Anti-Wrinkle Intensive Serum, Argan & Amaranth
Dr. Scheller Anti-Wrinkle Intensive Serum, Argan & AmaranthIngredients 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.
- 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 have to start by writing that there are about 900 citrus species in the world, and plenty of them are used to make different kinds of extracts used in cosmetics. This particular one, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Fruit Extract is a very common ingredient, however, the species "Citrus Aurantium Dulcis" seem to exist only on ingredient lists and the real world calls this guy Citrus Sinensis or, you know, orange.
To complicate matters further, there are lots of varieties and lots of extraction methods, so it is a bit hard to know what you are getting with this one, but we will try our best to summarize the possibilities.
A very common scenario is that Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Fruit Extract is on the ingredient list for its mild, natural exfoliant properties. It contains mainly citric acid and some malic acid, AHA exfoliants known for their skin renewing properties. If that's the case, it is usually combined with other AHA containing fruits such as bilberry, sugar cane, lemon, and sugar maple in a super popular ingredient mix trade named ACB Fruit Mix.
But orange fruit is loaded with lots of other active compounds with a wide variety of possible effects. A well-known one is the antioxidant vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, but the dosage will vary based on the extraction method, and it’s possible that some of the ascorbic acid content will degrade before extraction process even takes place. If you want vitamin C in your skincare, that is smart, but do not rely on orange fruit extract for it.
Flavonoids (hesperidin, naringin, luteolin, and ferulic acid) are also nice active compounds with possible antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vasoprotective effects. Some of them (namely hesperidin and luteolin) might even have skin brightening activity by inhibiting tyrosinase, the famous enzyme needed for melanin production.
The orange extract also contains carbohydrates, aka sugars (mostly glucose, fructose, and sucrose, but also some bigger polysaccharides such as pectin) giving the ingredient some moisturizing properties.
Some essential oil content is usually also present in citrus fruit extracts, which means a nice scent and antibacterial properties, but also some questionable compounds such as fragrance allergen limonene or phototoxic compound bergaptene. If the amount is big enough to worry about is questionable, probably not, however, the same question applies to all the nice beneficial compounds.
Overall, we think that the orange fruit extract is a very complex ingredient with lots of potentially good things in it, but we could not find proper in-vivo (made on real people) studies made with standardized extracts to validate what it really does or does not under real-world use cases.
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).
A sugar beet derived amino acid derivative with nice skin protection and moisturization properties. Betain's special thing is being an osmolyte, a molecule that helps to control cell-water balance. It is also a natural osmoprotectant, meaning that it attracts water away from the protein surface and thus protects them from denaturation and increases their thermodynamic stability.
It also gives sensorial benefits to the formula and when used in cleansers, it helps to make them milder and gentler.
When it comes to cosmetic oils and hype, argan oil is for sure leading the way. Dubbed as the "liquid gold of Morocco", we have to admit we have some trouble determining why this oil enjoys such a special miracle status. Not that it's not good, it is good, even great but reading the research about argan and a bunch of other plant oils we just do not see the big, unique differentiating factor (though that might be our fault not reading enough, obvs.)
So, argan oil comes from the kernel of the argan fruit that comes from the argan tree that grows only in Morocco. The tree is slow growing and getting the oil is a hard job. The traditional process is that the ripe argan fruits fall from the tree, then goats eat them up and poop out the seeds. The seeds are collected and smashed with a stone to get the kernels inside. This part is the hard one as the seeds have extremely hard shells. Once the kernels are obtained, the oil is pressed out from them (the kernels contain about 50% oil).
As for skincare, argan oil is loaded with lots of skin goodies (but so are many other plant oils): it contains 80% nourishing and moisturizing unsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic (38-50%), linoleic (28-38%) and palmitic (10-18%). It also contains a relatively large amount of antioxidant vitamin E (600-900 mg/kg, about twice as much as olive), small amounts of antioxidant phenols (including caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and epicatechin), as well as some rare sterols with soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Thanks to all the above goodness in argan oil, it can greatly nourish and moisturize the skin and hair. It's also claimed to be able to neutralize collagen-damaging free radicals, help reduce scars, and revitalize and improve skin elasticity. You can even read that argan might help acne-prone skin, but being a high oleic oil, we would be careful with that.
All in all, argan oil is a real goodie but we do not fully understand the special miracle status it enjoys.
It's the seed extract of a plant called amaranth or love-lies-bleeding. It's a really ancient plant grown by Aztecs, Incas and Mayas as their main food and they called it “the golden grain”. They believed it had supernatural powers. Nowadays it's a popular health food because the seeds have great nutritional benefits and are high in protein.
As for skincare there are two types of the seed extract:
1, The aqueous extract contains a high concentration of peptides and polysaccharides and helps to improve the combability and manageability of damaged hair.
2. The oily extract is more common and acts as other similar emollient plant oils. It's rich in non-saturated fatty acids (linoleic acid/omega-6 and oleic acid/omega-9) and squalene and is a great moisturizer and emollient for both skin and hair.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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).
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
A sugar based emulsifier that's especially great for low viscosity lotions or even sprays. It's effective in small amounts, only 1-1.5% is needed to form an emulsion. The resulting cream or lotion has great cosmetic properties with good spreadability and an enhanced soft skin feel.
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.
A handy multi-tasker, white to light yellowish oil-loving wax that works very well in oil-in-water emulsions. It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient), stabilizes oil-water mixes and gives body to them.
Oh, and one more thing: it's a so-called fatty alcohol - the good, emollient type of alcohol that is non-drying and non-irritating. It is often mixed with fellow fatty alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, and the mixture is called Cetearyl Alcohol in the ingredient list.
- 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
Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.
It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.
Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.
It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%) and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil.
Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.
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.
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.
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.
Exactly what it sounds: nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. Fragrance in the US and parfum in the EU is a generic term on the ingredient list that is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average (but it can have as much as 200 components!).
If you are someone who likes to know what you put on your face than fragrance is not your best friend - no way to know what’s really in it.
Also, if your skin is sensitive, fragrance is again not your best friend. It’s the number one cause of contact allergy to cosmetics. It’s definitely a smart thing to avoid with sensitive skin (and fragrance of any type - natural is just as allergic as synthetic, if not worse!).
A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.
It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer.
Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.
All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that smells like lemon and has a bittersweet taste. It can be found in many plant oils, e.g. lemon, orange, lime or lemongrass.
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 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.
Geraniol is a common fragrance ingredient. It smells like rose and can be found in rose oil or in small quantities in geranium, lemon and many other essential oils.
Citronellol is a very common fragrance ingredient with a nice rose-like odor. In the UK, it’s actually the third most often listed perfume on the ingredient lists.
It can be naturally found in geranium oil (about 30%) or rose oil (about 25%).
As with all fragrance ingredients, citronellol can also cause allergic contact dermatitis and should be avoided if you have perfume allergy. In a 2001 worldwide study with 178 people with known sensitization to fragrances citronellol tested positive in 5.6% of the cases.
There is no known anti-aging or positive skin benefits of the ingredient. It’s in our products to make it smell nice.
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.
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|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|
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