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Burt's Bees Refining Cleanser

Refining Cleanser

Renewal with natural retinol alternative. Gently exfoliates to reveal smoother skin.
Uploaded by: jesijensen on

Burt's Bees Refining Cleanser
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. 

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

A so-called fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that does all kinds of things in a skincare product: it makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier). Can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising, emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

A handy multi-tasker, white to light yellowish oil-loving wax that works very well in oil-in-water emulsions.  It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient),  stabilizes oil-water mixes and gives body to them.

Oh, and one more thing: it's a so-called fatty alcohol - the good, emollient type of alcohol that is non-drying and non-irritating. It is often mixed with fellow fatty alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, and the mixture is called Cetearyl Alcohol in the ingredient list. 

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 >>

Also-called: Sunflower Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more  we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.

It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.

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Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.

It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%)  and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil

Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.

Also-called: Carnauba Wax | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

A vegetable wax coming from the leaves of the Brazilian tropical palm tree, Copernicia cerifera. Similar to other waxes, it is used to stabilize and give body to products, or to keep stick type formulas solid. It is the hardest natural wax with a high melting point (around 85C) and high gloss making it a great wax choice for lip products.

What-it-does: emulsifying

A water-loving emollient that is used as a solubilizer in water-based, toner-like formulas. Solubilizers are handy helper ingredients to dissolve small amounts of oil-loving materials (such as essential oils or fragrances) into watery liquids. Polyglyceryl-4 Caprate also has some emollient properties, making the skin feel nice and smooth. 

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A mild amino acid based surfactant with great foaming properties. Can be used also for sensitive or baby skin.

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2-3

A common multi-tasker fatty acid. It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient), gives body to cream type products and helps to stabilize water and oil mixes (aka emulsions).

Also-called: Coconut Oil | What-it-does: emollient, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 4

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. 

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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. 

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

Glyceryl stearate citrate is similar to the super common skincare ingredient glyceryl stearate, and is similarly used to help combine waters and oils (emulsifier) and to make your skin feel nice and soft (emollient). 

The main difference between glyceryl stearate citrate and its cousin glyceryl stearate is that this one has a citric acid molecule also attached to its glycerin. This makes it what chemists call a diacylglycerol, which is a fancy word for two acids (in this case, citric acid and stearic acid) attached together with a glycerin bridge. But when it comes to cosmetics, all you need to know is that both glyceryl stearate citrate and glyceryl stearate are safe, tried and true emulsifiers. Expect to see them in formulas with both water-based and oil-based ingredients (think moisturizers and lotions).

What-it-does: emollient

A naturally derived (Ecocert approved) colorless to yellowish oily liquid that's touted as a natural silicone alternative. It's claimed to have great sensorial properties: light but caring, velvety, silky and non-sticky.

It's also great at dissolving UV-filters in sunscreens or dispersing pigments in makeup products. You can also bump into Isoamyl Laurate in hair care products as a hair conditioner that makes combing easier without build up.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

A glycerin and lauric acid derived multi-functional ingredient that works as a co-emulsifier (helps water and oil to mix together next to other emulsifiers), emollient (makes skin nice and smooth) and anti-microbial agent (preservative booster). It also has some thickening and refatting properties in cleansing formulas. 

Also-called: Corn Starch | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, absorbent/mattifier, abrasive/scrub

A corn-derived, white to yellowish, floury powder that works as a handy helper ingredient to create nice feeling emulsions.

It gives a generally pleasant skin feel, has some mattifying effect (though rice starch is better at that), it reduces greasiness and tackiness and helps the formula to spread easily without whitening or shininess. 

Bakuchiol - goodie
Also-called: Sytenol A, Phyto Retinol | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient, antimicrobial/antibacterial, antioxidant, emollient

At first glance, you could think that Bakuchiol is your average plant extract. It is derived from the seeds of Psoralea Corylifolia, aka Babchi, a plant important in Indian and Chinese medicine. The molecule was first isolated in 1973 and several anti-something properties are known about it: it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-bacterial and hepatoprotective magical abilities like plenty of other Ayurvedic plant extracts.

What makes Bakuchiol a special snowflake is the recent discovery that it behaves on the skin in a way very similar to well-known skincare superstar, retinol. While chemically, it has nothing to do with the vitamin-A family, aka retinoids, comparative gene expression profiling (a fancy way of saying that they compared how retinol and bakuchiol modify the way  skin cells behave and produce important skin proteins such as collagen) shows that retinol and bakuchiol regulate skin cell behavior in a similar way. 

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To be more specific, both Bakuchiol and retinol upregulate collagen I, III and IV production and downregulate MMP, the evil collagen attacking enzyme in our skin. This means more collagen stays in our skin and we all know that more collagen equals firmer, more wrinkle-free skin.  A 12-week clinical study using a 0.5% Bakuchiol formula with 17 people using it twice a day confirmed a significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, elasticity, firmness and an overall reduction in photo-damage. Also, the test formula was very well tolerated, without any retinol-like side effects. 

What's more, a 2018 double-blind study with 44 people compared 0.5% Bakuchiol with 0.5% retinol cream and found that "bakuchiol is comparable to retinol in its ability to improve photoaging and is better tolerated than retinol". A super promising result after 12 weeks. 

If you are not a daredevil-type who doesn't want to stop using a super well-proven retinol for a newbie like Bakuchiol, we have good news. The two also work very nicely together and Bakuchiol can actually help to stabilize the otherwise unstable and hard to formulate retinol.

And we are still not done, as Bakuchiol shows not only anti-aging properties but also nice anti-acne effects. 1% Bakuchiol seems to be very effective in itself (57% reduction in acne after 6 weeks treatment) and even better when combined with 2% salicylic acid (67% reduction in acne after 6 weeks). We like that Bakuchiol is such a good team player!  The molecule works against acne in multiple ways: It downregulates 5α-reductase (a sebum-controlling enzyme), it is antibacterial (including P. acnes), anti-inflammatory and it inhibits lipid-peroxidation, an evil oxidative process that is recently thought to be a very early trigger in the acne process. 

We feel that this description is becoming very long so we will just mention that Bakuchiol also seems to positively regulate hydration-related genes such as Aquaporin 3 and also shows some melanin-inhibiting properties

Overall, we think Bakuchiol is an awesome molecule with lots of promise both for anti-aging and anti-acne. But the proof compared to the well-established superstars is far from solid, so in a skincare routine, we would rather add Bakuchiol next to retinol than straight up replace it. Unless you are a gimme-the-newest-shiny-thing-under-the-sun-type. 

Tocopherol - goodie
Also-called: Vitamin E | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0-3 | Comedogenicity: 0-3
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Tocopherol here >>

Also-called: Soybean Oil | What-it-does: emollient, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 3

The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is considered to be a nice, cost-effective base oil with moisturizing properties. As for its fatty acid profile, it contains 48-59% barrier-repairing linoleic acid, 17-30% nourishing oleic acid and also some (4.5-11%) potentially anti-inflammatory linolenic acid

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). 

Lactic Acid - superstar
  • 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)
Read all the geeky details about Lactic Acid here >>

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, absorbent/mattifier | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. So the face of one platelet attracts the edge of the other and this builds a so-called "house of card" structure meaning that Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (MAS) thickens up products and helps to suspend non-soluble particles such as color pigments or inorganic sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).

As the "house of card" structure takes some time to form but collapses quickly if the formula is stirred, products thickened with MAS can be thick in the jar but become easily spreadable upon application (called thixotropy). MAS also gives nice sensory properties, it is not tacky or sticky and gives a rich, creamy skin feel. Also a good team player and works in synergy with other thickeners such as Cellulose Gum or Xanthan Gum

What-it-does: emulsifying

A helper ingredient that's used as a co-emulsifier (meaning next to other emulsifiers in the formula it helps water and oil to mix) and as a stabilization agent for foams. Also, has some antimicrobial activity so it can help to boost the effectiveness of the preservative system.

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: 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.

Eugenol - icky
What-it-does: perfuming

A colorless or yellowish oil that's used as a fragrance. It has a spicy scent and can be found for example in basil, clove or cinnamon oil.

A 2006 in-vitro  (made in the lab not on real people) study examined if clove oil is cytotoxic and found that not only clove oil but also its main constituent, eugenol is cytotoxic even at very low concentration (0.03%). It’s also one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid at least in leave-on products.

Geraniol - icky
What-it-does: perfuming

Geraniol is a common fragrance ingredient. It smells like rose and can be found in rose oil or in small quantities in geranium, lemon and many other essential oils. 

Just like other similar fragrance ingredients (like linalool and limonene) geraniol also oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. Best to avoid if you have sensitive skin.

Limonene - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, solvent, deodorant

A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.

It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer

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Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.

All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.  

Linalool - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, deodorant

Linalool is a super common fragrance ingredient. It’s kind of everywhere - both in plants and in cosmetic products. It’s part of 200 natural oils including lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, jasmine, geranium and it can be found in 90-95% of prestige perfumes on the market. 

The problem with linalool is, that just like limonene it oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. That’s why a product containing linalool that has been opened for several months is more likely to be allergenic than a fresh one.

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A study made in the UK with 483 people tested the allergic reaction to 3% oxidised linalool and 2.3% had positive test results. 

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 emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier).
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A handy multi-tasker, white to light yellowish oil-loving wax that works very well in oil-in-water emulsions.  It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient),  stabilizes oil-water mixes and gives body to them.Oh, and one more thing: [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 emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Sunflower Oil - it's a great emollient that protects & enhances the skin barrier. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A vegetable wax coming from the leaves of the Brazilian tropical palm tree, Copernicia cerifera. Similar to other waxes, it is used to stabilize and give body to products. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying
A water-loving emollient that is used as a solubilizer in water-based, toner-like formulas. Solubilizers are handy helper ingredients to dissolve small amounts of oil-loving materials (such as essential oils or fragrances) into watery liquids. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing
A mild amino acid based surfactant with great foaming properties. Can be used also for sensitive or baby skin.
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 2-3
A common multi-tasker fatty acid that works as an emollient, thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 4
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. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
Glyceryl stearate citrate is similar to the super common skincare ingredient glyceryl stearate, and is similarly used to help combine waters and oils (emulsifier) and to make your skin feel nice and soft (emollient).  The main difference between glyceryl stearate citrate and its cousin glyceryl stearate is that this one has a citric acid molecule also attached to its glycerin. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A naturally derived (Ecocert approved) oily liquid that's touted as a natural silicone alternative. It's claimed to have great sensorial properties: light but caring, velvety, silky and non-sticky. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
A glycerin and lauric acid derived multi-functional ingredient that works as a co-emulsifier (helps water and oil to mix together next to other emulsifiers), emollient (makes skin nice and smooth) and anti-microbial agent (preservative booster). [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling | abrasive/scrub
Corn Starch that comes as a floury powder and helps to improve the skin feel of emulsions. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient | antimicrobial/antibacterial | antioxidant | emollient
At first glance, you could think that Bakuchiol is your average plant extract. It is derived from the seeds of Psoralea Corylifolia, aka Babchi, a plant important in Indian and Chinese medicine. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0-3, 0-3
Pure Vitamin E. Great antioxidant that gives significant photoprotection against UVB rays. Works in synergy with Vitamin C. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 3
The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is rich in barrier repairing linoleic acid (48-59%) and is generally a good moisturizing oil. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant | buffering
A superstar AHA that not only exfoliates skin but is also a very good moisturizer. In higher concentration (10% and up) it can even improve skin firmness, thickness, and wrinkles. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying
A helper ingredient that's used as a co-emulsifier and as a stabilization agent for foams. [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 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
A colorless or yellowish oil that's used as a fragrance with a spicy scent. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A common fragrance ingredient that smells like rose and can be found in rose oil. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming | solvent
A super common fragrance ingredient found naturally in many plants including citrus peel oils, rosemary or lavender. It autoxidizes on air exposure and counts as a common skin sensitizer. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A super common fragrance ingredient that can be found among others in lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot or jasmine. The downside of it is that it oxidises on air exposure and might become allergenic. [more]