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Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua;Water | 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. 

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. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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 film-forming polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) to create water-resistant sunscreen formulas. It also improves the SPF value of sunscreen formulas (approx. 11-18% boost in SPF per 1% Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer). 

Alcohol - icky
Also-called: Ethanol | What-it-does: antimicrobial/antibacterial, solvent, viscosity controlling, astringent

Simply alcohol refers to ethanol and it's a pretty controversial ingredient. It has many instant benefits: it's a great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial. No wonder it's popular in toners and oily skin formulas. 

The downside is that 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. If you wanna know more, we wrote a more detailed explanation about what's the deal with alcohol in skincare products at alcohol denat. (it's also alcohol, but with some additives to make sure no one drinks it).

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Bentonite - goodie
Also-called: Type of clay | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, absorbent/mattifier, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

When it comes to oil-absorbing clay masks, bentonite will probably be one of the first ingredients on the INCI list. Technically bentonite clay is mostly montmorillonite + something else, and thanks to the something else bit, bentonite comes in different types and colors

The color depends on the mineral content of the clay: white bentonite is rich in boron and fluoride, yellow is rich in manganese and zinc, green is rich in copper, zinc, and manganese and the pink clay is rich in boron.

No matter the color, bentonite is excellent at absorbing things: it can suck up the sebum and gunk from the skin and make it instantly smooth and matte. Not only that, but bentonite has a negative ionic charge and thus can attract things with a positive charge. Things with a positive charge include bad bacteria and toxins and bentonite clay masks can help to clear those out of the skin and pores (btw, bentonite is edible and has the same detoxifying effect internally). 

Thanks to bentonite's effect against bad bacteria and pathogens, there is also some research showing that bentonite can help to calm skin infections, soothe skin allergies and might work for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

On the other hand, the downside of bentonite being such a good absorbent is that it can suck up more than the excess sebum and used too often, it can easily dry out the skin. So use it for good measure, and never forget to moisturize afterwards.

Also-called: Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

These three letters stand for Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone, a big molecule created from repeated units of Vinyl Pyrrolidone, aka VP. Its main thing is being an important film former. It was the first synthetic polymer introduced as a hair fixative in the 1950s instead of insect-derived Shellac. 

So PVP likes to attach itself to surfaces such as the hair and the skin and forms a nice, thin, even film there. The film is useful for holding a hairstyle or extending the wear of color cosmetics and sunscreens. The disadvantage of PVP is that the film is a bit brittle and that PVP loves water (hygroscopic) that tends to destroy the film. This is the reason why hair styled with a PVP based product loses its style in high humidity. To fix this problem, there are now several versions of VP containing film formers that are less sensitive to humidity, for example, the molecule called VP/VA Copolymer

What-it-does: chelating, buffering

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). 

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

Also-called: Geogard 111S | What-it-does: preservative

A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria. 

It is Ecocert and Cosmos approved, and is popular in natural products. 

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. 

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: Ci 77266;Carbon Black | What-it-does: colorant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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 moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
A film-forming polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) to create water-resistant sunscreen formulas.  [more]
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling
Simple alcohol that's a great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent, and antimicrobial. In large amount can be very drying. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
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. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A highly absorbent clay that comes in different colors depending on its mineral content. It's excellent at absorbing things including sebum and gunk in the pores and it also has some skin soothing and "detoxifying" effect. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
These three letters stand for Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone, a big molecule created from repeated units of Vinyl Pyrrolidone, aka VP. Its main thing is being an important film former. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | buffering
A helper ingredient that is used to adjust the pH of the product. Also helps to keep products stay nice longer by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula. 
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria.  It is Ecocert and Cosmos approved, and is popular in natural products.  [more]
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 colorant