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 chemically chopped up version of normal yeast extract that works as a skin moisturizer.
It often comes to the formula as part of a moisturizing, skin smoothing complex trade named Optim Hyal. Combined with polyglucuronic acid and some helper ingredients the complex is obtained by bio-fermentation and - according to the manufacturer - it can stimulate the hyaluronic acid synthesis in the skin. (It does that by containing so-called Glycokines, specific signaling oligosaccharides that mimic the hyaluronic acid fragments in the skin.) And more hyaluronic acid means smoother, better moisturized and more supple skin.
It's a special "cross-linked" from of IT-moisturizer, hyaluronic acid (HA). Cross-linked means that "normal" HA pieces (1-2 million Da molecular weight) are chemically bound togeather to create a big, "infinite" mesh.
The special HA mesh has a remarkable water-binding capacity, 5 times more than the already crazy water-binding capacity of "normal" HA. This water filled crosslinked HA gel forms a smooth film on the skin and continuously delivers the bound water, so it gives long-term moisturizing benefits.
Btw, crosslinking HA was developed for dermal fillers (as crosslinking helps their longevity), and this guy is the topical version of FDA approved dermal filler called Hylan B gel. Smearing crosslinked version all over ourselves is a newish thing, and incoming evidence so far suggests that it's a great idea, even better than normal HA.
A very recent, 2016 research article compared the topical moisturizing effect of crosslinked HA (not Hylan B gel specifically, but something called Resilient HA or RHA), HMW-HA and LMW-HA and found that "TEWL (that is trans-epidermal water loss, the water that evaporates from the skin) was reduced by 27.8% with RHA, and by 15.6% with HMW HA, but increased by 55.5% with LMW HA." (You can read much more about HMW and LMW HA here in the geeky details section.)
All in all, we think Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer is an awesome version of HA, probably superior to traditional versions, so be happy to spot it on the ingredient list.
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.
Tamarind seed gum is a polysaccharide that moisturizes and smoothes the skin. According to manufacturer info, it also improves the skin's elasticity and leaves an extremely pleasant velvety feeling on the skin.
It's a super small, chemically chopped up version of sodium hyaluronate. Its trade name is miniHA, and its molecular weight is 10 kDa. This counts as really tiny given that "normal" HA has a molecular weight of 0.5-2 million Da.
To be honest, low molecular weight (LMW), and especially this ultra-low molecular weight HA is a controversial ingredient. On the upside, it can penetrate the skin better (though 10kDa still counts as big!) and might be able to moisturize the deeper layers of the skin where normal HA cannot get. Also, according to the manufacturer of miniHA, it has better antioxidant activity than a 1.6MDa version HA and it also has better sun protection and after-sun repair abilities than the higher MW versions. It also works in synergy with higher molecular weight versions, and the combination of 0.1% 1.45MDa-HA + 0.1% 380 kDa-HA + 0.1% miniHA hydrated the skin significantly better than 0.3% 1.45MDa-HA alone.
On the downside, the biological role of LMW-HA in the skin is being a pro-inflammatory signaling agent and there is a study by another manufacturer called Evonik showing that HA versions with smaller than 50kDa molecular weight might be pro-inflammatory when put on the skin. Granted, the study was only done on reconstituted human epidermis, so it might or might not be like this on real human skin.
If you wanna get confused and read much more about hyaluronic acid and what the different molecular weight versions might or might not do, click here and read our excruciatingly long description.
A polysaccharide (a big sugar molecule) coming from the edible fruit bodies of the Silver Ear mushroom in China. Legend has it, imperial Concubine Yang Kuei-fei - the most beautiful woman in Chinese history - used it for her facial care.
So Tremella Extract is a big molecule (more than 1M Da molecular weight) with sugar constituents of Mannose, Xylose, and Glucuronic acid (20%). The last one is the most important one, as Glucuronic acid is also a major component in hyaluronic acid (HA). Thanks to this, Tremella is claimed to be an awesome moisturizer with slightly greater water-holding capacities than HA itself. This is quite a big deal as HA is known for its crazy water-holding capacity (up to 1000 times its own weight).
Not only that but Tremella also seems to have some antioxidant effect, it's not sticky (humectants do tend to be sticky) and it leaves skin moist and smooth. No wonder, Concubine Yang Kuei-fei liked this mushroom.
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).
A helper ingredient that helps to neutralize the metal ions in the formula (they usually come from water) so it stays nice longer. The special property of this particular ingredient is that it's more effective against more problematic ions, like Cu (copper) and Fe (iron) compared to less problematic ones like Ca (calcium) and Mg (magnesium).
Red Marine Algae extract that works as a skin protectant and also helps to thicken up products. According to skincare manufacturer Indeed Laboratories, it's a nutrient-rich mineral that mildly stimulates circulation which helps famous IT-moisturizer, hyaluronic acid to penetrate into the skin deeper.
It's a helper ingredient that helps to thicken up formulas and form a nice gel texture. It leaves a rich, elegant feel with a velvety finish on the skin and works over a wide pH range.
A helper ingredient that usually comes to the formula coupled with PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil. The two together work as surfactants and oil solubilizers. It's a non-sticky duo that works at low concentration and is often used to solubilize fragrance components into water-based formulas.
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.
A sugar beet derived amino acid derivative with nice skin protection and moisturization properties. Betain's special thing is being an osmolyte, a molecule that helps to control cell-water balance. It is also a natural osmoprotectant, meaning that it attracts water away from the protein surface and thus protects them from denaturation and increases their thermodynamic stability.
It also gives sensorial benefits to the formula and when used in cleansers, it helps to make them milder and gentler.
A cellulose-derived helper ingredient that is created by attaching a water-hating part (cetyl group) to the water-loving thickener, Hydroxyethylcellulose. The resulting thing, Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose is also a thickener but with some surface active properties (as part of the molecule is water-loving and part of it is oil loving). Thanks to its surface-active properties, it also works as an emulsion stabilizer.
If you have spotted ethylhexylglycerin on the ingredient list, most probably you will see there also the current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol. They are good friends because ethylhexylglycerin can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too.
Also, it's an effective deodorant and a medium spreading emollient.
- 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 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.
A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi.
It’s pH dependent and works best at acidic pH levels (3-5). It’s not strong enough to be used in itself so it’s always combined with something else, often with potassium sorbate.
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.
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.
A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. It's often combined with IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol.
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.
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|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | solvent | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0-1, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial|