e.l.f. Oil Control Pore Minimizing SerumIngredients 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 multi-functional skincare superstar with several proven benefits for the skin
- Great anti-aging, wrinkle smoothing ingredient used at 4-5% concentration
- Fades brown spots alone or in combination with amino sugar, acetyl glucosamine
- Increases ceramide synthesis that results in a stronger, healthier skin barrier and better skin hydration
- Can help to improve several skin conditions including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis
- 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
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
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).
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 seems to us that squalane is in fashion and there is a reason for it. Chemically speaking, it is a saturated (no double bonds) hydrocarbon (a molecule consisting only of carbon and hydrogen), meaning that it's a nice and stable oily liquid with a long shelf life.
It occurs naturally in certain fish and plant oils (e.g. olive), and in the sebum (the oily stuff our skin produces) of the human skin. As f.c. puts it in his awesome blog post, squalane's main things are "emolliency, surface occlusion, and TEWL prevention all with extreme cosmetic elegance". In other words, it's a superb moisturizer that makes your skin nice and smooth, without being heavy or greasy.
Another advantage of squalane is that it is pretty much compatible with all skin types and skin conditions. It is excellent for acne-prone skin and safe to use even if you have fungi-related skin issues, like seborrhea or fungal acne.
The unsaturated (with double bonds) and hence less stable version of Squalane is Squalene, you can read about it here >>
This long-named, polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits) is a helper ingredient that's good at emulsifying and stabilizing oils into water-based formulas. It also acts as a thickening and gelling agent that creates nice, non-sticky and supple textures. It works over a very wide pH range (3-12) and can be used to thicken up low-ph formulas, such as exfoliants. Its recommended used range is 0.3-3%.
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 handy helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix nicely together, aka emulsifier. It is especially recommended for protective, baby care and general purpose emollient creams.
It also helps to disperse insoluble particles (think color pigments or zinc/titanium dioxide sunscreen) nice and even in cosmetic formulas.
A nice little helper ingredient that can thicken up cosmetic products and create beautiful gel formulas. It's derived from cellulose, the major component of the cell wall of green plants. It is compatible with most co-ingredients and gives a very good slip to the formulas.
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 then fragrance is not your best friend - there's 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!).
|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | skin brightening | anti-acne | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | anti-acne | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|