Repair Control Active Soothing Serum
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 clear, colorless liquid that works as a solvent and viscosity decreasing ingredient. It also has great skin-moisturizing abilities.
- 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
- It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
- It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
- 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 (read more in geeky details tab)
A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. According to manufacturer info, it's also a moisturizer and helps to make the product feel great on the skin. It works synergistically with preservatives and helps to improve water-resistance of sunscreens.
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.
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.
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.
A very 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, and it’s also easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular.
A superabsorbent polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that has crazy water binding abilities. Sometimes its referred to as "waterlock" and can absorb 100 to 1000 times its mass in water.
As for its use in cosmetic products, it is a handy multi-tasker that thickens up water-based formulas and also has some emulsifying and emulsion stabilizing properties.
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.
A mildly viscous, amber-colored liquid with fatty odor, made from Castor Oil and polyethylene glycol (PEG).
If it were a person, we’d say, it’s agile, diligent & multifunctional. It’s mostly used as an emulsifier and surfactant but most often it is used to solubilize fragrances into water-based formulas.
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.
Adenosine is an important little compound in our body that has a vital cell-signalling role. Research on smearing it on our face is also promising and shows so far a couple of things:
- It can help with wound healing
- It’s a good anti-inflammatory agent
- It might even help with skin’s own collagen production and improve skin firmness and elasticity
- It helps with barrier repair and protection
- It might be even useful for the hair helping with hair thickness and hair growth
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!).
It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize other ingredients.
The salt form of one of the main anti-inflammatory ingredients in the licorice plant, monoammonium glycyrrhizinate. It’s a yellowish powder with a nice sweet smell.
It’s used mainly for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, but according to manufacturer info, it’s also sebum regulating so it's a perfect ingredient for problem skin products.
Read more about licorice and why it's a skincare superstar here.
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).
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.
A 100% natural and plant-derived moisturizer that mimics the natural carbohydrate fraction found in the upper layer of the skin. Its special magic power is to bind to the skin stronger and longer than other moisturizer ingredients do so it can keep the skin hydrated longer than usual.
It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.
There is some controversy around BHT. It's not a new ingredient, it has been used both as a food and cosmetics additive since the 1970s. Plenty of studies tried to examine if it's a carcinogen or not. This Truth in Aging article details the situation and also writes that all these studies examine BHT when taken orally.
As for cosmetics, the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) concluded that the amount of BHT used in cosmetic products is low (usually around 0.01-0.1%), it does not penetrate skin far enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and it is safe to use in cosmetics.
A white to beige powder that is described as the golden standard emulsifier for emulsions (oil+water mixtures) that are difficult to stabilize. It is especially popular in sunscreens as it can boost SPF protection and increase the water-resistance of the formula.
Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. One solution is to create stable derivatives that can be absorbed into the skin, convert there to AA and do all the magic AA is proven to do (which is being an antioxidant, a collagen booster, and a skin brightener).
SAP (the vit C derivative, not the enterprise software, obvs) is a promising derivative that has great stability up to pH 7. The challenge with it though is skin penetration. Unfortunately, it seems to be limited, or to quote a great article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology "topically applied ascorbyl phosphate salts are, at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison with AA". Regarding conversion to AA, there seems to be no data about it, so we can neither deny nor confirm it.
We have better news regarding the three magic abilities of vitamin C: there is in-vivo (tested on real people) data showing that SAP does have photo-protective (aka antioxidant) properties, though less than pure AA. SAP might also aid collagen boosting; in-vitro (made in the lab) data shows that it works, but is less effective than another vitamin C derivative, called MAP (that seems to be as effective as pure AA). As for skin-brightening, there is a trade publication with in-vivo data showing that SAP can fade brown spots.
Another thing SAP might be able to do is to help with acne. A 2005 study showed in vitro (in test tubes) that 1% SAP has a strong antimicrobial activity on evil acne causing P. acnes and it also showed in vivo (on real people) that 5% SAP can strongly improve the inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions of acne vulgaris. In fact, the results were comparable or even slightly better than with 5% benzoyl peroxide.
And there is even more regarding SAP and acne. A nice double-blind study from 2009 showed that 5% SAP reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively and when combined with 0.2% retinol the results were even better. With this combination treatment, the improvement was 29.28% after 4 weeks and 63.10% after 8 weeks of application.
Aside from research studies, anecdotal evidence also supports SAP being a promising vitamin C derivative. One of the best-selling (vitamin C) serums in Sephora is the Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, while on Amazon it's the OzNaturals Vitamin C 20 Serum. Another popular choice is the Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum, and all of these contain vitamin C in the form of SAP.
Overall, we think SAP is a goody! In terms of anti-aging, it's probably not as effective as pure Ascorbic Acid, but it's totally worth a try. However, if your skin is acne-prone, SAP is your form of Vitamin C and it's a must-try.
Sh-Oligopeptide-1 is the famous molecule, which is also called Epidermal Growth Factor or EGF. Chemically speaking, Growth Factors are largish peptides or smallish proteins, or to put it in another way, medium-length amino acid sequences (EGF consists of 53 amino acids). Biologically speaking, Growth Factors are cellular signal molecules that can stimulate cell growth, proliferation, healing and/or differentiation.
There are lots of Growth Factors and EGF is just one of them. The topic of "Growth Factors and skincare" is a big, confusing and controversial one and we will try our best to summarize the story for you, including the pros and the cons.
EGF is a special snowflake when it comes to skincare as it was the first Growth Factor that made its way into cosmetic products and it is also the most common one. The American biochemist, Stanley Cohen discovered EGF and was awarded a Noble prize in 1986 for it. As the Noble prize may signify, the molecule is significant and powerful and directly stimulates the proliferation of epidermal cells.
When it comes to Sh-Oligopeptide-1 in a cosmetic product, it has pretty well-established wound healing and skin renewal properties. It might even do more than that. According to a 2012 study on a serum containing barley bioengineered epidermal growth factor, "clinical evaluations showed statistically significant improvement in the appearance of fine lines and rhytids, skin texture, pore size, and various dyschromatic conditions apparent within the first month of use, and continuing improvement trends for the duration of the study" (which was 3 months).
This all sounds amazing, "give me some EGF Serum", we can hear you say! But as we wrote in the intro, the topic is complex and controversial so here are some of the questions that keep coming up around slathering EGF all over our face.
The first and biggest concern is that if EGF is so good at stimulating cell proliferation, how does it relate to cancer? Is the definition of cancer not "cells proliferating out of control"? Most experts agree on this answer: EGF is mitogenic (= stimulates cell proliferation) but not mutagenic (= does not alter the cell to make it cancerous). If you do not have cancer, you will not get cancer from EGF. However, if you have cancerous cells, EGF will help them to spread, just like it helps healthy cells. So if you have a lot of moles, excessive UV exposure in the past, or if you have any of the skin cancer risk factors, we suggest you should think twice about using EGF products. The same is true if you have psoriasis, a skin disease related to the abnormal growth of epidermal skin cells. You do not want to add fuel to the fire with EGF.
Other (less serious) concerns are if EGF can properly penetrate the skin (as it is a medium-sized, polar molecule, so a special delivery system is probably needed), if it can affect collagen synthesis (or just works on the surface plumping up only the upmost layers of the skin) and if it has beneficial effects at all when used in isolation versus when used in a "conditioned media" that contains lots of growth factors resembling the synergistic balance found in the skin.
Overall, our impression is that EGF is definitely a potent molecule. Some EGF products have a cult-like following adding anecdotal evidence to the clinical studies showing EGF has a beneficial effect on the skin. If you like experimenting, by all means, go ahead (unless you have psoriasis or high skin cancer risk factors), but if you are a better safe than sorry type, stick to daily SPF + a good retinoid product. This duo is still the golden standard of anti-aging.
Are you interested in Growth Factors and skincare? We have some more here:
- Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media - a growth factor cocktail used in some cosmetic products
- Insulin-like growth factor 1, aka sh-Oligopeptide -2 - a pal of EGF composed of 70 amino acids
- Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, aka Sh-Polypeptide-9 - part of a GF cocktail trade named BIO-Placenta
A little helper ingredient that is used to adjust the pH of the product. It also helps to keep products stay nice longer by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (they usually come from water).
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.
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 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. :)
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.
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.
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|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||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | preservative|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | anti-acne|
|what‑it‑does||chelating | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | cell-communicating ingredient | anti-acne | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|