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
- 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
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.
A clear, colorless and odorless oily liquid that works as a fast-spreading emollient with a dry skin feel.
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 (aka occlusive). 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).
A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) in a pretty simple, "green" process that is similar to soap making. It's readily biodegradable.
It also occurs naturally in our body and is used as a food additive. As cosmetic chemist Colins writes it, "its safety really is beyond any doubt".
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.
The emollient plant oil that comes from almonds. Similar to other plant oils, it is loaded with skin-nourishing fatty acids (oleic acid - 55-86% and linoleic acid 7-35%) and contains several other skin goodies such as antioxidant vitamin E and vitamin B versions.
It's a nice, basic oil that is often used due to its great smoothing, softening and moisturizing properties. It's also particularly good at treating dry brittle nails (source).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating.
This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners).
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.
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.
Glyceryl acrylate/acrylic acid copolymer is the fancy word for a common polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits), namely polyacrylic acid (aka carbomer when it comes to cosmetics) with glycerin attached to it in some places.
The main thing of this polymer is that it forms a hydrogel (trade named Lubrajel) that can sit on top of the skin and provide moisturizing, water-soluble ingredients such as glycerin to the skin. Think of it as a very thin, wet sponge that a cosmetic manufacturer can fill with good ingredients for your skin. It also works as a thickening agent (remember, it is a carbomer type of molecule), and can provide the skin with a nice slippery feel. It can also draw water to the skin (thank you, pendant glycerol groups!), providing skin hydration.
Also, don’t let people scare you into thinking polyacrylic acid is dangerous because of the toxicity of acrylic acid. Since acrylic acid is dangerous due to its ability to absorb into the skin (since it’s small), when you chain them together into a polymer (which is big), this danger is no longer significant.
- 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)
Super common little 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.
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||emollient | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||2, 2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-3|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|