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Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream

Skin Smoothing Cream

An improved and updated version of the well-known and beloved cream. This edition added a special complex that constantly adds moisture to the skin for up to 48 hours to prevent moisture loss and to protect the skin's natural lipid barrier. The cream has a light / medium consistency, and has soothing plant extracts and vitamins that keep the skin's moisture balance straight. In addition, it has a hyaluronic acid complex which adds moisture to the skin, while binding the moisture to the skin.
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Highlights

#alcohol-free
Alcohol Free

Other Ingredients

Skim through

Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Water/Aqua/Eau solvent
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride emollient
Ethylhexyl Hydroxystearate emollient
Stearic Acid emollient, viscosity controlling 0, 2-3
Butylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling 0, 1
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 superstar
Aloe Barbadensis Extract soothing, emollient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Dimethicone emollient 0, 1
PEG-8 moisturizer/​humectant, solvent
Cetearyl Alcohol emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing 1, 2
Sodium Hyaluronate skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract antioxidant, antimicrobial/​antibacterial goodie
Saccharide Isomerate moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract soothing, emollient goodie
Arnica Montana Flower Extract perfuming icky
Hedera Helix (Ivy) Extract antimicrobial/​antibacterial, soothing
Malva Sylvestris (Mallow) Flower Extract
Parietaria Officinalis Extract emollient, soothing
Sambucus Nigra Flower Extract soothing
Ascorbyl Palmitate antioxidant 0, 2 icky
Trehalose moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Algin viscosity controlling 4, 4
Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate moisturizer/​humectant
Serine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Linoleic Acid skin-identical ingredient, emollient, surfactant/​cleansing goodie
Phospholipids skin-identical ingredient, emollient goodie
Phytosterols
Cananga Odorata Flower Oil perfuming icky
Urea skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Hydrogenated Lecithin emollient, emulsifying goodie
Pullulan
Caprylhydroxamic Acid chelating
Citrus Aurantium Amara (Bitter Orange) Flower Extract
Tocopheryl Acetate antioxidant 0, 0
Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate chelating
Hexanediol solvent
Pentyleneglycol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Glyceryl Polyacrylate
Sodium Citrate chelating, buffering
Disodium Phosphate buffering
Palmitoyl Hydroxypropyltrimonium Amylopectin/Glycerin Crosspolymer
Caprylyl Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, emollient
Potassium Phosphate buffering
Citric Acid buffering
Tocopherol antioxidant 0-3, 0-3 goodie
Methylpropanediol solvent
Polysorbate 60 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Panthenol soothing, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
Polyquaternium-10 viscosity controlling
Cetyl Alcohol emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, surfactant/​cleansing 2, 2
PEG-100 Stearate surfactant/​cleansing, emulsifying 0, 0
Glyceryl Stearate emollient, emulsifying 0, 1-2
Aminomethyl Propanol buffering
Carbomer viscosity controlling 0, 1
Ethylhexylglycerin preservative
Sodium Hydroxide buffering
Hydroxystearic Acid surfactant/​cleansing, emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
BHT antioxidant, preservative
Benzyl Benzoate solvent, perfuming, antimicrobial/​antibacterial icky
Benzyl Salicylate perfuming icky
Linalool perfuming icky
Sodium Benzoate preservative
Phenoxyethanol preservative

Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua;Water | What-it-does: solvent

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. 

What-it-does: emollient

A super common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. It’s a nice ingredient that just feels good on the skin, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular. 

What-it-does: emollient

A heavy-duty emollient ester that comes in the form of a pale yellow semi-solid paste. It mainly stays on the surface of the skin and gives skin protection and occlusivity

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2-3

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).

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Butylene glycol, or let’s just call it BG, is a multi-tasking colorless, syrupy liquid. It’s a great pick for creating a nice feeling product.  

BG’s main job is usually to be a solvent for the other ingredients. Other tasks include helping the product to absorb faster and deeper into the skin (penetration enhancer), making the product spread nicely over the skin (slip agent), and attracting water (humectant) into the skin.

It’s an ingredient whose safety hasn’t been questioned so far by anyone (at least not that we know about). BG is approved by Ecocert and is also used enthusiastically in natural products. BTW, it’s also a food additive. 

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

Also-called: Aloe Leaf Extract;Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract | What-it-does: soothing, emollient, moisturizer/humectant

The extract coming from the juice containing leaves of the Aloe vera plant. It's usually a hydroglycolic extract (though  oil extract for the lipid parts also exists) that has similar moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties as the juice itself. We have written some more about aloe here.

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the 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 smallish polymer molecule (created from repeated units of Polyethylene glycol, aka PEG) that's used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent.

It is a clear, colorless liquid that is water-soluble and water-binding (aka humectant) and can help to solubilize sparingly-water soluble things (e.g. vanilla, perfumes) into water-based formulas. Thanks to its water-binding ability, it also prevents the drying out of formulas, especially when combined with the fellow hygroscopic agent, sorbitol

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsifying, emulsion stabilising, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 1 | Comedogenicity: 2

An extremely common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams and lotions. It also helps to stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions), though it does not function as an emulsifier in itself. Its typical use level in most cream type formulas is 2-3%.  

It’s a so-called fatty alcohol, a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, other two emollient fatty alcohols.  Though chemically speaking, it is alcohol (as in, it has an -OH group in its molecule), its properties are totally different from the properties of low molecular weight or drying alcohols such as denat. alcohol. Fatty alcohols have a long oil-soluble (and thus emollient) tail part that makes them absolutely non-drying and non-irritating and are totally ok for the skin.

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic 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).

Also-called: Grape Seed Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial

We wholeheartedly support the rise of seedless grapes as fruit snacks, but when it comes to skincare, we are big fans of the seeds.

They contain the majority of the skin goodies that -  similar to green tea - are mostly polyphenols (but not the same ones as in tea). The most abundant ones in grape are called proanthocyanidins, and 60-70% of them are found in the seeds (it's also often abbreviated as GSP - grape seed proanthocyanidins). In general, the darker the fruit, the more GSPs and other flavonoids it contains.

So what's so special about GSPs? Well, they are super-potent antioxidants, much stronger than Vitamin C or Vitamin E. And if that's not enough, GSPs and other flavonoids in grape also show UV protecting and anti-cancer properties.

It's definitely a goodie to spot on the INCI list.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

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.

Also-called: Cucumber Fruit Extract | What-it-does: soothing, emollient

Cucumber is a nice, non-irritating plant extract that’s known for it’s soothing and emollient properties. It’s not something new to put it on our face: even Cleopatra used it to “preserve her skin”.

It’s commonly believed that cucumber is the answer to puffy eyes, but there is no research confirming this. What research does confirm is that it contains amino acids and organic acids that’s helpful for the skin’s acid mantle. There is also an enzyme (called shikimate dehydrigenase) in the pulp that’s shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Also-called: Mountain Arnica Extract | What-it-does: perfuming

A nice yellow flower living in the mountains. It has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries, though its effect on skin is rather questionable. It's most famously used to treat bruisings, but there are some studies that show that it's not better than placebo (source: wikipedia).  Also, some consider it to be anti-inflammatory, while other research shows that it can cause skin irritation. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emollient, soothing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Elder Flower Extract | What-it-does: soothing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

A form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. Even though we are massive vitamin C fans,  Ascorbyl Palmitate  (AP) is our least favorite. (Btw, if you do not know what the big deal with vitamin C is then you are missing out. You must go and read our geeky details about it.) 

So, AP is one of the attempts by the cosmetics industry to solve the stability issues with vitamin C while preserving its benefits,  but it seems to fall short on several things.

What's the problem?

Firstly, it's stability is only similar to that of pure ascorbic acid (AA), which means it is not really stable. A great study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology compared a bunch of vitamin C derivatives and this derivative was the only one where the study said in terms of stability that it's "similar to AA". Not really that good.

Second, a study that examined the skin absorption of vitamin C found that ascorbyl palmitate did not increase the skin levels of AA. This does not mean that ascorbyl palmitate cannot penetrate the skin (because it can, it's oil soluble and the skin likes to absorb oil soluble things) but this means that it's questionable if ascorbyl palmitate can be converted into pure Vit C in the skin. Even if it can be converted, the palmitate part of the molecule is more than the half of it, so the efficacy will not be good and we have never seen a serum that contains a decent (and proudly disclosed) amount of AP.  We are highly skeptical what effect a tiny amount of AP has in a formula.

Third, another study that wanted to examine the antioxidant properties of AP was surprised to find that even though AP does have nice antioxidant properties; following UVB radiation (the same one that comes from the sun) it also promotes lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity. It was only an in-vitro study meaning that it was done on cell cultures and not on real people, but still, this also does not support the use of AP too much. 

The only good thing we can write about Ascorbyl Palmitate is that there is an in-vitro (made in the lab, not on real people) study showing that it might be able to boost collagen production.

Regarding the skin-brightening properties of pure vitamin C, this is another magic property AP does not have, or at least there is no data, not even in-vitro, about it.

Overall, Ascorbyl Palmitate is our least favorite vitamin C derivative. It is there in lots of products in tiny amounts (honestly, we do not really understand why), however, we do not know about any vitamin C serum featuring AP in high amounts. That is probably no coincidence. If you are into vitamin C, you can take a look at more promising derivatives here

Trehalose - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A type of sugar that has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated

Also-called: Sodium Alginate | What-it-does: viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 4 | Comedogenicity: 4

A large sugar molecule (aka polysaccharide) that's used as a gelling agent and comes from brown seaweed. 

Combined with calcium salts, it forms a rigid gel used in "rubber masks". 

Also-called: miniHA | What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

It's a super small, chemically chopped up version of sodium hyaluronate. Its trade name is miniHA, and its molecular weight is 10 kDa. This counts as really tiny given that "normal" HA has a molecular weight of 0.5-2 million Da.

To be honest, low molecular weight (LMW), and especially this ultra-low molecular weight HA is a controversial ingredient. On the upside, it can penetrate the skin better (though 10kDa still counts as big!) and might be able to moisturize the deeper layers of the skin where normal HA cannot get. Also, according to the manufacturer of miniHA, it has better antioxidant activity than a 1.6MDa version HA and it also has better sun protection and after-sun repair abilities than the higher MW versions. It also works in synergy with higher molecular weight versions, and the combination of 0.1% 1.45MDa-HA + 0.1% 380 kDa-HA + 0.1% miniHA hydrated the skin significantly better than 0.3% 1.45MDa-HA alone.

On the downside, the biological role of LMW-HA in the skin is being a pro-inflammatory signaling agent and there is a study by another manufacturer called Evonik showing that HA versions with smaller than 50kDa molecular weight might be pro-inflammatory when put on the skin. Granted, the study was only done on reconstituted human epidermis, so it might or might not be like this on real human skin. 

If you wanna get confused and read much more about hyaluronic acid and what the different molecular weight versions might or might not do, click here and read our excruciatingly long description

Serine - goodie

Serine is an amino acid that most often comes to the formula as part of a moisturizing complex. It's a non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can synthesize it) and serves as a water-binding ingredient.

In general, amino acids are great skincare ingredients that play an important role in proper skin hydration but there is not much info out there about what specifically serine can do for the skin.

Linoleic Acid - goodie
Also-called: LA, omega-6 fatty acid, 18:2 cis-9,12, Form of Vitamin F | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient, surfactant/cleansing

The famous omega-6 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-6 fatty acids in our body. It is a so-called polyunsaturated fatty acid meaning it has more than one (in this case two) double bonds and a somewhat kinky structure that makes LA and LA-rich oils a thin liquid.

It is also an essential fatty acid meaning our body cannot synthesize it and has to take it from food. This is not hard at all as plenty of nuts (such as flax, poppy or sesame seeds) and vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower) are rich in LA. The hard thing seems to be eating enough omega-3-s, more specifically eating a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but that is a topic for a what-is-good-to-eat-site and not for us. 

As for linoleic acid and the skin, LA is a really important little guy found naturally in our skin. It is the most abundant fatty acid in the epidermis and it serves as a structural precursor for important skin lipids called ceramides. Knowing this, it will not come as a surprise that Linoleic acid has a central role in the structure and function of stratum corneum permeability, aka healthy skin barrier.  LA deficiency leads to an impaired more permeable skin barrier and the topical application of LA-rich sunflower oil can fix this issue rapidly (while oleic-rich olive oil did not have the same barrier repairing effect).

LA is not only important for dry, barrier damaged skin types but also for acne-prone skin. Research shows that problem skin has lower levels of linoleic acid (and higher levels of oleic acid) than normal skin. So LA-deficiency in the skin seems to be connected not only to an impaired skin barrier but also to acne and smearing LA all over your face might help with your problem skin. A double-blind study using a 2.5% LA gel for 4 weeks found a 25% reduction in the size of microcomedones, the tiny blocked pores that can later lead to acne.

If that was not enough, we have one more thing to report about LA.  It lightens hyperpigmentation (aka UVB caused sun spots) both by blocking the melanin production of melanocytes (the skin cells that make the pigment melanin) and by enhancing the desquamation of melanin pigment from the upper layers of the skin.

Overall, linoleic acid is a multi-functional skin goodie with barrier repairing, acne-reducing, and skin-lightening magic abilities. It's a nice one to spot on the ingredient list pretty much for any skin type. 

Phospholipids - goodie

A type of lipid that's the major (about 75%) component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient.

It has a water-loving head with two water-hating tails and this structure gives the molecule emulsifying properties. It is also often used to create liposomes, small spheres surrounded by phospholipid bi-layer designed to carry some active ingredient and help its absorption.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Ylang Ylang Essential Oil | What-it-does: perfuming

Sweet, exotic and floral, it’ no surprise that Ylang Ylang is a popular essential oil. It is coming from the yellow, fragrant flowers of the Cananga tree native to tropical Asia and, similar to other essential oils, it is a chemically complex mixture with several pros and cons. 

Unfortunately, these are a bit tricky to pin down as the composition varies largely depending on where it is sourced, how the oil is extracted and the grade of it that is used in the product, but we’ll do our best!

Let’s start with the easy stuff.  The main components are fragrant molecules, including super common linalool (1-19%), benzyl benzoate (2-10%) and several others adding up to a max amount of 37.6% of EU sensitizers. The most expensive Extra grade is the most fragrant (has more benzyl acetate and cresyl methyl ether) and is used in high-end perfumes, while the First and Second grades are less fragrant, and used mainly in cosmetics.   

Other than smelling nice and making cosmetic formulas also smell nice, Ylang Ylang might have some antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits and also works as an insect repellent. Its nice smell is also commonly known as being relaxing and calming (also backed up by a few recent studies), but it is an aromatherapy use case (when inhaled) so this probably does not count much skincare-wise. 

On the other hand, the nice smell also means allergen fragrant components and 37.6% of EU sensitizers counts as quite high and the oil is considered to have high skin sensitization potential. It is a good idea to avoid if your skin is sensitive.

Urea - goodie
Also-called: Carbamide | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant

Yes, it's the thing that can be found naturally in pee. And in the skin. It is an awesome natural moisturizing factor, aka NMF.  NMFs are important components that help the skin to hold onto water and keep it plump, elastic and hydrated. Urea makes up about 7% of NMFs next to other things such as amino acids (40%), PCA (12%) or Lactate (12%).

What makes urea special, is that it is not only a simple moisturizer, but it is thought to be a "small-molecule regulator of epidermal structure and function" meaning that it has a bunch of extra biological activities. It acts as a mild keratolytic agent (some of its moisturizing action is thought to come from urea's ability to break down bonds in the protein called filaggrin and thus freeing up amino acids in the skin), enhances antimicrobial peptide expression and improves skin barrier function

Being a mild keratolytic agent and strong moisturizer means that high-percentage (10-40%) urea treatments are found effective in a bunch of skin disorders connected to excessive dryness and malfunctioning skin barrier such as ichthyosis, xerosis, psoriasis, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis.  

Overall, just like glycerin, urea is a real oldie but a goodie, a nice ingredient in any moisturizer.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize other ingredients. 

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: chelating

A 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.

Also-called: Orange Flower Absolute

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

What-it-does: chelating

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: solvent

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. According to manufacturer info, it's also a moisturizer and helps to make the product feel great on the skin. It works synergistically with preservatives and helps to improve water-resistance of sunscreens. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: chelating, buffering

A little helper ingredient that is used to adjust the pH of the product. It also helps to keep products stay nice longer by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (they usually come from water). 

What-it-does: buffering

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

What-it-does: buffering

It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right.

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

Tocopherol - goodie
Also-called: Vitamin E | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0-3 | Comedogenicity: 0-3
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Tocopherol here >>

What-it-does: solvent

It's a type of glycol that - according to the manufacturer - is an extremely good replacement for other glycols like propylene or butylene glycol. Its main job is to be a solvent, but it has also very good antimicrobial properties and acts as a true preservative booster. Also helps with skin hydration without stickiness or tacky feel.

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A cellulose derived polymer (a big molecule that consists of many parts) that can help to thicken up products, form a nice film on the skin or hair and is considered to be an excellent hair conditioner.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, surfactant/cleansing, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

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.

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A very common water-loving surfactant and emulsifier that helps to keep water and oil mixed nicely together. 

It's often paired with glyceryl stearate - the two together form a super effective emulsifier duo that's salt and acid tolerant and works over a wide pH range. It also gives a "pleasing product aesthetics", so no wonder it's popular.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-2

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".

What-it-does: buffering

An alkaline (high pH, aka basic) material that is used to set the pH of the cosmetic formula to the right value

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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. Typically used at 1% or less in most formulations.

What-it-does: preservative, deodorant

If you have spotted ethylhexylglycerin on the ingredient list, most probably you will see there also the current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol. They are good friends because ethylhexylglycerin can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too.

Also, it's an effective deodorant and a medium spreading emollient

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

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.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Butylated Hydroxy Toluene | What-it-does: antioxidant, preservative

It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.

There is some controversy around BHT. It's not a new ingredient, it has been used both as a food and cosmetics additive since the 1970s. Plenty of studies tried to examine if it's a carcinogen or not. This Truth in Aging article details the situation and also writes that all these studies examine BHT when taken orally.

As for cosmetics, the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) concluded that the amount of BHT used in cosmetic products is low (usually around 0.01-0.1%),  it does not penetrate skin far enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and it is safe to use in cosmetics.

A common fragrance ingredient that has a faint sweet balsamic smell. It can also be a solvent and can fight against microbes and insects very well.

It's one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.

What-it-does: perfuming

It’s a common fragrance ingredient that has a light floral smell.  It’s one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.

Linalool - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, deodorant

Linalool is a super common fragrance ingredient. It’s kind of everywhere - both in plants and in cosmetic products. It’s part of 200 natural oils including lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, jasmine, geranium and it can be found in 90-95% of prestige perfumes on the market. 

The problem with linalool is, that just like limonene it oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. That’s why a product containing linalool that has been opened for several months is more likely to be allergenic than a fresh one.

A study made in the UK with 483 people tested the allergic reaction to 3% oxidised linalool and 2.3% had positive test results. 

What-it-does: preservative

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.

What-it-does: preservative

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.

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what‑it‑does solvent
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what‑it‑does emollient
A very common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. Comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A heavy-duty emollient ester that mainly stays on the surface of the skin and gives skin protection and occlusivity. 
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 2-3
A common multi-tasker fatty acid that works as an emollient, thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | emollient | moisturizer/humectant
The extract coming from the juice containing leaves of the Aloe vera plant with moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent
A smallish polymer molecule that is used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 1, 2
A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
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what‑it‑does antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial
Grape Seed Extract - contains awesome polyphenols that are super-potent antioxidants and also have UV-protecting and anti-cancer properties. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A natural moisturizer that can bind to the skin stronger and longer than other similar ingredients so it can keep the skin hydrated longer than usual. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | emollient
Cucumber is a nice, non-irritating plant extract that’s known for it’s soothing and emollient properties. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
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what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | soothing
what‑it‑does emollient | soothing
what‑it‑does soothing
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 2
An oil soluble vitamin C derivative that has mixed data about its effectiveness. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
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what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 4, 4
A large sugar molecule (aka polysaccharide) that's used as a gelling agent and comes from brown seaweed. Combined with calcium salts, it forms a rigid gel used in "rubber masks".  [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A super small, chemically chopped up version of sodium hyaluronate. Small molecular weight (SMW) HA is a controversial ingredient: it can penetrate deep into the skin and moisturize deeper layers but might act as a pro-inflammatory agent. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
Serine is an amino acid that most often comes to the formula as part of a moisturizing complex. It's a non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can synthesize it) and serves as a water-binding ingredient.In general, amino acids are great skincare ingredients that play an important role in proper skin hydration but there is not much info out there about what specifically serine can d [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient | surfactant/cleansing
The famous omega-6 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-6 fatty acids in our body. It is a so-called polyunsaturated fatty acid meaning it has more than one (in this case two) double bonds and a somewhat kinky structure that makes LA and LA-rich oils a thin liquid.It is also an essential fatty acid meaning our body cannot synthesize  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient
A type of lipid that's the major component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient. It's also often used to create liposomes. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
Sweet, exotic and floral, it’ no surprise that Ylang Ylang is a popular essential oil. It is coming from the yellow, fragrant flowers of the Cananga tree native to tropical Asia and, similar to other essential oils, it is a chemically complex mixture with several pros and cons. Unfortunately, these are a bit tricky to pin down as the composition varies largely depending on where it is so [more]
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The thing in the pee that is also a natural moisturizing factor (NMF) with mild keratolytic and strong skin moisturizing superpowers. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize some other ingredient. 
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. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating
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what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
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what‑it‑does chelating
what‑it‑does solvent
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent, and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | buffering
A helper ingredient that is used to adjust the pH of the product. Also helps to keep products stay nice longer by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula. 
what‑it‑does buffering
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0-3, 0-3
Pure Vitamin E. Great antioxidant that gives significant photoprotection against UVB rays. Works in synergy with Vitamin C. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
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what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A cellulose derived polymer that can help to thicken up products, form a nice film on the skin or hair and is considered to be an excellent hair conditioner.
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier).
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A commonly used water-soluble surfactant and emulsifier. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 1-2
Waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An alkaline (high pH, aka basic) material that is used to set the pH of the cosmetic formula to the right value.  [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
It can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does antioxidant | preservative
It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.There is some controversy around BHT. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | perfuming | antimicrobial/antibacterial
A common fragrance ingredient that has a faint sweet balsamic smell. It can also be a solvent and can fight against microbes and insects very well. One of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately because of allergen potential.
what‑it‑does perfuming
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that has a light floral smell.  It’s one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A super common fragrance ingredient that can be found among others in lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot or jasmine. The downside of it is that it oxidises on air exposure and might become allergenic. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi. Has to be combined with other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]