Cipher C-shieldIngredients 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.
Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. One solution is to create stable derivatives that can be absorbed into the skin, convert there to AA and do all the magic AA is proven to do (which is being an antioxidant, a collagen booster, and a skin brightener).
SAP (the vit C derivative, not the enterprise software, obvs) is a promising derivative that has great stability up to pH 7. The challenge with it though is skin penetration. Unfortunately, it seems to be limited, or to quote a great article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology "topically applied ascorbyl phosphate salts are, at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison with AA". Regarding conversion to AA, there seems to be no data about it, so we can neither deny nor confirm it.
We have better news regarding the three magic abilities of vitamin C: there is in-vivo (tested on real people) data showing that SAP does have photo-protective (aka antioxidant) properties, though less than pure AA. SAP might also aid collagen boosting; in-vitro (made in the lab) data shows that it works, but is less effective than another vitamin C derivative, called MAP (that seems to be as effective as pure AA). As for skin-brightening, there is a trade publication with in-vivo data showing that SAP can fade brown spots.
Another thing SAP might be able to do is to help with acne. A 2005 study showed in vitro (in test tubes) that 1% SAP has a strong antimicrobial activity on evil acne causing P. acnes and it also showed in vivo (on real people) that 5% SAP can strongly improve the inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions of acne vulgaris. In fact, the results were comparable or even slightly better than with 5% benzoyl peroxide.
And there is even more regarding SAP and acne. A nice double-blind study from 2009 showed that 5% SAP reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively and when combined with 0.2% retinol the results were even better. With this combination treatment, the improvement was 29.28% after 4 weeks and 63.10% after 8 weeks of application.
Aside from research studies, anecdotal evidence also supports SAP being a promising vitamin C derivative. One of the best-selling (vitamin C) serums in Sephora is the Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, while on Amazon it's the OzNaturals Vitamin C 20 Serum. Another popular choice is the Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum, and all of these contain vitamin C in the form of SAP.
Overall, we think SAP is a goody! In terms of anti-aging, it's probably not as effective as pure Ascorbic Acid, but it's totally worth a try. However, if your skin is acne-prone, SAP is your form of Vitamin C and it's a must-try.
Propanediol is a natural alternative for the often used and often bad-mouthed propylene glycol. It's produced sustainably from corn sugar and it's Ecocert approved.
It's quite a multi-tasker: can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula.
So now you know that because pure vitamin C is such a diva (very unstable and hard to formulate) the cosmetic industry is trying to come up with some derivatives that have the badass anti-aging properties of vitamin C (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) but without the disadvantages. This is a hard task, and there is not yet a derivative that is really proven to be better in every aspect, but Ascorbyl Glucoside is one of the best options when it comes to vitamin C derivatives. Let's see why:
First, it's really stable and easy to formulate, so the problems that come with pure vitamin C are solved here.
Second, in vitro (meaning made in the lab, not on real humans) studies show that ascorbyl glucoside can penetrate the skin. This is kind of important for an anti-aging ingredient to do the job, so this is good news, though in-vivo (made on real humans) studies are still needed.
Third, in-vitro studies show that after ascorbyl glucoside is absorbed into the skin it is converted to pure vitamin C (though the rate of conversion is still a question mark). It also shows all the three anti-aging benefits (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) that pure vitamin C does.
Bottom line: ascorbyl glucoside is one of the best and most promising vitamin C derivatives that shows similar benefits to that of pure vitamin C, but it's less proven (in vivo vs. in vitro studies) and the extent of the benefits are also not the same.
- A multi-functional skincare superstar with several proven benefits for the skin
- Great anti-aging, wrinkle smoothing ingredient used at 4-5% concentration
- Fades brown spots alone or in combination with amino sugar, acetyl glucosamine
- Increases ceramide synthesis that results in a stronger, healthier skin barrier and better skin hydration
- Can help to improve several skin conditions including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis
The sodium salt of lactic acid. It's a great skin moisturizer and also used to regulate the pH value of the cosmetic formula. It's a natural ingredient approved by both ECOCERT and COSMOS.
A sugar beet derived amino acid derivative with nice skin protection and moisturization properties. Betain's special thing is being an osmolyte, a molecule that helps to control cell-water balance. It is also a natural osmoprotectant, meaning that it attracts water away from the protein surface and thus protects them from denaturation and increases their thermodynamic stability.
It also gives sensorial benefits to the formula and when used in cleansers, it helps to make them milder and gentler.
It's an alternative, natural preservative that comes from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, a lactic acid bacteria that has been used to make traditional Korean dish, kimchi. During the fermentation process, a peptide is secreted from the bacteria that has significant antimicrobial properties.
It is one of the more promising natural preservatives that can be used even alone (recommended at 2-4%), but it's not as effective as more common alternatives, like parabens or phenoxyethanol.
You probably know yeast from the kitchen where you put it into milk with a little sugar and then after a couple of minutes brownish bubbles form. That is the fungi fermenting the sugar.
As for skin care, yeast contains beta-glucan that is a great soothing ingredient and also a mild antioxidant. The yeast extract itself is a silky clear liquid that has some great moisturizing, skin protecting and film-forming properties on the skin.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Superoxide Dismutase - or in short SOD - is the body's smart antioxidant enzyme that protects the cells from highly reactive, cell-damaging superoxide radicals (O2−).
You have probably read the terms "free radicals" and "antioxidants" a thousand times, and you know that free radicals are the evil guys, and antioxidants are the good guys. So superoxide radical is a very common free radical that can cause all kinds of cell damages and superoxide dismutase is an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of superoxide radicals into molecular oxygen and hydrogen peroxide (btw, this one has to be further converted by other antioxidant enzymes, called catalases).
The extra nice thing about SOD is that it remains intact during the neutralization process and can continue its magic, while non-enzymatic antioxidants (like vitamin E) are used up during neutralization.
The efficacy studies of topical SOD are promising. In-vitro (made in the lab) tests show that SOD is a more effective antioxidant than vitamin E, green tea extract, and MAP. There is also an in-vivo (made on real people) study that measured how SOD can reduce the redness caused by UV rays and it was much more effective than vitamin E (pure or acetate form) and ascorbyl palmitate.
All in all, SOD is a really potent antioxidant and slathering it all over yourself is a great way to give the skin a little extra help in protecting itself from all the bad environmental things out there.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Hello, our favorite molecule that helps us wake up in the morning and then keeps us going through the day. As a super well-known stimulant from coffee, tea and plenty of other soft drinks, Caffeine needs no introduction. So we will skip right to the part where we talk about what the hell it does in so-so many cosmetic products.
Looking at the research, we were surprised to find how versatile Caffeine is. It is a small, water-loving molecule with pretty good skin penetration abilties. Once in the skin, it has nice antioxidant properties, meaning that it reduces the formation of evil free radicals and it might even be useful in preventing UV-induced skin cancers.
A well-known thing about Caffeine is that it improves the microcirculation of the blood vessels. Though conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence says that this property is helpful for dark under-eye circles and puffy eyes, we have to mention that the double-blind research we have found about a 3% caffeine gel concluded that "the overall efficacy of the selected caffeine gel in reducing puffy eyes was not significantly different from that of its gel base." But you know, the proof is in the pudding.
Another thing Caffeine is used for in body care products is its anti-cellulite effects. In theory, it can speed up the lipolysis process (the "fat burning" by our cells) and stimulate the draining lymph system that might lead to the improvement of cellulite. But here again, the evidence that it actually makes a measurable, let alone visible, improvement on actual human beings is limited (we could find only some animal skin studies or caffeine being combined with other actives).
Last, but not least, we have to write about caffeine and hair growth. The theory is that it can inhibit the activity of the 5-α-reductase enzyme that plays an important role in hair loss and allows a renewed growth phase of the hair. We have found some recent and promising research to back this up. A 2017 study compared a 0.2% caffeine liquid with a 5% Minoxidil (an FDA approved active to treat baldness) solution and found that "a caffeine-based topical liquid should be considered as not inferior to minoxidil 5% solution in men with androgenetic alopecia", or English translation means that the caffeine liquid was pretty much as good as the FDA-approved Minoxidil stuff. Not bad!
Overall, we think that caffeine is a very versatile and biologically active ingredient. Even though some of its effects are more hyped up than backed up, it is still a nice to have on many ingredient lists.
A polysaccharide (a big sugar molecule) coming from the edible fruit bodies of the Silver Ear mushroom in China. Legend has it, imperial Concubine Yang Kuei-fei - the most beautiful woman in Chinese history - used it for her facial care.
So Tremella Extract is a big molecule (more than 1M Da molecular weight) with sugar constituents of Mannose, Xylose, and Glucuronic acid (20%). The last one is the most important one, as Glucuronic acid is also a major component in hyaluronic acid (HA). Thanks to this, Tremella is claimed to be an awesome moisturizer with slightly greater water-holding capacities than HA itself. This is quite a big deal as HA is known for its crazy water-holding capacity (up to 1000 times its own weight).
Not only that but Tremella also seems to have some antioxidant effect, it's not sticky (humectants do tend to be sticky) and it leaves skin moist and smooth. No wonder, Concubine Yang Kuei-fei liked this mushroom.
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).
Soy Amino Acids are the little components that come from totally chopping up a soy protein. It is a low-molecular-weight water-binding ingredient, that can help to moisturize deeper layers of skin or hair.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Lactobacillus ferment is an interesting probiotic ingredient with some promising properties.
First, according to a 2009 Estee Lauder patent, it’s a DNA repair enzyme and it can help to protect the skin against environmental aggressors.
Second, still according to Estee Lauder research but now from 2012 the ingredient has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and holds promise in the treatment of acne and rosacea. For the former one 5% was needed to show effectiveness, but for reducing skin sensitivity already 1% showed results.
The anti-acne effect is confirmed also by US manufacturer, Barnet, that says that Lactobacillus ferment is helpful in killing harmful bacteria and creating a healthy balanced microflora. Compared to well-known anti-acne and anti-inflammatory salicylic acid the probiotic worked faster at reducing the size and redness of acne lesions.
It also goes by the trade name Leucidal Liquid SF and can serve in the formula as a natural preservative.
Bottom line: It’s not the most proven ingredient (yet) but definitely a very promising one especially if you have sensitive skin, acne or rosacea.
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.
A 100% natural and plant-derived moisturizer that mimics the natural carbohydrate fraction found in the upper layer of the skin. Its special magic power is to bind to the skin stronger and longer than other moisturizer ingredients do so it can keep the skin hydrated longer than usual.
- 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
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically.
It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A handy multifunctional ingredient that works as a preservative booster, as well as an antioxidant and soothing agent.
The extract coming from the coconut fruit. It is a similar thing to coconut water and fruit juice and is loaded with sugars, minerals, amino acids. It is also claimed to have vitalizing and energizing effects, and some smoothing, emollient and hydrating props.
- 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)
A glycerin-derived gentle cleansing agent that is described as being skin and eye-friendly, and not leaving the skin dry or tight. It's also used as a co-emulsifier or solubilizer that helps to blend small amounts of oily things into water-based products.
A low molecular weight dry, silky emollient ester that gives a light and non-greasy feel to the formulas. It's great at reducing the oily or heavy feeling caused by certain ingredients such as sunscreen agents or pigments. It also gives improved emolliency, spreadability and a smooth, elegant feel on the skin.
It’s one of those little helper ingredients that makes sure the product stays the same over time. No color change or anything like that. 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.
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).
A very common ingredient that can be found in all cell membranes. In cosmetics it's quite the multi-tasker: it's an emollient and water-binding ingredient but it's also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. It's also often used to create liposomes.
A big sugar molecule (polysaccharide) that is used as a natural thickening and gelling agent. It is similar to more commonly used Xanthan Gum, and the two are also often combined to create gel formulas or to stabilize emulsions.
If you ever wondered what those little Listerine breath strips were made of, you found your answer! Pullulan is a polysaccharide polymer, which basically means that it’s a big molecule made up of smaller sugar molecule units.
It dissolves in water and can make a thin, elastic, and moisture-absorbing film when spread on the skin that can cause an instant tightening effect. It can also be used as a thickener to get a silicone-like feel and can be used in peel-off masks. Btw, it's made from fungus via fermentation.
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | anti-acne|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | skin brightening | anti-acne | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||buffering | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | preservative|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | perfuming|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | preservative|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|