|Ingredient name||what-it-does||irr., com.||ID-Rating|
|Paraffinum Liquidum (Mineral Oil)||emollient, solvent||0, 0-2|
|Glycerin||skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant||0, 0||superstar|
|Cetearyl Alcohol||emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing||1, 2|
|Potassium Cetyl Phosphate||emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing|
|Carbomer||viscosity controlling||0, 1|
|Tocopheryl Acetate||antioxidant||0, 0|
|Retinyl Palmitate||cell-communicating ingredient||1-3, 1-3|
Boots Fragrance Free Cleansing LotionIngredients 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.
The famous or maybe rather infamous mineral oil. The clear oily liquid that is the "cheap by-product" of refining crude oil and the one that gets a lot of heat for its poor provenance. It is a very controversial ingredient with pros and cons and plenty of myths around it. So let us see them:
The pros of mineral oil
Trust us, if something is used for more than 100 years in cosmetic products, it has advantages. Chemically speaking, cosmetic grade mineral oil is a complex mixture of highly refined saturated hydrocarbons with C15-50 chain length. It is not merely a "by-product" but rather a specifically isolated part of petroleum that is very pure and inert.
It is a great emollient and moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. Occlusivity is one of the basic mechanisms of how moisturizers work and it means that mineral oil sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called trans-epidermal water loss, i.e water evaporating out of your skin. When compared to heavy-duty plant oil, extra virgin coconut oil, the two of them were equally efficient and safe as moisturizers in treating xerosis, a skin condition connected to very dry skin.
The other thing that mineral oil is really good at is being non-irritating to the skin. The chemical composition of plant oils is more complex with many more possible allergens or irritating components, while mineral oil is simple, pure and sensitivity to it is extremely rare. If you check out the classic French pharmacy brands and their moisturizers for the most sensitive, allergy prone skin, they usually contain mineral oil. This is no coincidence.
The cons of mineral oil
The pros of mineral oil can be interpreted as cons if we look at them from another perspective. Not penetrating the skin but mostly just sitting on top of it and not containing biologically active components, like nice fatty acids and vitamins mean that mineral oil does not "nourish" the skin in the way plant oils do. Mineral oil does not give the skin any extra goodness, it is simply a non-irritating moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity.
The myths around mineral oil
Badmouthing mineral oil is a favorite sport of many, it is a cheap material and being connected to petrolatum makes it fairly easy to demonize.
While it is true that industrial grade mineral oil contains carcinogenic components (so-called polycyclic compounds), these are completely removed from cosmetic and food grade mineral oil and there is no scientific data showing that the pure, cosmetic grade version is carcinogenic.
What is more, in terms of the general health effects of mineral oils used in cosmetics, a 2017 study reviewed the data on their skin penetration and concluded that "the cosmetic use of mineral oils and waxes does not present a risk to consumers due to a lack of systemic exposure."
Another super common myth surrounding mineral oil is that it is comedogenic. A 2005 study titled "Is mineral oil comedogenic?" examined this very question and guess what happened? The study concluded that "based on the animal and human data reported, along with the AAD recommendation, it would appear reasonable to conclude that mineral oil is noncomedogenic in humans."
Overall, we feel that the scaremongering around mineral oil is not justified. For dry and super-sensitive skin types it is a great option. However, if you do not like its origin or its heavy feeling or anything else about it, avoiding it has never been easier. Mineral oil has such a bad reputation nowadays that cosmetic companies hardly dare to use it anymore.
- 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
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.
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 white to beige powder that is described as the golden standard emulsifier for emulsions (oil+water mixtures) that are difficult to stabilize. It is especially popular in sunscreens as it can boost SPF protection and increase the water-resistance of the formula.
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. :))
A big molecule created from repeated subunits (a polymer of acrylic acid) that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. It usually has to be neutralized with a base (such as sodium hydroxide) for the thickening to occur and it creates viscous, clear gels that also feel nice and non-tacky on the skin. No wonder, it is a very popular and common ingredient. Typically used at 1% or less in most formulations.
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. Read more about parabens here >>
It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version.
According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E.
It's a very alkaline stuff that helps to set the pH of the cosmetic formula to be just right. It's similar to the more often used sodium hydroxide and pretty much the same of what we wrote there applies here too.
A type of silicone that's used mainly to stop the product from foaming when it's not needed. It's also often used to coat the sunscreen agent titanium dioxide for better spreading and easier formulation.
It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne.
By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:
retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid
As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective.
What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.
Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here. It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA.
We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!
Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.
A handy helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.
- 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
|what‑it‑does||emollient | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||1-3, 1-3|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|