|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | cell-communicating ingredient | anti-acne | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|Ingredient name||what-it-does||irr., com.||ID-Rating|
|Mineral Oil||emollient||0, 0-2|
|Hyaluronic Acid||skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant||goodie|
|Ceramide 1||skin-identical ingredient||goodie|
|Ceramide 3||skin-identical ingredient||goodie|
|Ceramide 6-11||skin-identical ingredient||goodie|
|Tocopheryl Acetate||antioxidant||0, 0|
|Phytosphingosine||skin-identical ingredient, cell-communicating ingredient, anti-acne, antimicrobial/antibacterial||goodie|
|Cholesterol||skin-identical ingredient, emollient||0, 0||goodie|
|Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate||emulsifying|
|Carbomer||viscosity controlling||0, 1|
|Panthenol||soothing, moisturizer/humectant||0, 0||goodie|
|Xanthan Gum||viscosity controlling|
The famous Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly. Just like mineral oil, it is also a by-product of refining crude oil, aka petroleum, and it is also a mixture of hydrocarbons but with bigger (C18-90+) carbon chain length.
The unique thing about petrolatum is that it is the most effective occlusive agent known today. While the occlusivity of mineral oil is in the same league as the occlusivity of plant oils, petrolatum is in a league of its own. It sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called transepidermal water loss (TEWL) like nothing else.
This comes in handy healing cracked lips or severely dry skin patches, though overdoing it (i.e. reducing TEWL by more than 40%) is not good as it can create a nice moist place for fungi and bacteria to grow.
As for petrolatum and safety, we can write here pretty much the exact same thing as we have written at mineral oil. There is no evidence whatsoever that cosmetic, USP grade petrolatum is carcinogenic. It also does not absorb into the skin but sits on top of it and that in itself greatly minimises health risks. It also has a long history of safe use, as it was first used as a skincare product more than 100 years ago, in 1872 to be precise.
It is also non-comedogenic, though its pure form is very heavy and greasy so combination and oily skin types might want to avoid it anyway.
Overall, it is the gold-standard occlusive agent known today and a tub of Vaseline comes in handy in any household to heal cracked lips or other severely dry skin patches.
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, and nothing more.
The myths around mineral oil
Bad mouthing mineral oil is a favorite sport of many, it is a cheap material and being connected to petrolatum makes is 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 hydrocarbon wax consisting mainly of saturated straight chain hydrocarbons with C18-90+ carbon chain length. It has a high melting point (58-100 C) and it is used mainly in stick type products, such as lip balms to keep the product nice and solid.
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.
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).
- It’s naturally in our skin and behaves there like a sponge
- It can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water
- It is a big molecule from repeated subunits (polymer) so different molecular weight versions exist
- High-molecular-weight-HA (>500 kDa) is an excellent surface hydrator, skin protectant and can act as an osmotic pump helping water-soluble actives to penetrate deeper into the skin
- Low-molecular-weight-HA (< 500 kDa) can hydrate the skin somewhat deeper though it is still a big molecule and works mainly in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin)
- Low-molecular-weight-HA might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense (~ 200kDa used in the study)
- Ultra-low-molecular-weight-HA (<50kDa) is a controversial ingredient and might work as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule
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.
Ceramides get quite a lot of hype recently and good news: there is a reason for that. But before we go into the details, let's just quickly define what the heck ceramides are:
They are waxy lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin (called stratum corneum - SC). And they are there in big amounts! The goopy stuff between our skin cells is called extracellular matrix that consists mainly of lipids. And ceramides are about 50% of those lipids (the other important ones are cholesterol with 25% and fatty acids with 15%).
Ok, so now we know what ceramides are, let's see what they do in our skin: research shows clearly that they play a super important role in keeping the skin barrier healthy and the skin hydrated. If ceramides in the skin are decreased, more water can evaporate from the skin and there is less water remaining in the skin. So ceramides form kind of a "water-proof" protecting layer and make sure that our skin remains nice and hydrated.
Now the question is only this: If we put ceramides all over our face do they work as well as ceramides already naturally in our skin? Well, the answer is probably a no, but they do work to some extent. The BeautyBrains blog made a fantastic article about ceramides and they have listed a couple of examples about studies showing that ceramides - especially when used in certain ratios with cholesterol and fatty acids - do hydrate the skin and can help to repair the skin barrier.
So far we were writing about ceramides in plural. It's because there are at least 9 types that can be found naturally in the skin. Chemically speaking, ceramides are a fatty acid and a sphingoid base and both parts can have different variations that result in different types of ceramides.
Our current one, Ceramide 1 was the first one that was identified in 1982 and it's a special snowflake. It contains the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid and has a unique structure. It's believed that ceramide 1 plays a "binding role" in the lipid layers of the extracellular matrix. Along with ceramides 4 and 7, they also play a vital role in epidermal integrity and serve as the main storage areas for linoleic acid (that's also very important for barrier repair).
Oh, and one more thing: alkaline pH inhibits enzymes that help ceramide synthesis in our skin. So if you use a soap and you notice your skin is becoming dry, now you know why.
One of the 9 types of ceramides that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.
We wrote way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.
A type of ceramide that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.
We have written way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.
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 type of lipid, a so-called sphingoid base that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. It's found both in "free-form" and as part of famous skin lipids, ceramides.
There is emerging research about Phytosphingosine that shows that it has antimicrobial and cell-communicating properties and is considered part of the skin's natural defense system.
A 2007 study showed that Phytosphingosine even works against evil acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes and shows promise as a complementing active ingredient in treating acne-prone skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities.
A nice one to spot in the ingredient list. :)
It's one of the important lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. About 25% of the goopy stuff between our skin cells consists of cholesterol. Together with ceramides and fatty acids, they play a vital role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.
Apart from being an important skin-identical ingredient, it's also an emollient and stabilizer.
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.
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.
An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid).
Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier.
Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.
Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation.
If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.
As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily.
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 non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can produce it) that's also one of the major building blocks of collagen. According to the Futurederm blog, it might be able to improve wrinkles when combined with other amino acids, glycine and leucine
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little of 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).
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).
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