InstaNatural Retinol SerumIngredients explained
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
- 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 and odorless oily liquid that works as a fast-spreading emollient with a dry skin feel.
The emollient plant oil coming from the seeds of the white flowering plant called meadowfoam. Meadowfoam Oil has a unique fatty acid composition with 95% of it being long chain fatty acids (eicosenoic acid C20:1 - 61%, docosenoic acid C22:1 - 16% and docosadienoic acid C22:2 - 18%) that make the oil extraordinarily stable. It also contains antioxidant components such as vitamin E as well as phytosterols.
Apart from Meadowfoam Oil's crazy stability, the oil is described as non-greasy, rapidly absorbed and having a similar skin feel to more often used jojoba oil. The oil is ideal for products where a soft, smooth, silky feel is required whether it be on skin or hair.
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).
- 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
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, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular.
Thanks to Nivea, Q10 is a pretty well-known ingredient and the fame and Beiersdorf's (the parent company of Nivea) obsession with it are not for no reason. It's an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays a big role in energy production.
In fact, it's so important for energy production that if taken as an oral supplement it has a caffeine-like effect and if taken at night you will probably not sleep very well (so you should take it in the morning). Q10 supplementation is not a bad idea: it not only gives you energy but research also shows that oral Q10 increases the Q10 level of the skin (of course, it decreases with age like pretty much every good thing in the skin) and may help to reduce wrinkles. If you are not for supplements, dietary sources include fish, spinach, and nuts.
As for skincare, Q10 comes in the form of a yellow, oil-soluble powder that's shown to absorb into the upper layer of the skin and act there like an awesome antioxidant. It not only has preventative effects but might also be able to reduce the depth of wrinkles, though 0.3% Q10 was used in the study that counts as really high (products containing that much should be very yellow!).
An oil-loving, red-orange colored pigment that is becoming more and more well-known as a potent antioxidant.
If being an orange-colored pigment reminds you of beta-carotene from carrots, that is no coincidence: astaxanthin also belongs to the chemical group called carotenoids known for giving yellow, orange, or red color to plants. Our guy comes mostly from microalgae, a well-known and often used source is Haematococcus Pluvialis.
So Astaxanthin's main thing is being an antioxidant. You can take it as a supplement or slather it on your skin, it works both ways. A mouse skin study from 2012 found that a liposomal Astaxanthin formula prevented UV‐induced skin damage in multiple ways: UV-induced skin thickening, collagen reduction, and melanin formation were all hindered or prevented when the skin was pretreated with the Astaxanthin formula.
Another study from 2012 examined the cosmetic benefits of Astaxanthin and found that combining oral supplementation (6mg/day) and topical application for 8 weeks in 30 volunteers showed improvements in skin wrinkle (crow’s feet), age spot size (cheek), elasticity (crow’s feet), skin texture (cheek) and moisture content of the skin (cheek). If that would not be enough, a 2017 mouse study found our carotenoid molecule to be effective in speeding up wound healing.
Overall, Astaxanthin is an up and coming antioxidant nice to spot on any ingredient list.
Hesperidin is an active compound coming from the peel and membranes of citrus fruits. It is a flavonoid with small but promising studies showing antiinflammatory, antioxidant, skin-brightening and skin barrier repairing activities.
The extract coming from the lovely herb, rosemary. It contains lots of chemicals, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and diterpenes. Its main active is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It has also anti-bacterial, astringent and toning properties.
The leaves contain a small amount of essential oil (1-2%) with fragrant components, so if you are allergic to fragrance, it might be better to avoid it.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
The extract coming from the bark of the White Willow, a big (25 m/80 ft.) tree that likes to live on riverbanks. It's famous for containing anti-inflammatory natural salicylates (this powder, for example, is standardized to contain 53-65%), a close chemical relative to famous exfoliant salicylic acid.
Thanks to its salicin content, willow bark is often touted as a natural alternative to salicylic acid, though it's quite questionable how effective it is as a chemical exfoliant in the tiny amounts used in cosmetics. Apart from soothing salicin, it also contains flavonoids and phenolic acids that give willow bark tonic, astringent, and antiseptic properties.
You might know licorice as a sweet treat from your childhood, but it's actually a legume that grows around the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, central and southern Russia. It's sweet and yellow and not only used for licorice all sorts but it's also a skincare superstar thanks to two magic properties:
Nr. 1 magic property is that it has skin-lightening or to say it another way depigmenting properties. The most active part is called glabridin. The topical application (meaning when you put it on your face) of 0.5% glabridin was shown to inhibit UVB caused pigmentation of guinea pigs. Another study even suggested that licorice is more effective than the gold standard skin-lightening agent hydroquinone. All in all, licorice is considered to be one of the safest skin lightening agents with the fewest side effects.
There is just one catch regarding glabridin and licorice: the amount of glabridin in commercial licorice extracts can vary a lot. We have seen extracts with only 4% glabridin as well as 40% glabridin. The latter one is a very-very expensive ingredient, so if you are after the depigmenting properties try to choose a product that boasts its high-quality licorice extract.
Nr. 2 magic property is that licorice is a potent anti-inflammatory. Glabridin has also some soothing properties but the main active anti-inflammatory component is glycyrrhizin. It’s used to treat several skin diseases that are connected to inflammation including atopic dermatitis, rosacea or eczema.
Oh, and one more thing: glabridin seems to be also an antioxidant, which is just one more reason to be happy about licorice root extract on an ingredient list.
Bottom line: Licorice is a great skincare ingredient with significant depigmenting, anti-inflammatory and even some antioxidant properties. Be happy if it's on the ingredient list. :)
The essential oil coming from the rind of the orange (the sweet one). In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (83-97% for sweet orange peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).
Other than that, citrus peel also contains the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them mildly phototoxic. Orange peel contains less of it than some other citruses (like bergamot or lime), but still, be careful with it especially if it is in a product for daytime use.
The essential oil coming from the peel of the pink grapefruit. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (around 90% for grapefruit peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer). Similar to other essential oils, grapefruit peel has also antibacterial and antifungal acitivity.
Other than that, citrus peels contain the problematic compounds called furanocoumarins that make them (mildly) phototoxic. So be careful with grapefruit peel oil, especially if it's in a product for daytime use.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
- Green tea is one of the most researched natural ingredients
- The active parts are called polyphenols, or more precisely catechins (EGCG being the most abundant and most active catechin)
- There can be huge quality differences between green tea extracts. The good ones contain 50-90% catechins (and often make the product brown and give it a distinctive smell)
- Green tea is proven to be a great antioxidant, UV protectant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial
- Because of these awesome properties green tea is a great choice for anti-aging and also for skin diseases including rosacea, acne and atopic dermatitis
- 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
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little 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). The typical use level of Xantha Gum is below 1%, it is usually in the 0.1-0.5% range.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.
It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer.
Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.
All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.
Linalool is a super common fragrance ingredient. It’s kind of everywhere - both in plants and in cosmetic products. It’s part of 200 natural oils including lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, jasmine, geranium and it can be found in 90-95% of prestige perfumes on the market.
The problem with linalool is, that just like limonene it oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. That’s why a product containing linalool that has been opened for several months is more likely to be allergenic than a fresh one.
A study made in the UK with 483 people tested the allergic reaction to 3% oxidised linalool and 2.3% had positive test results.
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