid or sodium sulfacetamide. In fact, the combination of 10% sodium sulfacetamide and 5% sulfur is the active ingredient duo of several Rx-only anti-acne products.
As for the disadvantages, there is the rotten egg smell. Also in higher concentrations, it might cause a mild burning sensation and dry skin. If you are new to sulfur, patch testing it first is a good idea.
It's a sweet tasting sugar substitute that helps your skin to hold onto water when used in cosmetic products. It also helps to thicken up products and give them a bit more slip.
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.
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.
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.
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