Hydrating Skin Tonic
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
- 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
The extract coming from the juice containing leaves of the Aloe vera plant. It's usually a hydroglycolic extract (though oil extract for the lipid parts also exists) that has similar moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties as the juice itself. We have written some more about aloe here.
Witch hazel is a smallish tree (up to 5m) that's native to North-America, has nice yellow flowers and is similar to the hazelnut bush (hence the name).
As for skincare, it's loaded with active components that have a bunch of magic properties, like astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-bacterial. It's also a well-known vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels narrower) and promotes the healing of broken skin by tightening up the skin proteins and thus creating a protective covering.
The complication, however, is that different extracts and distillates can be made from different parts of the plant (bark, twigs, and leaves are typically used) and different extraction methods from different parts produce different results. So if you see only Witch Hazel Extract or Witch Hazel Water on the ingredient list, it's a bit hard to know what you're actually getting but we will try to summarize the possibilities to give an idea.
The main biologically active components in Witch Hazel are hamamelitannin (a potent astringent and antioxidant), catechins (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) and gallic acid (antibacterial). The bark extract contains by far the most hamamelitannin and it has the most gallic acid and catechins. The twigs contain fewer catechins, less gallic acid, and much less hamamelitannin (4.77% vs 0.18%). The leaves contain hardly any tannins (0.04%) or catechins and contain a medium amount of gallic acid (compared to the bark and twigs).
Witch Hazel also contains tiny amounts of the essential oil and fragrance component eugenol, but the amount is so small that it's probably not significant for the skin.
Apart from the differences in active components in different parts of the Witch Hazel bush, the extraction methods also vary. Witch Hazel Distillate contains 14% added alcohol according to the USP specifications and alcohol is, at best drying, and at worst skin-damaging. Luckily, there are also alcohol-free distillates, so if you prefer no alcohol check the ingredient list carefully. Witch Hazel Extracts can also be made in different ways: browsing Ulprospector, we could find hydroglycolic, hydroalcoholic and glicerine/water based extracts.
Well-known skin care expert, Paula Begoun rates witch hazel as poor and says, "depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitizing amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both." This might be the case if you are dealing with an alcoholic witch hazel bark water or extract, but looking at CosIng (the official INCI name listing of the EU), witch hazel bark water or witch hazel bark extract are not listed ingredients. Bark and leaf or bark and twig or all three are used together to create extracts, so the chance that there is too much hamamelitannin in the final cosmetic ingredient seems small. Also alcohol-free extracts and distillates exist; actually, the majority seem to be alcohol-free nowadays. So all in all, we think "Hamamelis Virginiana Extract" on the ingredient list is nothing to worry about.
We even found a German study that compared the efficacy of Hamamelis ointment to panthenol ointment for soothing the skin in children (from 27 days to 11 years old). They observed 309 children and concluded that both ointments were similarly effective but the one with Hamamelis was even better tolerated (98.2% vs. 92.3% tolerated well the ointments in the two groups).
All in all, Witch Hazel Extract is a sloppy INCI name (btw, not in the CosIng listing), and you do not really know what you're getting. Most probably though, you are getting a goody with nice astringent, soothing, antibacterial, and even antioxidant properties.
We are big fans of all kinds of roses as ornamental plants but when it comes to skincare, it is a mixed bag. Before we list out the good and the not so good, here is an interesting thing.
The oil content in rose is very, very low so distilling rose essential oil requires huge amounts of rose flowers. It has such a wonderful scent that there are no comparable synthetic alternatives. You can probably guess that this means rose essential oil is expensive.... very very expensive.
So the good things: thanks to its wonderful scent the high-end perfume industry loves rose oil. Also, we (humans :)) love rose oil. We love its scent so much that it can heal headaches, depression, stress, and even grief.
Rose oil contains more than 95 compounds, among them flavonoids, anthocyanins, vitamin C, and quercetin that are all known for their medicinal properties and great antioxidant effects. Similar to many other essential oils, it has antimicrobial properties too.
The essential oil coming from steam distillation of freshly harvested, flowering peppermint sprigs. Its major component is menthol that gives the oil its well-known refreshing and cooling properties. Peppermint oil is traditionally used as an inhalant for cold and coughs and there is also some clinical data validating its use against headaches by rubbing a peppermint oil cream on the forehead.
As for skincare, other than the nice grassy-minty smell and the refreshing sensations, we cannot write good things. It can be a skin irritant, so much so that it is a well-known counterirritant for muscle pains creating mild surface irritation to make things better in the deeper layers. But for everyday skincare, counterirritation is not something you wanna do, so we think that peppermint oil is better to avoid, especially if your skin is sensitive.
- 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
There is definitely some craze going on for coconut oil both in the healthy eating space (often claimed to be the healthiest oil to cook with but this is a topic for another site) and in the skin and hair care space.
We will talk here about the latter two and see why we might want to smear it all over ourselves. Chemically speaking, coconut oil has a unique fatty acid profile. Unlike many plant oils that mostly contain unsaturated fatty acids (fatty acids with double bonds and kinky structure such as linoleic or oleic), coconut oil is mostly saturated (fatty acids with single bonds only) and its most important fatty acid is Lauric Acid (about 50%). Saturated fatty acids have a linear structure that can stack nice and tight and hence they are normally solid at room temperature. Coconut oil melts around 25 °C so it is solid in the tub but melts on contact with the skin.
The saturated nature of coconut oil also means that it is a heavy-duty-oil ideal for dry skin types. A double-blind research confirmed that extra virgin coconut oil is as effective in treating xerosis (aka very dry skin) as mineral oil. Another study found that coconut oil is more effective than mineral oil in treating mild to moderate atopic dermatitis (aka eczema) in children.
So when it comes to dry skin, coconut oil is a goodie, no question there. The question is if it is good or bad for acne-prone skin. Its main fatty acid, Lauric Acid has some research showing that it is a promising ingredient against evil acne-causing bacteria, P. acnes but at the same time, both Lauric Acid and coconut oil have a very high comedogenic rating (4 out of 5). Though comedogenic ratings are not very reliable, anecdotal evidence (i.e. people commenting in forums) shows that people have mixed experiences. While some claim that it worked wonders on their acne others say that it gave them serious blackheads and zits. Try it at your own risk.
As for hair care, coconut oil has pretty solid research showing that it can penetrate into the hair very well (better than mineral oil and sunflower oil) and it can prevent hair protein loss as well as combing damage. If you have problems with damaged hair, split ends, coconut oil is worth trying as a pre- or/and post-wash treatment. Labmuffin has an awesome blogpost explaining in more detail why coconut oil is good for your hair.
A couple of other things worth mentioning: coconut oil might help with wound healing (promising animal study), it has some antifungal activity (against dermatophytes that cause the thing known as ringworm) and it also works as an insect repellent against black flies.
Overall, coconut oil is definitely a goodie for the hair and dry skin. If that warrants for the magic oil status it enjoys, we don't know.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
- It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
- It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores
- 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
Jojoba is a drought resistant evergreen shrub native to South-western North America. It's known and grown for jojoba oil, the golden yellow liquid coming from the seeds (about 50% of the weight of the seeds will be oil).
At first glance, it seems like your average emollient plant oil: it looks like an oil and it's nourishing and moisturizing to the skin but if we dig a bit deeper, it turns out that jojoba oil is really special and unique: technically - or rather chemically - it's not an oil but a wax ester (and calling it an oil is kind of sloppy).
So what the heck is a wax ester and why is that important anyway? Well, to understand what a wax ester is, you first have to know that oils are chemically triglycerides: one glycerin + three fatty acids attached to it. The fatty acids attached to the glycerin vary and thus we have many kinds of oils, but they are all triglycerides. Mother Nature created triglycerides to be easily hydrolyzed (be broken down to a glycerin + 3 fatty acid molecules) and oxidized (the fatty acid is broken down into small parts) - this happens basically when we eat fats or oils and our body generates energy from it.
Mother Nature also created wax esters but for a totally different purpose. Chemically, a wax ester is a fatty acid + a fatty alcohol, one long molecule. Wax esters are on the outer surface of several plant leaves to give them environmental protection. 25-30% of human sebum is also wax esters to give us people environmental protection.
So being a wax ester results in a couple of unique properties: First, jojoba oil is extremely stable. Like crazy stable. Even if you heat it to 370 C (698 F) for 96 hours, it does not budge. (Many plant oils tend to go off pretty quickly). If you have some pure jojoba oil at home, you should be fine using it for years.
Second, jojoba oil is the most similar to human sebum (both being wax esters), and the two are completely miscible. Acne.org has this not fully proven theory that thanks to this, jojoba might be able to "trick" the skin into thinking it has already produced enough sebum, so it might have "skin balancing" properties for oily skin.
Third, jojoba oil moisturizes the skin through a unique dual action: on the one hand, it mixes with sebum and forms a thin, non-greasy, semi-occlusive layer; on the other hand, it absorbs into the skin through pores and hair follicles then diffuses into the intercellular spaces of the outer layer of the skin to make it soft and supple.
On balance, the point is this: in contrast to real plant oils, wax esters were designed by Mother Nature to stay on the surface and form a protective, moisturizing barrier and jojoba oil being a wax ester is uniquely excellent at doing that.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
- Green tea is one of the most researched natural ingredients
- The active parts are called polyphenols, or more precisely catechins (EGCG being the most abundant and most active catechin)
- There can be huge quality differences between green tea extracts. The good ones contain 50-90% catechins (and often make the product brown and give it a distinctive smell)
- Green tea is proven to be a great antioxidant, UV protectant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial
- Because of these awesome properties green tea is a great choice for anti-aging and also for skin diseases including rosacea, acne and atopic dermatitis
It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMF, hyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here. 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 hold onto water, being plump and elastic. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.
As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution".
In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).
What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable, easier to formulate and cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way 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).
The extract coming from the popular garden plant Calendula or Marigold. It's used traditionally as a skin-repairing and soothing plant extract.
Click here to read more at the calendula flower extract.
The essential oil coming from the flowers of bitter orange (which is the sister of the sweet orange we all know and eat). It contains several fragrance components including linalool (around 30%) and limonene (around 10%) and has a lovely sweet smell.
As it's an essential oil with lots of fragrant components, be careful with it if your skin is sensitive.
A vegetable based co-surfactant that helps to create mild cleansing formulas.
You probably know olive oil from the kitchen as a great and healthy option for salad dressing but it's also a great and healthy option to moisturize and nourish the skin, especially if it's on the dry side.
Similar to other emollient plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing fatty acids: oleic is the main component (55-83%), and also contains linoleic (3.5-20%) and palmitic acids (7-20%). It also contains antioxidant polyphenols, tocopherols (types of vitamin E) and carotenoids and it's one of the best plant sources of skin-identical emollient, Squalene.
Overall, a great option for dry skin but less so for acne-prone or damaged skin.
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 100% plant derived, natural (Ecocert approved) multi-functional ingredient that has emollient and moisturizing properties, can work as a co-emulsifier (meaning that next to other emulsifiers it can help water and oil to mix) and even more importantly has a strong antimicrobial activity.
Thanks to this last thing, it allows a lower percentage of traditional preservative or it might even be able to completely replace them.
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.
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.
Copy and paste into your blog
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | perfuming | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|
|irritancy, com.||0, 4|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | anti-acne | soothing | preservative|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | soothing | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|