e.l.f. SupermaskIngredients 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
A viscous, thick liquid emollient that gives lubricity and cushion at low use levels. It's great for night creams, eye area products, and skin treatment products due to the substantive film forming ability.
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.
A synthetic liquid oil that can replace mineral oil or silicone oils in the cosmetic formulas. There are different grades depending on the molecular weight ranging from very light, volatile, non-residue leaving ones to more substantial, slight residue leaving ones.
Apart from leaving the skin soft and smooth (emollient), it's also used as a waterproofing agent in sunscreens or makeup products and as a shine enhancer in lip gloss formulas.
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.
A super commonly used 5 unit long, cyclic structured silicone that is water-thin and does not stay on the skin but evaporates from it (called volatile silicone). Similar to other silicones, it gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel.
It's often combined with the non-volatile (i.e. stays on the skin) dimethicone as the two together form a water-resistant, breathable protective barrier on the skin without a negative tacky feel.
A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives.
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 smallish polymer molecule (created from repeated units of Polyethylene glycol, aka PEG) that's used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent.
It is a clear, colorless liquid that is water-soluble and water-binding (aka humectant) and can help to solubilize sparingly-water soluble things (e.g. vanilla, perfumes) into water-based formulas. Thanks to its water-binding ability, it also prevents the drying out of formulas, especially when combined with the fellow hygroscopic agent, sorbitol.
Theobroma means "food of the gods" in Greek though probably "treat of the people" would be more spot on. The cacao fruits and especially the seeds in it need no introduction as everyone knows them as the magical raw material of the magical sweet treat, chocolate (the flavour is composed of more than 1200(!) substances, and the exact chemical nature of it is not really understood, so it's indeed magic. :)).
As for skincare, cocoa butter counts as a rich emollient that can moisturize and nourish even the driest skin (think chapped hands or lips). It's solid at room temperature and melts nicely when you smear it on. It's loaded with good-for-the-skin things: it contains fatty acids, mainly oleic (35%), stearic (34%), and palmitic (25%) and it also has antioxidant vitamin E and polyphenols.
An ex-vivo (made on human skin but not on real people) study examined the cocoa polyphenols and found that 0.5-0.75% of them improved skin tone and elasticity and had a similarly positive impact on GAGs (important natural moisturizing factors in the skin) and collagen synthesis than a commercial high-end moisturizer (it was an Estee Lauder one).
All in all, cocoa butter is a goodie, especially for very dry skin.
Centella Asiatica - or gotu kola as normal people call it - has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. It’s traditionally used to improve small wounds, burns and scratches and it’s also a well known anti-inflammatory agent for eczema.
Recently science has taken an interest in Gotu Kola as well and it turns out it really has many active compounds with several benefits. Just for hard-core geeks, the main biologically active compounds are pentacyclic triterpenoid saponins called asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic and madecassic acid (also called centellosides).
One of the biological activities of the centellosides is to be able to stimulate GAGs (glycosaminoglycans - polysaccharides that are part of the liquidy stuff between our skin cells), and especially hyaluronic acid synthesis in our skin. This is probably one of the reasons why Centella Asiatica Extract has nice skin moisturizing properties that was confirmed by a 25 people, four weeks study along with Centella's anti-inflammatory effects.
Madecassoside can also help in burn wound healing through increasing antioxidant activity and enhancing collagen synthesis. Asiaticoside was shown to increase antioxidant levels on rats skin when applied at 0.2%.
Centella Asiatica also often shows up in products that try to treat cellulite or striae. Of course, it cannot make a miracle but it might have some effect via regulating microcirculation and normalizing the metabolism in the cells of connective tissues.
Bottom line: Gotu Kola is a great plant ingredient with proven wound healing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Nice to spot on any ingredient list.
We have to start by writing how fascinated we are by the amazing lavender fields of Provance and we do love pretty much everything about lavender: its look, its color, its scent.... but, when it comes to skincare, lavender is a questionable ingredient that you probably do not want in your skincare products.
First, let us start with the pros: it has a lovely scent, so no wonder that it is popular as a fragrance ingredient in natural products wanting to be free from synthetic fragrances but still wanting to smell nice. The scent of lavender is famous for having calming and relaxing properties and some smallish scientific studies do support that. Inhaled volatile compounds seem to have a soothing effect on the central nervous system and studies have shown that lavender aromatherapy can improve patient's anxiety and experience in hospitals.
Another pro is that lavender oil has some nice antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It also has some local pain relieving and muscle relaxing magical powers. Lavender oil is also often claimed to have anti-inflammatory properties. We have found a study confirming this but it was the essential oil of the leaves and not the much more commonly used flowers and the two differ in their main chemical compounds very much. (The main components of the flower essential oil are linalyl acetate and linalool [around 80% the two together] while it is 1,8-Cineole [around 65%] in the essential oil of the leaves.)
Now, let us look at the cons: similar to a bunch of other essential oils, the main components of lavender oil are potentially irritating fragrant components. The two main components are linalyl acetate (about 50%) and linalool (about 35%) and both autoxidise on exposure to the air forming strong contact allergens. To make things even worse, lavender oil seems to be cytotoxic from concentrations as low as 0.25% (concentration up to 0.125% were ok).
There is also an often cited Japanese study that made patch tests with lavender oil for 9 years and found a huge increase in lavender oil sensitivity in 1997 (from 1.1% in 1990 to 8.7% in 1997 and 13.9% in 1998). This was the year when using dried lavender flowers in pillows, wardrobes, and elsewhere became fashionable in Japan, so it seems that increased exposure to lavender results in increased risk of sensitivity.
Overall, it makes us sad to write bad things about such a lovely plant, but when it comes to skincare, you will be better off without lavender.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Beta-Glucan is a nice big molecule composed of many smaller sugar molecules (called polysaccharide). It’s in the cell walls of yeast, some mushrooms, seaweeds, and cereals.
It’s a real goodie no matter if you eat it or put it on your face. Eating it is anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and even lowers blood cholesterol.
Putting it on your face also does a bunch of good things: it‘s shown to have intensive skin repairing & wound healing properties, it’s a mild antioxidant, a great skin soother, and moisturizer, and it even shows promising anti-aging benefits.
The manufacturer of the ingredient did a published study with 27 people and examined the effect of 0.1% beta-glucan. They found that despite the large molecular size the smaller factions of beta-glucan penetrate into the skin, even into the dermis (the middle layer of the skin where wrinkles form). After 8 weeks there was a significant reduction of wrinkle depth and height and skin roughness has also improved greatly.
Bottom line: Beta-glucan is a great ingredient, especially for sensitive or damaged skin. It soothes, moisturizes, and has some anti-aging magic properties.
One of the many types of ceramides that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up about 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated. It works even better when combined with its pal, Ceramide 1.
We wrote way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.
A type of ceramide that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.
We have written way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.
It's a type of lipid, a so-called sphingoid base that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. It's found both in "free-form" and as part of famous skin lipids, ceramides.
There is emerging research about Phytosphingosine that shows that it has antimicrobial and cell-communicating properties and is considered part of the skin's natural defense system.
A 2007 study showed that Phytosphingosine even works against evil acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes and shows promise as a complementing active ingredient in treating acne-prone skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities.
A nice one to spot in the ingredient list. :)
It's one of the important lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. About 25% of the goopy stuff between our skin cells consists of cholesterol. Together with ceramides and fatty acids, they play a vital role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.
Apart from being an important skin-identical ingredient, it's also an emollient and stabilizer.
Ceramides get quite a lot of hype recently and good news: there is a reason for that. But before we go into the details, let's just quickly define what the heck ceramides are:
They are waxy lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin (called stratum corneum - SC). And they are there in big amounts! The goopy stuff between our skin cells is called extracellular matrix that consists mainly of lipids. And ceramides are about 50% of those lipids (the other important ones are cholesterol with 25% and fatty acids with 15%).
Ok, so now we know what ceramides are, let's see what they do in our skin: research shows clearly that they play a super important role in keeping the skin barrier healthy and the skin hydrated. If ceramides in the skin are decreased, more water can evaporate from the skin and there is less water remaining in the skin. So ceramides form kind of a "water-proof" protecting layer and make sure that our skin remains nice and hydrated.
Now the question is only this: If we put ceramides all over our face do they work as well as ceramides already naturally in our skin? Well, the answer is probably a no, but they do work to some extent. The BeautyBrains blog made a fantastic article about ceramides and they have listed a couple of examples about studies showing that ceramides - especially when used in certain ratios with cholesterol and fatty acids - do hydrate the skin and can help to repair the skin barrier.
So far we were writing about ceramides in plural. It's because there are lots of different ceramides, a 2014 article writes that currently 12 base classes of ceramides are known with over 340 specific species. Chemically speaking, ceramides are the connection of a fatty acid and a sphingoid base and both parts can have different variations that result in the different types of ceramides.
Our current one, Ceramide 1, or more recently called Ceramide EOP, was the first one that was identified in 1982 and it's a special snowflake. It contains the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid and has a unique structure. It's believed that ceramide 1 plays a "binding role" in the lipid layers of the extracellular matrix. Along with ceramides 4 and 7, they also play a vital role in epidermal integrity and serve as the main storage areas for linoleic acid (a fatty acid that's also very important for barrier repair).
Oh, and one more thing: alkaline pH inhibits enzymes that help ceramide synthesis in our skin. So if you use a soap and you notice your skin is becoming dry, now you know why.
Glyceryl acrylate/acrylic acid copolymer is the fancy word for a common polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits), namely polyacrylic acid (aka carbomer when it comes to cosmetics) with glycerin attached to it in some places.
The main thing of this polymer is that it forms a hydrogel (trade named Lubrajel) that can sit on top of the skin and provide moisturizing, water-soluble ingredients such as glycerin to the skin. Think of it as a very thin, wet sponge that a cosmetic manufacturer can fill with good ingredients for your skin. It also works as a thickening agent (remember, it is a carbomer type of molecule), and can provide the skin with a nice slippery feel. It can also draw water to the skin (thank you, pendant glycerol groups!), providing skin hydration.
Also, don’t let people scare you into thinking polyacrylic acid is dangerous because of the toxicity of acrylic acid. Since acrylic acid is dangerous due to its ability to absorb into the skin (since it’s small), when you chain them together into a polymer (which is big), this danger is no longer significant.
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.
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.
It is typically used in tiny amounts, around 0.1% or less.
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".
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.
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.
- 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)
Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating.
This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners).
It's a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of the products to be right. It has an alkaline pH and can neutralize acidic ingredients.
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 copolymer is a big molecule that consists not of one but of two repeating subunits. This particular copolymer is a handy helper ingredient to form nice gel textures.
It usually comes to the formula combined with emollients (such as C13-14 Isoparaffin, Isohexadecane, Isononyl Isononanoate or Squalane) and can be used as an emulsifier and/or thickener to produce milky gel emulsions with a soft and non-tacky skin feel.
It's a little helper ingredient coming from corn, rice or potato starch that can help to keep skin mat (absorbent), to stabilise emulsions, and to keep the product together (binding).
A light, velvety, unique skin feel liquid that is a good solvent and also makes the skin feel nice and smooth (aka emollient). It's often used in makeup products mixed with silicones to give shine and slip to the product. It's also great for cleansing dirt and oil from the skin as well as for taking off make-up.
A helper ingredient that's used as a co-emulsifier (meaning next to other emulsifiers in the formula it helps water and oil to mix) and as a stabilization agent for foams. Also, has some antimicrobial activity so it can help to boost the effectiveness of the preservative system.
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
The number at the end refers to the oil-loving part and the bigger the number the more emulsifying power it has. 20 is a weak emulsifier, rather called solubilizer used commonly in toners while 60 and 80 are more common in serums and creams.
An Ecocert-approved, natural preservative that counts as gentle and non-irritating to the skin. Usually, it comes to the formula as part of a preservative blend as it's not enough on its own.
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.
A mainly oil-loving, vegetable raw material based ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier. It can also function as a wetting and dispersing agent helping insoluble particles such as color pigments or inorganic sunscreens (zinc/titanium dioxide) to disperse nice and even in liquids.
Chemically speaking, it comes from the attachment of sorbitan (a dehydrated sorbitol (sugar) molecule) with the unsaturated fatty acid Oleic Acid, that creates a partly water (the sorbitan part) and partly oil soluble (oleic part) molecule.
A little helper ingredient that can be a thickener, a humectant, a foam booster, an adhesion promoter and a filler. It's a blend of polysaccharides that helps to moisturize and soften the skin.
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 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.
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.
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||2, 1|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 4|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | cell-communicating ingredient | anti-acne | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||2, 2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 3|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | moisturizer/humectant|
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