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Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D. Retinol Facial Cleanser

Retinol Facial Cleanser

Retinol facial cleanser
Uploaded by: jlomba09 on

Dr. Jeannette Graf, M.D. Retinol Facial Cleanser
Ingredients explained

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. 

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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. 

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. 

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: 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.

Lecithin - goodie
What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

A very common ingredient that can be found in all cell membranes. In cosmetics it's quite the multi-tasker: it's an emollient and water-binding ingredient but it's also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. It's also often used to create liposomes

Also-called: Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient | Irritancy: 1-3 | Comedogenicity: 1-3

It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne. 

By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:

retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid

As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective

What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD,  director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. 

Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here.  It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA. 

We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!

Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.

Also-called: Rosemary Leaf Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, antimicrobial/antibacterial

The extract coming from the lovely herb, rosemary. It contains lots of chemicals, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and diterpenes. Its main active is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It has also anti-bacterial, astringent and toning properties. 

The leaves contain a small amount of essential oil (1-2%) with fragrant components, so if you are allergic to fragrance, it might be better to avoid it. 

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

It's a film-forming and thickening polymer (a large molecule composed of many repeated subunits) that comes to the formula usually as part of an emulsifier, thickener trio (with C13-14 Isoparaffin and Laureth-7, trade named Sepigel 305). This trio is an easy-to-use liquid that helps to create nice, non-tacky gel formulas

It's a petroleum derived emollient and thickener. It often comes to the formula as part of an emulsifier, thickener trio (with Polyacrylamide and Laureth-7). This trio is an easy-to-use liquid that helps to create nice, non-tacky gel formulas. 

A not-very-interesting helper ingredient that is used as an emulsifier and/or surfactant. Comes from a coconut oil derived fatty alcohol, lauryl alcohol.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
Read all the geeky details about Propylene Glycol here >>

What-it-does: buffering | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right. It’s very alkaline (you know the opposite of being very acidic): a 1% solution has a pH of around 10.

It does not have the very best safety reputation but in general, you do not have to worry about it. 

What is true is that if a product contains so-called N-nitrogenating agents (e.g.: preservatives like 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, 5-Bromo-5-Nitro- 1,3-Dioxane or sodium nitrate - so look out for things with nitro, nitra in the name) that together with TEA can form some not nice carcinogenic stuff (that is called nitrosamines). But with proper formulation that does not happen, TEA in itself is not a bad guy. 

But let’s assume a bad combination of ingredients were used and the nitrosamines formed. :( Even in that case you are probably fine because as far as we know it cannot penetrate the skin. 

But to be on the safe side, if you see Triethanolamine in an INCI and also something with nitra, nitro in the name of it just skip the product, that cannot hurt.

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.

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
  • It has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to work its magic
  • Once converted, it has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
  • A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10-to-20 times less potent than retinoic acid
  • It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
  • It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
  • Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
  • Do not use whilst pregnant
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

Yeast Extract - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

You probably know yeast from the kitchen where you put it into milk with a little sugar and then after a couple of minutes brownish bubbles form. That is the fungi fermenting the sugar

As for skin care, yeast contains beta-glucan that is a great soothing ingredient and also a mild antioxidant.  The yeast extract itself is a silky clear liquid that has some great moisturizing, skin protecting and film-forming properties on the skin. 

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

It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 

What-it-does: preservative

An antimicrobial preservative that helps your products not to go wrong too quickly. It works especially well against bacteria, specifically gram-negative species, yeast, and mold.

Somewhat controversial, it belongs to an infamous family of formaldehyde-releasers. That is, it slowly breaks down to form formaldehyde when it is added to a formula. We have written more about formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and the concerns around them at Dmdm Hydantoin, but do not get too scared, those are more theories than proven facts.

As for Diazolidinyl Urea itself, a study from 1990 writes that at concentrations up to 0.4%, it was a mild cumulative skin irritant, but the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) reviewed it in 2006 and found that, in concentrations of <0.5%, it is safe as used, as the amount of formaldehyde released will be smaller than the recommended limit (of less than 0.2%).

All in all, it is up to your personal decision and skin sensitivity. 

What-it-does: preservative | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon

Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))

What-it-does: preservative, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.

What-it-does: chelating

A common helper ingredient that works as a so-called chelating agent.  It helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.

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

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
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 emollient | antimicrobial/antibacterial
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. 
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 surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A commonly used water-soluble surfactant and emulsifier. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
It's quite the multi-tasker: an emollient and water-binding ingredient but also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. It's also often used to create liposomes.  [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
irritancy, com. 1-3, 1-3
An ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that is pretty much the least effective member of the retinoid family. Its anti-aging effects are quite questionable as well as its behavior in the presence of UVA light. (Use it at night if possible!) [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing | antimicrobial/antibacterial
Rosemary leaf extract - Its main active is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It has also anti-bacterial, astringent and toning properties. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A film-forming and thickening polymer (a large molecule composed of many repeated subunits) that comes to the formula usually as part of an emulsifier, thickener trio. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling | solvent
A petroleum-derived emollient and thickener. It often comes to the formula as part of an emulsifier, thickener trio. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A not-very-interesting helper ingredient that is used as an emulsifier and/or surfactant. Comes from a coconut oil derived fatty alcohol, lauryl alcohol. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common glycol that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products. It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
irritancy, com. 0, 2
Helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be right. It’s very alkaline. [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 cell-communicating ingredient
Vitamin A - the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC that can smooth wrinkles and make skin firmer. It might also be useful for acne-prone skin as it normalizes keratinization. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A silky clear liquid that has great moisturizing, skin protecting and film-forming properties on the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 
what‑it‑does preservative
An antimicrobial preservative that helps your products not to go wrong too quickly. It works especially well against bacteria, specifically gram-negative species, yeast, and mold.Somewhat controversial, it belongs to an infamous family of formaldehyde-releasers. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
irritancy, com. 0, 0
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.  Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) sho [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating
A common helper ingredient that works as a so-called chelating agent.  It helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes. [more]