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 big polymer molecule that has a bunch of different versions and thus different uses. It can act as a film former, as a thickening agent, or it can increase the water-resistance in sunscreens. It is also used to entrap pigments/inorganic sunscreens within a micron size matrix for even coverage and easy application.
A thickening and foam-boasting co-surfactant with amphoteric structure meaning that its head contains both a positively and a negatively charged part (surfactants are most commonly anionic meaning their head has a negative charge). It's very mild and gentle, comes from coconut oil and is readily biodegradable.
A cleansing agent that's claimed to be so gentle on the skin that it hardly impacts the skin barrier. It also gives a rich, creamy foam, it's based on vegetable fatty acids and is readily biodegradable.
It's an especially important and popular ingredient in "syndet bars" (or soapless soaps). Dr. Leslie Baumann says in her great Cosmetic Dermatology book that thanks to the unique molecular characteristic of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, it "has defined a new dimension in the mildness of cleansing bars".
The main part of a moisturizing complex called Aquaxyl. Comes from two water-binding plant sugars, glucose and xylitol. According to the manufacturer, Aquaxyl is close to a magic moisturizer that not only simply moisturizes, but can "harmonize the skin's hydrous flow".
This means that on the one side it can optimize water reserves by increasing important NMFs (natural moisturizing factors - things that are naturally in the skin and help to keep it hydrated) - like hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate - in the skin. On the other side, it also limits water loss by improving the skin barrier with increased lipid (ceramides and cholesterol) and protein synthesis.
In vivo (made on real people) tests show that 3% Aquaxyl not only increases the water content of the outer layer instantly and in the long run but it also visibly improves cracked, dry skin and smoothes the skin surface after a month of treatment.
The hydrating effect of Aquaxyl was also examined in a comparative study in the Journal of cosmetic dermatology. The hydrogel with 4% Aquaxyl performed as well as the well-known moisturizer, urea and somewhat better than the formula containing NMF components or hydrating plant extract called Imperata Cylindrica.
All in all, Aquaxyl is a goodie and if you have dehydrated, dry skin it's something to look at.
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.
A vegetable origin (coconut/palm kernel oil, glucose) cleansing agent that gives moderate to high stable foam. It's also biodegradable and mild to the skin.
A sugar derived moisturizer that's part of a moisturizing trio called Aquaxyl. You can read more about its magic properties at xylitylglucoside.
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).
A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives.
A type of sugar that's part of a moisturizing trio called Aquaxyl. You can read more about its magic properties at xylitylglucoside.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
- 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 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.
Sodium chloride is the fancy name of salt. Normal, everyday table salt.
If (similar to us) you are in the weird habit of reading the label on your shower gel while taking a shower, you might have noticed that sodium chloride is almost always on the ingredient list. The reason for this is that salt acts as a fantastic thickener in cleansing formulas created with ionic cleansing agents (aka surfactants) such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate. A couple of percents (typically 1-3%) turns a runny surfactant solution into a nice gel texture.
If you are into chemistry (if not, we understand, just skip this paragraph), the reason is that electrolytes (you know, the Na+ and Cl- ions) screen the electrostatic repulsion between the head groups of ionic surfactants and thus support the formation of long shaped micelles (instead of spherical ones) that entangle like spaghetti, and viola, a gel is formed. However, too much of it causes the phenomenon called "salting out", and the surfactant solution goes runny again.
Other than that, salt also works as an emulsion stabilizer in water-in-oil emulsions, that is when water droplets are dispersed in the outer oil (or silicone) phase. And last but not least, when salt is right at the first spot of the ingredient list (and is not dissolved), the product is usually a body scrub where salt is the physical exfoliating agent.
A so-called chelating agent that helps to preserve cosmetic products by neutralizing the metal ions (especially iron) in the formula (that usually get into there from water). Its special thing is that it also acts as a biostatic and fungistatic agent and remains active even at high pH.
It is often coupled with antimicrobial glycols (such as propanediol) to create a "preservative free preservative system" for cosmetic products.
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.
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).
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It’s not a strong one and doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. To do that it has to break down to its active form, sorbic acid. For that to happen, there has to be water in the product and the right pH value (pH 3-4).
But even if everything is right, it’s not enough on its own. If you see potassium sorbate you should see some other preservative next to it too.
BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.
Copy and paste into your blog
|what‑it‑does||surfactant/cleansing | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2-3|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||2, 2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|