Clean And Clear
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
It’s probably the most common cleansing ingredient of all. It’s usually the Chief Bubble Officer responsible for big bubbles in cleansing products through the foam it creates is a bit airy and loose and not as dense and luxurious as the foam created by infamous SLS.
As for mildness, it goes somewhere in the middle. It’s often confused with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), but they are absolutely not the same. The SLES molecule has a bigger water-soluble head part that makes it milder and much less irritating. It is considered absolutely ok in the amount used in cosmetic products, though if you are looking for a mild facial cleanser, you have better chances with a formula without SLES. For an average shower gel? SLES works just fine.
A natural polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that can be found in the cell wall of green plants. It is a natural and sustainable helper ingredient that can improve the absorption of the formula and it also reduces oiliness on the skin. It is also used as a sensory additive and thickening agent.
A 100% vegetable origin, biodegradable, mild cleansing agent that gives moderate to high amount of foam. It's happy to work together with other surfactants (in general, that helps to create milder formulas).
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).
The distillate created from different parts of the hazelnut-bush-like magic tree, commonly called Witch Hazel. Hamamelis Virginiana Water is a bit of a sloppy ingredient name as the leaves, the twigs and the bark can be used to create extracts or distillates and the different parts contain different amounts of biologically active components. But what you are getting is probably a nice water with astringent, soothing, antioxidant and antibacterial magic properties.
We went into great detail about Witch Hazel in cosmetics here, detailing the main biologically active components and how they are different in different parts of the plant. Click here and read more >>
Simply alcohol refers to ethanol and it's a pretty controversial ingredient. It has many instant benefits: it's a great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial. No wonder it's popular in toners and oily skin formulas.
The downside is that it can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list.
Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion. If you wanna know more, we wrote a more detailed explanation about what's the deal with alcohol in skincare products at alcohol denat. (it's also alcohol, but with some additives to make sure no one drinks it).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Super common ingredient in all kinds of cleansing products: face and body washes, shampoos and foam baths.
Number one reason for its popularity has to do with bubbles. Everyone loves bubbles. And cocamidopropyl betaine is great at stabilizing them.
The other reason is that it’s mild and works very well combined with other cleansing agents and surfactants. The art of cleansing is usually to balance between properly cleansing but not over-cleansing and cocamidopropyl betaine is helpful in pulling off this balance right.
Oh, and one more nice thing: even though it’s synthetic it’s highly biodegradable.
More info on CAPB on Collins Beaty Pages.
A so-called diester created from two stearic acid molecules and an ethylene glycol molecule. Its main thing is being an opacifier and pearling agent in cleansing products making them white and glossy. It can also give body to creams and emulsions.
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.
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.
- 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 helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi.
It’s pH dependent and works best at acidic pH levels (3-5). It’s not strong enough to be used in itself so it’s always combined with something else, often with potassium sorbate.
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.
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!).
Copy and paste into your blog
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||4, 5|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant|