First Aid Beauty
Fab Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate
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 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.
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, and it’s also easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular.
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.
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.
The oil coming from the pulp of one of the most nutritious fruits in the world, the avocado. It's loaded with the nourishing and moisturizing fatty acid, oleic (70%) and contains some others including palmitic (10%) and linoleic acid (8%). It also contains a bunch of minerals and vitamins A, E and D.
Avocado oil has extraordinary skin penetration abilities and can nourish different skin layers. It's a very rich, highly moisturizing emollient oil that makes the skin smooth and nourished. Thanks to its vitamin E content it also has some antioxidant properties. As a high-oleic plant oil, it is recommended for dry skin.
- 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
Probably the cheapest and most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.
As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity.
As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types).
- Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
- It has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to work its magic
- Once converted, it has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
- A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10-to-20 times less potent than retinoic acid
- It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
- It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
- Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
- Do not use whilst pregnant
So now you know that pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is really unstable and hard to formulate so the cosmetics industry is coming up with a bunch of derivatives to solve the problem and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (or MAP) is one of them.
MAP does solve the stability problem: it's stable up to pH 7, so far so good. What is not so good is that, as the great review study about vitamin C derivatives in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology writes, MAP is "at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison to AA."
Moreover, derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin, they also have to be converted into pure AA. The good news is that in-vitro data shows that MAP does convert, but the bad news is we do not really know if the same is true on real, living human skin. Even if it does, we don't know how good the conversion rate is (but to be fair the same is true for all other derivatives).
Regarding the three magic abilities of pure vitamin C (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener), there is no published data about MAP's antioxidant or photoprotection capabilities. We have better news about the other two things: in-vitro data shows that MAP can boost collagen synthesis similar to AA (though in the case of AA it's proven in-vivo) and even better, MAP is proven to work as a skin brightener in-vivo (on real people).
Bottom line: when it comes to vitamin C derivatives, MAP is definitely an option. We especially recommend it if you are after skin brightening as this seems to be the strongest point of MAP.
The finely ground version of whole oat kernels that has well-established skin soothing, skin-protecting and antioxidant abilities. We have a shiny description of oat extract in skincare here. It is a real goodie ingredient for dry, irritated, inflamed or eczema-prone skin.
- 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
Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid is a low molecular weight, chemically chopped up version of the naturally big molecule and current IT-moisturizer, Hyaluronic Acid (HA). 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 retain water, making it plump and elastic. As HA is a polymer, the subunits can be repeated many times (as a high-molecular-weight version), or just a few times (as a low-molecular-weight version).
We wrote in detail at HA about how different molecular weight versions do different things both as a component of the skin and as a skincare ingredient, so click here and read about all the details. Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid can also come in different molecular-weight versions with different properties:
- 100-300 kDa version: apart from moisturizing, this size might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense. It is also claimed to boost the wound healing process and is especially helpful for sensitive skin types (acne, rosacea, inflammation-related skin diseases).
- 50k Da version: this is the size that is claimed to be able to absorb into the skin and plump up wrinkles, so it is used mainly as an "anti-aging ingredient"
- below 50k, around 10k Da version: there is a Japanese version trade named Hyalo-Oligo that has only a 10k molecular weight and is claimed to penetrate the skin very well, have a unique touch and give deep and long-lasting moisturization. Based on the Evonik-research and the natural role of LMW-HA in the body working as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule, this ultra-low molecular weight version is a controversial ingredient.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert, you can read much 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).
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.
If you see a cosmetic product that claims that it has "Botox-like effect" then two things are almost certain: one, the product overpromises and two, it contains Argireline.
So this one is the famous peptide that's marketed by its manufacturer as the "Botox in a jar". The basis for this claim is that it targets the same wrinkle forming mechanism (wrinkles caused by facial muscle movement) as Botox, but the way it works is very different. In addition, the extent to which it can prevent muscles from contracting (and to smooth wrinkles) is very different (otherwise why would anyone use still Botox?).
The manufacturer did several studies to prove that Argireline really works and it does (just not as well as Botox). In-vivo (made on real people) tests showed that using 10% Argireline solution around the eyes for 15 days decreased wrinkles depth by 17%. A Spanish University also did some research and found that Argireline increased the level of skin moisturization and decreased both the depth and width of wrinkles "significantly".
This means, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 does have some ability to smooth wrinkles (but not as well as Botox - sorry, if we sound like a broken record). Also, we have to agree with TruthInAging, that it's not a collagen builder and not a preventer of structural aging (think vitamin C, AHAs or retinol); it's just a quick fix. If you are looking for one, this could be your thing. If you are more of a "let's treat this aging thing properly" type, then it's probably not your thing.
The famous omega-6 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-6 fatty acids in our body. It is a so-called polyunsaturated fatty acid meaning it has more than one (in this case two) double bonds and a somewhat kinky structure that makes LA and LA-rich oils a thin liquid.
It is also an essential fatty acid meaning our body cannot synthesize it and has to take it from food. This is not hard at all as plenty of nuts (such as flax, poppy or sesame seeds) and vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower) are rich in LA. The hard thing seems to be eating enough omega-3-s, more specifically eating a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but that is a topic for a what-is-good-to-eat-site and not for us.
As for linoleic acid and the skin, LA is a really important little guy found naturally in our skin. It is the most abundant fatty acid in the epidermis and it serves as a structural precursor for important skin lipids called ceramides. Knowing this, it will not come as a surprise that Linoleic acid has a central role in the structure and function of stratum corneum permeability, aka healthy skin barrier. LA deficiency leads to an impaired more permeable skin barrier and the topical application of LA-rich sunflower oil can fix this issue rapidly (while oleic-rich olive oil did not have the same barrier repairing effect).
LA is not only important for dry, barrier damaged skin types but also for acne-prone skin. Research shows that problem skin has lower levels of linoleic acid (and higher levels of oleic acid) than normal skin. So LA-deficiency in the skin seems to be connected not only to an impaired skin barrier but also to acne and smearing LA all over your face might help with your problem skin. A double-blind study using a 2.5% LA gel for 4 weeks found a 25% reduction in the size of microcomedones, the tiny blocked pores that can later lead to acne.
If that was not enough, we have one more thing to report about LA. It lightens hyperpigmentation (aka UVB caused sun spots) both by blocking the melanin production of melanocytes (the skin cells that make the pigment melanin) and by enhancing the desquamation of melanin pigment from the upper layers of the skin.
Overall, linoleic acid is a multi-functional skin goodie with barrier repairing, acne-reducing, and skin-lightening magic abilities. It's a nice one to spot on the ingredient list pretty much for any skin type.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A fatty acid that can be found naturally in the skin. In fact, it's the most common saturated fatty acid found in animals and plants.
As for skincare, it can make the skin feel nice and smooth in moisturizers (emollient) or it can act as a foam building cleansing agent in cleansers. It's also a very popular ingredient in shaving foams.
A common fatty acid that can be found in lots of plant oils. Its name, "oleic", means derived from olive oil, a plant oil rich in oleic acid, but avocado, macadamia and marula oils, just to name a few, are also oleic rich.
Its chemical structure is monounsaturated, meaning it has one double bond (cis-9) that makes it less kinky than polyunsaturated fatty acids with multiple double bonds. Less kinkiness means that oleic acid and OA-rich oils are a bit thicker and heavier than their LA-rich siblings.
Maybe this thickness is the reason that Oleic acid is considered comedogenic, and if you have acne-prone skin avoid OA-rich plant oils, and choose linoleic acid-rich versions instead.
The thickness of OA also means that OA-rich oils are considered more nourishing and moisturizing than their LA-rich counterparts, and are generally considered to be more suitable for dry, mature skin types.
As for oleic acid in its free form (and by free we mean that it is not bound up in a triglyceride structure like it is in oils), it mostly serves as an emulsifier or emulsion stabilizer in small amounts in regular cosmetic products. It is also quite well researched and is used in the pharmaceutical industry as a penetration enhancer.
The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is considered to be a nice, cost-effective base oil with moisturizing properties. As for its fatty acid profile, it contains 48-59% barrier-repairing linoleic acid, 17-30% nourishing oleic acid and also some (4.5-11%) potentially anti-inflammatory linolenic acid.
It goes by the trade name "Phytodermina Lifting" that refers to two things: it's a "lifting" ingredient and it comes from plant raw materials.
The manufacturer claims that it gives the skin a marked lifting effect, moisturizes, makes the skin soft and smooth, enhances brightness, and helps make-up to stay on after application.
Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.
What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie.
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.
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 one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little of 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).
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 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 common multi-tasker fatty acid. It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient), gives body to cream type products and helps to stabilize water and oil mixes (aka emulsions).
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).
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.
It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Anisole. It's a synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.
It's a somewhat controversial ingredient: The U.S. National Institutes of Health says that BHA is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals" (source: wikipedia). But, and this is a big but: these experiments were made on animals and BHA was used in high doses as part of their diet. There is no evidence that the same is true when used in tiny amounts in cosmetics products. So you probably have nothing to worry about, but if you are a better safe than sorry type there are plenty of nice products without BHA to choose from. :)
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.
The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right.
For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.
BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.
Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.
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.
Copy and paste into your blog
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