Dr. Barbara Stürm Glow DropsIngredients explained
Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product.
It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water.
Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying.
One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time.
The emollient plant oil that comes from almonds. Similar to other plant oils, it is loaded with skin-nourishing fatty acids (oleic acid - 55-86% and linoleic acid 7-35%) and contains several other skin goodies such as antioxidant vitamin E and vitamin B versions.
It's a nice, basic oil that is often used due to its great smoothing, softening and moisturizing properties. It's also particularly good at treating dry brittle nails (source).
An often used emollient with a light and silky feel. It's very mild to both skin and eyes and spreads nicely and easily. It's often used in sunscreens as it's also an excellent solvent for sunscreen agents.
- 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
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
A mild amino acid based surfactant with great foaming properties. Can be used also for sensitive or baby skin.
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).
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 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.
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.
It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMF, hyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here. The TL; DR version of HA is that it's a huge polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) found in the skin that acts as a sponge helping the skin to hold onto water, being plump and elastic. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.
As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution".
In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).
What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable, easier to formulate and cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way more about the topic at hyaluronic acid (including penetration-questions, differences between high and low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).
It's an alternative, natural preservative that comes from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, a lactic acid bacteria that has been used to make traditional Korean dish, kimchi. During the fermentation process, a peptide is secreted from the bacteria that has significant antimicrobial properties.
It is one of the more promising natural preservatives that can be used even alone (recommended at 2-4%), but it's not as effective as more common alternatives, like parabens or phenoxyethanol.
A super versatile and common mineral powder that comes in different particle sizes. It is a multi-tasker used to improve skin feel, increase product slip, give the product light-reflecting properties, enhance skin adhesion or serve as an anti-caking agent.
It is also the most commonly used "base" material for layered composite pigments such as pearl-effect pigments. In this case, mica is coated with one or more metal oxides (most commonly titanium dioxide) to achieve pearl effect via the physical phenomenon known as interference.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
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).
Biosaccharide Gum-1 is a pretty interesting kind of sugar ingredient that is created from sorbitol via bacterial fermentation.
According to the manufacturer it’s a “S.M.A.R.T.” sugar: it has Soothing, Moisturizing, Anti-aging, Restructuring and Touch properties. Let’s look at them quickly one by one.
Soothing: the manufacturer tested out the soothing effect in vivo (meaning on humans that is always a good thing!) by measuring how 3% Biosaccharide Gum-1 decreased the tingling sensation caused by 10% lactic acid. The result was good: the tingling was decreased by 47%.
Moisturizing: Compared to famous hyaluronic acid, it turns out that the two are great together. HA has a quicker effect and provides more instant hydration (much more hydration was measured after 1h of application), while our nice sugar has a somewhat delayed effect demonstrating stronger hydration after 3h of application. After 8 hours both had similar moisturizing effect.
Anti-aging: According to ex-vivo tests (meaning not on humans, so do not trust it too much) Biosaccharide Gum-1 can stimulate a protein in our skin called sirtuin-1. This is supposed to help our skin cells to live longer, and function better.
Resurfacing: The sirtuin-1 stimulation also results in quicker cell renewal - something that happens anyway but slows down as we age. And the quicker cell renewal is good because it helps the regeneration of the barrier function. That is especially nice for fragile, sensitive skin.
Touch: our fermented sugar is not only good to the skin, but it also feels great on the skin. It gives a nice “soft touch” feeling and makes the products pleasant to use.
The bottom line is that the above info is from the manufacturer (and we could not find any relevant independent research) so obviously take it with a grain of salt. But Biosaccharide Gum-1 does look as an interesting and promising ingredient that’s why it earned our goodie rating.
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, and it’s also easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Synthetic Fluorphlogopite is the synthetic version of the super commonly used mineral, Mica. The advantage of being synthetic is that it has a more consistent quality, fewer impurities and an even lower heavy metal content than Mica (not that Mica's heavy metal content is high). It is also more transparent and has improved light reflection.
The two main use cases for Synthetic Fluorphlogopite is being used neat as a superior "filler" or skin tone enhancer or it can also serve as a base for multi-layered, composite pigments such as pearl effect pigments where it is coated with one or more layers of metal oxide, most commonly titanium dioxide.
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.
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little xanthan gum will make it more gel-like. Used alone, it can make the formula sticky and it is a good team player so it is usually combined with other thickeners and so-called rheology modifiers (helper ingredients that adjust the flow and thus the feel of the formula). The typical use level of Xantha Gum is below 1%, it is usually in the 0.1-0.5% range.
Btw, Xanthan gum is all natural, a chain of sugar molecules (polysaccharide) produced from individual sugar molecules (glucose and sucrose) via fermentation. It’s approved by Ecocert and also used in the food industry (E415).
A 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.
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.
- Works best between a concentration of 5-20%
- Boosts the skin’s own collagen production
- Fades pigmentation and brown spots
- If used under sunscreen it boosts its UV protection
- Extremely unstable and oxidizes very easily in presence of light or air
- Stable in solutions with water only if pH is less than 3.5 or in waterless formulations
- Vit E + C work in synergy and provide superb photoprotection
- Ferulic acid doubles the photoprotection effect of Vit C+E and helps to stabilize Vit C
- Potent Vit. C serums might cause a slight tingling on sensitive skin
A multi-functional helper ingredient that's used mainly as a pigment carrier. The pigment can be an inorganic sunscreen (such as titanium dioxide) or a colorant that is blended with alumina platelets and then often coated with some kind of silicone (such as triethoxycaprylylsilane). This special treatment enables pigments to be evenly dispersed in the formula and to be spread out easily and evenly upon application. It is super useful both for mineral sunscreens as well as for makeup products.
Other than that, alumina can also be used as an absorbent (sometimes combined with the mattifying powder called polymethylsilsesquioxane), a viscosity controlling or an opacifying (reduces the transparency of the formula) agent.
Far from the tin cans you find in the supermarket, Tin Oxide is mostly used when dealing with so-called effect pigments, tricky composite pigments that can do color travel (change color depending on the viewing angle) or give multiple color effect.
It's often found alongside Mica (as a base material) and Titanium Dioxide (as a coating) to give a glossy, pearlescent effect. Together, they make up a trademarked technology called RonaFlair Blanace from the German manufacturer Merck. According to their info, this combination can balance out undesirable tones in the skin, making it a popular choice for brightening products and highlighters.
Other than that, CosIng (the official EU INCI database) lists its uses as being a bulking agent (to increase the volume of products), as well as a physical exfoliant or an opacifying agent, but being part of composite effect pigments is a much more common use case.
Titanium Dioxide is one of the two members of the elite sunscreen group called physical sunscreens (or inorganic sunscreens if you’re a science geek and want to be precise).
Traditionally, UV-filters are categorized as either chemical or physical. The big difference is supposed to be that chemical agents absorb UV-light while physical agents reflect it like a bunch of mini umbrellas on top of the skin. While this categorization is easy and logical it turns out it's not true. A recent, 2016 study shows that inorganic sunscreens work mostly by absorption, just like chemical filters, and only a little bit by reflection (they do reflect the light in the visible spectrum, but mostly absorb in the UV spectrum).
Anyway, it doesn't matter if it reflects or absorbs, Titanium Dioxide is a pretty awesome sunscreen agent for two main reasons: it gives a nice broad spectrum coverage and it's highly stable. Its protection is very good between 290 - 350 nm (UVB and UVA II range), and less good at 350-400 nm (UVA I) range. Regular sized Titanium Dioxide also has a great safety profile, it's non-irritating and is pretty much free from any health concerns (like estrogenic effect worries with some chemical filters).
The disadvantage of Titanium Dioxide is that it's not cosmetically elegant, meaning it's a white, "unspreadable" mess. Sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide are often hard to spread on the skin and they leave a disturbing whitish tint. The cosmetic industry is, of course, really trying to solve this problem and the best solution so far is using nanoparticles. The itsy-bitsy Nano-sized particles improve both spreadability and reduce the whitish tint a lot, but unfortunately, it also introduces new health concerns.
The main concern with nanoparticles is that they are so tiny that they are absorbed into the skin more than we want them (ideally sunscreen should remain on the surface of the skin). Once absorbed they might form unwanted complexes with proteins and they might promote the formation of evil free radicals. But do not panic, these are concerns under investigation. A 2009 review article about the safety of nanoparticles summarizes this, "to date, in-vivo and in-vitro studies have not demonstrated percutaneous penetration of nanosized particles in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreens". The English translation is, so far it looks like sunscreens with nanoparticles do stay on the surface of the skin where they should be.
All in all, Titanium Dioxide is a famous sunscreen agent and for good reason, it gives broad spectrum UV protection (best at UVB and UVA II), it's highly stable, and it has a good safety profile. It's definitely one of the best UV-filter agents we have today, especially in the US where new-generation Tinosorb filters are not (yet) approved.
The trio is invaluable for "skin-colored" makeup products (think your foundation and pressed powder) as blending these three shades carefully can produce almost any shade of natural-looking flesh tones.
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