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
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 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 clear, slightly yellow, odorless oil that's a very common, medium-spreading emollient. It makes the skin feel nice and smooth and works in a wide range of formulas.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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).
The famous Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly. Just like mineral oil, it is also a by-product of refining crude oil, aka petroleum, and it is also a mixture of hydrocarbons but with bigger (C18-90+) carbon chain length.
The unique thing about petrolatum is that it is the most effective occlusive agent known today. While the occlusivity of mineral oil is in the same league as the occlusivity of plant oils, petrolatum is in a league of its own. It sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called transepidermal water loss (TEWL) like nothing else.
This comes in handy healing cracked lips or severely dry skin patches, though overdoing it (i.e. reducing TEWL by more than 40%) is not good as it can create a nice moist place for fungi and bacteria to grow.
As for petrolatum and safety, we can write here pretty much the exact same thing as we have written at mineral oil. There is no evidence whatsoever that cosmetic, USP grade petrolatum is carcinogenic. It also does not absorb into the skin but sits on top of it and that in itself greatly minimises health risks. It also has a long history of safe use, as it was first used as a skincare product more than 100 years ago, in 1872 to be precise.
It is also non-comedogenic, though its pure form is very heavy and greasy so combination and oily skin types might want to avoid it anyway.
Overall, it is the gold-standard occlusive agent known today and a tub of Vaseline comes in handy in any household to heal cracked lips or other severely dry skin patches.
It's a sweet tasting sugar substitute that helps your skin to hold onto water when used in cosmetic products. It also helps to thicken up products and give them a bit more slip.
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.
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!).
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.
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.
Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))
- 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)
A nice odorless liquid used mainly as a superior solubilizer and efficacy booster for cosmetic active ingredients such as skincare bigshot vitamin C, self-tanning active DHA or the anti-acne gold standard, benzoyl peroxide.
Other than that it can also be used in hair care products where it gives a longer-lasting and more uniform coloring. According to a manufacturer, it might even prevent the formation of split ends.
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. Read more about parabens here >>
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.
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.
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).
Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it.
A fancy name for sugar. Luckily when you put it on your skin it's good for you not like when you eat it. :) It has water-binding properties, which means that it helps to keep your skin nice and hydrated.
- It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
- It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
- It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
- In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
- Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
- Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
The distillate created from different parts of the hazelnut-bush-like magic tree, commonly called Witch Hazel. Hamamelis Virginiana Water is a bit of a sloppy ingredient name as the leaves, the twigs and the bark can be used to create extracts or distillates and the different parts contain different amounts of biologically active components. But what you are getting is probably a nice water with astringent, soothing, antioxidant and antibacterial magic properties.
We went into great detail about Witch Hazel in cosmetics here, detailing the main biologically active components and how they are different in different parts of the plant. Click here and read more >>
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).
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 the active parts of Chamomile that contains about 30% of bisabolol. It's a clear oily fluid that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient.
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 form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. Even though we are massive vitamin C fans, Ascorbyl Palmitate (AP) is our least favorite. (Btw, if you do not know what the big deal with vitamin C is then you are missing out. You must go and read our geeky details about it.)
So, AP is one of the attempts by the cosmetics industry to solve the stability issues with vitamin C while preserving its benefits, but it seems to fall short on several things.
What's the problem?
Firstly, it's stability is only similar to that of pure ascorbic acid (AA), which means it is not really stable. A great study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology compared a bunch of vitamin C derivatives and this derivative was the only one where the study said in terms of stability that it's "similar to AA". Not really that good.
Second, a study that examined the skin absorption of vitamin C found that ascorbyl palmitate did not increase the skin levels of AA. This does not mean that ascorbyl palmitate cannot penetrate the skin (because it can, it's oil soluble and the skin likes to absorb oil soluble things) but this means that it's questionable if ascorbyl palmitate can be converted into pure Vit C in the skin. Even if it can be converted, the palmitate part of the molecule is more than the half of it, so the efficacy will not be good and we have never seen a serum that contains a decent (and proudly disclosed) amount of AP. We are highly skeptical what effect a tiny amount of AP has in a formula.
Third, another study that wanted to examine the antioxidant properties of AP was surprised to find that even though AP does have nice antioxidant properties; following UVB radiation (the same one that comes from the sun) it also promotes lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity. It was only an in-vitro study meaning that it was done on cell cultures and not on real people, but still, this also does not support the use of AP too much.
The only good thing we can write about Ascorbyl Palmitate is that there is an in-vitro (made in the lab, not on real people) study showing that it might be able to boost collagen production.
Regarding the skin-brightening properties of pure vitamin C, this is another magic property AP does not have, or at least there is no data, not even in-vitro, about it.
Overall, Ascorbyl Palmitate is our least favorite vitamin C derivative. It is there in lots of products in tiny amounts (honestly, we do not really understand why), however, we do not know about any vitamin C serum featuring AP in high amounts. That is probably no coincidence. If you are into vitamin C, you can take a look at more promising derivatives here.
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".
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.
Copy and paste into your blog
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|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | preservative|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|