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Desert Essence Cucumber Charcoal Facial Mask

Cucumber Charcoal Facial Mask

Detoxifying facial mask formulated with Activated Coconut Shell Charcoal, Bentonite Clay and pure Australian Tea Tree Oil. Draws out excess oil and everyday pollutants, leaving skin radiant and clear.
Uploaded by: fraffryn on

Desert Essence Cucumber Charcoal Facial Mask
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aloe Vera | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant

Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.

What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie. 

Kaolin (Clay) - goodie
Also-called: Type of clay, China clay | What-it-does: colorant, absorbent/mattifier, abrasive/scrub | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Kaolin is a type of clay or to be precise, a naturally occurring hydrous aluminum silicate. When you hear clay, you probably think of a muddy greenish-black mess, but that one is bentonite, and this one is a fine, white powder. It is so white that it's also often used, in small amounts, as a helper ingredient to give opacity and whiteness to the cosmetic formulas.

As a clay, it's absorbent and can suck up excess sebum and gunk from your skin, but less so than the more aggressive bentonite. As it's less absorbent, it's also less drying and gentler on the skin, so it's ideal for dry and sensitive skin types.  

Glycerin (Plant) - 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: Type of clay | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, absorbent/mattifier, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

When it comes to oil-absorbing clay masks, bentonite will probably be one of the first ingredients on the INCI list. Technically bentonite clay is mostly montmorillonite + something else, and thanks to the something else bit, bentonite comes in different types and colors

The color depends on the mineral content of the clay: white bentonite is rich in boron and fluoride, yellow is rich in manganese and zinc, green is rich in copper, zinc, and manganese and the pink clay is rich in boron.

No matter the color, bentonite is excellent at absorbing things: it can suck up the sebum and gunk from the skin and make it instantly smooth and matte. Not only that, but bentonite has a negative ionic charge and thus can attract things with a positive charge. Things with a positive charge include bad bacteria and toxins and bentonite clay masks can help to clear those out of the skin and pores (btw, bentonite is edible and has the same detoxifying effect internally). 

Thanks to bentonite's effect against bad bacteria and pathogens, there is also some research showing that bentonite can help to calm skin infections, soothe skin allergies and might work for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

On the other hand, the downside of bentonite being such a good absorbent is that it can suck up more than the excess sebum and used too often, it can easily dry out the skin. So use it for good measure, and never forget to moisturize afterwards.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, absorbent/mattifier | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. So the face of one platelet attracts the edge of the other and this builds a so-called "house of card" structure meaning that Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (MAS) thickens up products and helps to suspend non-soluble particles such as color pigments or inorganic sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).

As the "house of card" structure takes some time to form but collapses quickly if the formula is stirred, products thickened with MAS can be thick in the jar but become easily spreadable upon application (called thixotropy). MAS also gives nice sensory properties, it is not tacky or sticky and gives a rich, creamy skin feel. Also a good team player and works in synergy with other thickeners such as Cellulose Gum or Xanthan Gum

Also-called: Tea Tree Water | What-it-does: antimicrobial/antibacterial, astringent

The much-much diluted version of the famous Tea Tree Essential Oil, the so-called hydrosol that is created as a by-product of steam-distillation used for producing essential oils. In general, hydrosols contain the same components as their big sister essential oil but in way-reduced concentrations. We have seen a specification saying 99% of the tea tree water is water, and about 1% consists of very small amounts of the dissolved essential oil and the water-soluble parts of the tea tree leaves.

So tea tree water might have some soothing, antibacterial and anti-acne properties but much less strong than the essential oil

A finely powdered form of Oat Extract that has the same skin soothing, skin protecting and antioxidant benefits we have written about at Avena Sativa Kernel Extract. It is loaded with skin-goodies such as anti-inflammatory agent beta-glucan, skin nourishing lipids, and moisturizing carbohydrates. A real goodie for dry, irritated, inflamed or eczema-prone skin.

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. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Tea Tree Oil, TTO | What-it-does: soothing, anti-acne, antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial, perfuming

The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. Legend has it that the medicinal benefits of the oil were considered so important that Australian soldiers were supplied with some tea tree oil in their World War II military kit.

Similar to other essential oils, tea tree oil is a very complex chemical mixture consisting of about 100 components, the major ones being terpinen-4-ol (40%), γ-Terpinene (23%) and α-Terpinene (10%). Terpinen-4-ol is considered to be the main active component but as a great article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews states "while some TTO components may be considered less active, none can be considered inactive" and most components contribute to TTO's strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects

Regarding skincare and tea tree oil, its most well-known effect is probably being a well established anti-acne ingredient. Multiple studies confirm that TTO is effective against the evil acne-causing bacteria called P. acnes and the effectiveness of 5% TTO gel is comparable to the gold standard anti-acne treatment, 5% Benzoyl Peroxide lotion. You need to be a bit more patient with TTO, though, as its effects come slower but also with fewer side effects.

Regarding TTO and sensitive skin, we say that you should be careful. Even if your skin is not sensitive you should never put undiluted TTO on your skin. Luckily, it contains only very small amounts of the common allergens (such as limonene), but irritant and allergic reactions still happen, especially by oxidation products that occur in older or not properly stored oil.  So if you have some pure TTO at home, know that storage matters, keep it in a cool, dry, dark place and use it up in a reasonable amount of time.

Overall, we do not often give a goodie status to essential oils, but we feel that TTO's unique antibacterial and anti-acne properties with its minimal allergen content warrant an exception. If your skin is acne-prone, TTO is something to experiment with.

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: Eucalyptus Essential Oil | What-it-does: perfuming, antimicrobial/antibacterial

The essential oil created by steam distilling the leaves of the Eucalyptus tree. It's a colorless, pale yellow oil with a camphoraceous aroma used traditionally in vapor rubs to treat coughs. Its name-giving main component is eucalyptol (also called 1,8-cineole, 80-91%) that has significant antibacterial and expectorant properties.   

Among essential oils, Eucalyptus Globulus counts as rather non-sensitising with an EU sensitizer total of 5% (due to limonene). However, if your skin is super-sensitive or you are allergic to fragrances, it is still better to avoid it. 

Also-called: Jojoba Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

Jojoba is a drought resistant evergreen shrub native to South-western North America. It's known and grown for jojoba oil, the golden yellow liquid coming from the seeds (about 50% of the weight of the seeds will be oil).  

At first glance, it seems like your average emollient plant oil: it looks like an oil and it's nourishing and moisturizing to the skin but if we dig a bit deeper, it turns out that jojoba oil is really special and unique: technically - or rather chemically - it's not an oil but a wax ester (and calling it an oil is kind of sloppy). 

So what the heck is a wax ester and why is that important anyway? Well, to understand what a wax ester is, you first have to know that oils are chemically triglycerides: one glycerin + three fatty acids attached to it. The fatty acids attached to the glycerin vary and thus we have many kinds of oils, but they are all triglycerides. Mother Nature created triglycerides to be easily hydrolyzed (be broken down to a glycerin + 3 fatty acid molecules) and oxidized (the fatty acid is broken down into small parts) - this happens basically when we eat fats or oils and our body generates energy from it.

Mother Nature also created wax esters but for a totally different purpose. Chemically, a wax ester is a fatty acid + a fatty alcohol, one long molecule. Wax esters are on the outer surface of several plant leaves to give them environmental protection. 25-30% of human sebum is also wax esters to give us people environmental protection. 

So being a wax ester results in a couple of unique properties: First, jojoba oil is extremely stable. Like crazy stable. Even if you heat it to 370 C (698 F) for 96 hours, it does not budge. (Many plant oils tend to go off pretty quickly). If you have some pure jojoba oil at home, you should be fine using it for years. 

Second, jojoba oil is the most similar to human sebum (both being wax esters), and the two are completely miscible. Acne.org has this not fully proven theory that thanks to this, jojoba might be able to "trick" the skin into thinking it has already produced enough sebum, so it might have "skin balancing" properties for oily skin.

Third, jojoba oil moisturizes the skin through a unique dual action: on the one hand, it mixes with sebum and forms a thin, non-greasy, semi-occlusive layer; on the other hand, it absorbs into the skin through pores and hair follicles then diffuses into the intercellular spaces of the outer layer of the skin to make it soft and supple.

On balance, the point is this: in contrast to real plant oils, wax esters were designed by Mother Nature to stay on the surface and form a protective, moisturizing barrier and jojoba oil being a wax ester is uniquely excellent at doing that.

Menthol - icky
What-it-does: soothing

Menthol needs no introduction: it's the thing that causes the cooling sensation so well-known both from cosmetic products as well as a bunch of other things like chocolate, chewing gum, toothpaste or cigarette. It's a natural compound that comes from the essential oil of Mentha species (peppermint oil contains 40-50% menthol) and it gives them their typical minty smell and flavor.

As for skincare, menthol seems to be a mixed bag. Apart from the cool cooling sensation (that might last up to 70 mins!), it also has painkilling, itch reducing, antibacterial, antifungal and even penetration enhancing properties. On the other hand, it also seems to act as a skin irritant that increases trans-epidermal water loss (the water that evaporates from the outer layer of the skin) and thus contributes to drying out the skin.

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.

Also-called: Geogard 111A | What-it-does: preservative

A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria. 

It is Ecocert and Cosmos approved, works quite well at low concentrations (0.1-0.6%) and is popular in natural products.

It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically.

No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. Has to be combined with some other nice preservatives, like potassium sorbate to be broad spectrum enough.  

In high amounts, it can be a skin irritant, but don’t worry, it’s never used in high amounts.

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. 

What-it-does: preservative

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.

Also-called: Aqua | 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. 

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
The famous aloe vera. A great moisturizer and anti-inflammatory ingredient that also helps wound healing and skin regeneration. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant | abrasive/scrub
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A type of clay that's a fine, white powder and is used for its oil-absorbing and opacifying properties. It's less absorbent and less drying than bentonite clay. [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 viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A highly absorbent clay that comes in different colors depending on its mineral content. It's excellent at absorbing things including sebum and gunk in the pores and it also has some skin soothing and "detoxifying" effect. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. [more]
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial
The much-much diluted version of the famous Tea Tree Essential Oil, the so-called hydrosol that is created as a by-product of steam-distillation used for producing essential oils. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant | emollient
A finely powdered form of Oat Extract that has the same skin soothing, skin protecting and antioxidant benefits we have written about at Avena Sativa Kernel Extract. [more]
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 abrasive/scrub
what‑it‑does soothing | anti-acne | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming
The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. [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 | antimicrobial/antibacterial
The essential oil created by steam distilling the leaves of the Eucalyptus tree. It's a colorless, pale yellow oil with a camphoraceous aroma used traditionally in vapor rubs to treat coughs. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0-2
Jojoba oil - a wax ester (chemically not a real oil), that's very similar to human sebum. It's uniquely excellent at helping the skin with its protective barrier and helping it to stay moisturized. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
Menthol needs no introduction: it's the thing that causes the cooling sensation so well-known both from cosmetic products as well as a bunch of other things like chocolate, chewing gum, toothpaste or cigarette. It's a natural compound that comes from the essential oil of Mentha species (peppermint oil contains 40-50% menthol) and it gives them their typical minty smell a [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 preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria. Popular in natural products.  [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically. No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. [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 preservative
A not so strong preservative that doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]