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Earth Science Clarifying Herbal Astringent

Clarifying Herbal Astringent

Use after cleansing to help correct over-active oil glands. A stimulating tonic to help tighten pores and provide gentle astringency. Apple, sage and other herbal extracts reduce blemishes and normalize [more] [more] skin. Removes the last traces of oil or cleansers. It contains anti-bacterial natural camphor. Hypo-allergenic. pH 4.0 [less]
Uploaded by: decembermagpie on

Earth Science Clarifying Herbal Astringent
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. 

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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. 

Also-called: Witch Hazel Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial, astringent

Witch hazel is a smallish tree (up to 5m) that's native to North-America, has nice yellow flowers and is similar to the hazelnut bush (hence the name).  

As for skincare, it's loaded with active components that have a bunch of magic properties, like astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-bacterial. It's also a well-known vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels narrower) and promotes the healing of broken skin by tightening up the skin proteins and thus creating a protective covering.

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The complication, however, is that different extracts and distillates can be made from different parts of the plant (bark, twigs, and leaves are typically used) and different extraction methods from different parts produce different results. So if you see only Witch Hazel Extract or Witch Hazel Water on the ingredient list, it's a bit hard to know what you're actually getting but we will try to summarize the possibilities to give an idea.

The main biologically active components in Witch Hazel are hamamelitannin (a potent astringent and antioxidant), catechins (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) and gallic acid (antibacterial). The bark extract contains by far the most hamamelitannin and it has the most gallic acid and catechins. The twigs contain fewer catechins, less gallic acid, and much less hamamelitannin (4.77% vs 0.18%). The leaves contain hardly any tannins (0.04%) or catechins and contain a medium amount of gallic acid (compared to the bark and twigs).

Witch Hazel also contains tiny amounts of the essential oil and fragrance component eugenol, but the amount is so small that it's probably not significant for the skin.

Apart from the differences in active components in different parts of the Witch Hazel bush, the extraction methods also vary. Witch Hazel Distillate contains 14% added alcohol according to the USP specifications  and alcohol is, at best drying, and at worst skin-damaging. Luckily, there are also alcohol-free distillates, so if you prefer no alcohol check the ingredient list carefully. Witch Hazel Extracts can also be made in different ways: browsing Ulprospector, we could find hydroglycolic, hydroalcoholic and glicerine/water based extracts.

Well-known skin care expert, Paula Begoun rates witch hazel as poor and says,  "depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitizing amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both." This might be the case if you are dealing with an alcoholic witch hazel bark water or extract, but looking at CosIng (the official INCI name listing of the EU), witch hazel bark water or witch hazel bark extract are not listed ingredients. Bark and leaf or bark and twig or all three are used together to create extracts, so the chance that there is too much hamamelitannin in the final cosmetic ingredient seems small. Also alcohol-free extracts and distillates exist; actually, the majority seem to be alcohol-free nowadays. So all in all, we think "Hamamelis Virginiana Extract" on the ingredient list is nothing to worry about.

We even found a German study that compared the efficacy of Hamamelis ointment to panthenol ointment for soothing the skin in children (from 27 days to 11 years old). They observed 309 children and concluded that both ointments were similarly effective but the one with Hamamelis was even better tolerated (98.2% vs. 92.3% tolerated well the ointments in the two groups).

All in all, Witch Hazel Extract is a sloppy INCI name (btw, not in the CosIng listing), and you do not really know what you're getting. Most probably though, you are getting a goody with nice astringent, soothing, antibacterial, and even antioxidant properties.

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

Also-called: German Chamomile Flower Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Chamomile probably needs no introduction as it's one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. You probably drink it regularly as a nice, calming cup of tea and it's also a regular on skincare ingredient lists.

Cosmetic companies use it mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the terpenoids chamazulene and bisabolol both of which show great anti-inflammatory action in animal studies. On top of that chamomile also has some antioxidant activity (thanks to some other active ingredients called matricine, apigenin and luteolin).  

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Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it. 

Also-called: Cucumber Fruit Extract | What-it-does: soothing, emollient

Cucumber is a nice, non-irritating plant extract that’s known for it’s soothing and emollient properties. It’s not something new to put it on our face: even Cleopatra used it to “preserve her skin”.

It’s commonly believed that cucumber is the answer to puffy eyes, but there is no research confirming this. What research does confirm is that it contains amino acids and organic acids that’s helpful for the skin’s acid mantle. There is also an enzyme (called shikimate dehydrigenase) in the pulp that’s shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

What-it-does: astringent, emollient, soothing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Kelp Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Grapefruit Seed Extract | What-it-does: perfuming, astringent

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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. 

Also-called: Sage Leaf Extract | What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Ascorbic Acid - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening, buffering
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Ascorbic Acid here >>

Allantoin - goodie
What-it-does: soothing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. 

It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

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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. 

Also-called: Acetum;Vinegar

The thing that you put on your salad with some olive oil. But in a more scientific sense vinegar is usually a 5% solution of acetic acid. It's used in cosmetic products to adjust pH. Larg amounts of vinegar on the skin could be irritating and drying.

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. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Sodium PCA - goodie
Also-called: Sodium Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

PCA stands for Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid and though it might not sound like it, it is a thing that can be found naturally in our skin. The sodium salt form of PCA is an important skin-identical ingredient and great natural moisturizer that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Carboxymethyl Cellulose | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A cellulose (the big molecule found in the cell wall of green plants) derivative that is used as an emulsion stabilizer and thickener

Sulfur - goodie
What-it-does: anti-acne, antimicrobial/antibacterial | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0-3

A yellowish element that smells of rotten eggs and it might be familiar to you from the periodic table (has the symbol S in there).  It has a long history of medicinal use thanks to its antifungal, antibacterial and keratolytic activity.   It used to be a very common ingredient in the treatment of inflammation-related skin diseases such as acne, rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis, however, due to its malodorousness, it is less popular nowadays. 

Sulfur's precise mechanism of action is not known, but we do know that its effectiveness depends on its direct interaction with the skin surface, meaning the smaller the particle size, the better the effect. The United States Pharmacopeia lists two types of sulfur, sublimed and precipitated. The latter one has a smaller particle size and counts as a superior version. 

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Sulfur is also a team-player and works well when combined with other anti-acne agents, such as salicylic acid or sodium sulfacetamide. In fact, the combination of 10% sodium sulfacetamide and 5% sulfur is the active ingredient duo of several Rx-only anti-acne products. 

As for the disadvantages, there is the rotten egg smell.  Also in higher concentrations, it might cause a mild burning sensation and dry skin.  If you are new to sulfur, patch testing it first is a good idea. 

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic 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". 

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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).

What-it-does: preservative

A mild, natural preservative that usually comes to the formula together with its other mild preservative friends, such as Benzoic Acid and/or Dehydroacetic Acid. Btw, it's also used as a food preservative.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative

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. 

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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.

Also-called: Fragrance, Parfum;Parfum/Fragrance | What-it-does: perfuming

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.  

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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!). 

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 soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial
With Hazel - loaded with active components (hamamelitannin, catechins, gallic acid) that have astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant or anti-bacterial properties. Also well-known vasoconstrictor and promotes skin healing. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Chamomile extract - has great anti-inflammatory and some antioxidant properties. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | emollient
Cucumber is a nice, non-irritating plant extract that’s known for it’s soothing and emollient properties. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | soothing
what‑it‑does perfuming
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 surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening | buffering
Pure Vitamin C. A skincare superstar that is clinically proven to boost collagen production (in 5-20% concentration), fade hyperpigmentation and boost UV protection under sunscreen. Also, it's extremely unstable and hard to formulate. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. It's not only soothing but it' [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
It's used in cosmetic products to adjust pH. Larg amounts on the skin could be irritating and drying. [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 surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's an important skin-identical ingredient and great natural moisturizer that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A cellulose (the big molecule found in the cell wall of green plants) derivative that is used as an emulsion stabilizer and thickener. 
what‑it‑does anti-acne | antimicrobial/antibacterial
irritancy, com. 0, 0-3
A yellowish element that smells of rotten eggs and it might be familiar to you from the periodic table (has the symbol S in there).  It has a long history of medicinal use thanks to its antifungal, antibacterial and keratolytic activity.   It used to be a very common ingredient in the treatment of  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A mild, natural preservative that usually comes to the formula together with its other mild preservative friends, such as Benzoic Acid and/or Dehydroacetic Acid. [more]
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
The generic term for nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. It is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average. [more]