White Lightening Complex
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.
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.
- It’s naturally in our skin and behaves there like a sponge
- It can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water
- Awesome moisturizer and has other important biological functions
- Different molecular weight versions exist and that raises questions
- Skin penetration abilities of high-molecular-weight HA is debated (see geeky details for more info)
- Usefulness of low-molecular-weight HA is also debated (see geeky details for more info)
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is a stable, oil-soluble form of skincare big shot Vitamin C. If you do not know, why Vitamin C is such a big deal in skincare, click here and read all about it. We are massive vitamin C fans and have written about it in excruciating detail.
So now, you know that Vitamin C is great and all but, it's really unstable and gives cosmetics companies many headaches. To solve this problem they came up with vitamin C derivatives, and one of them is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (let's call it ATIP in short).
It's a really promising candidate (see below), but while reading all the goodness about it in a minute, do not forget that derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin but also have to be converted to pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid or AA) and the efficacy of the conversion is often unknown. In addition, vitamin C's three magic properties (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener) are all properly proven in-vivo (on real people), but for the derivatives, it's mostly in-vitro studies or in the case of ATIP, it's in-vitro and done by an ingredient supplier.
With this context in mind let's see what ATIP might be able to do. First, it is stable (if pH < 5), easy to formulate and a joy to work with for a cosmetic chemist.
Second, because it's oil-soluble, its skin penetration abilities seem to be great. So great in fact, that it surpasses the penetration of pure vitamin C threefold at the same concentration and it penetrates successfully into the deeper layers of the skin (that is usually important to do some anti-aging work). There is also in-vitro data showing that it converts to AA in the skin.
Third, ATIP seems to have all three magic abilities of pure vitamin C: it gives antioxidant protection from both UVB and UVA rays, it increases collagen synthesis (even more than AA) and it has a skin brightening effect by reducing melanogenesis by more than 80% in human melanoma cell cultures.
So this all sounds really great, but these are only in-vitro results at this point. We could find Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate mentioned only in one published in-vivo study that examined the anti-aging properties of a silicone formula containing 10% AA and 7% ATIP. The authors theorized that the 10% AA is released slowly from the silicon delivery system and probably stays in the upper layer of the skin to give antioxidant benefits, while ATIP penetrates more rapidly and deeply and gives some wrinkle-reducing benefits. The study was a small (10 patients), double-blind experiment, and the formula did show some measurable anti-aging results. However, it is hard to know how much pure vitamin C or ATIP can be thanked.
Bottom line: a really promising, but not well-proven vitamin C derivative that can be worth a try especially if you like experimenting (but if you like the tried and true, pure vitamin C will be your best bet).
- A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
- Super common, used for more than 50 years
- Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
- High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Squalane is a real goodie with great skin hydrating and emollient properties.
It occurs naturally in certain fish and plant oils, and in the sebum (the oily stuff our skin produces) of the human skin. The latter makes it an important skin-identical ingredient and a NMF (natural moisturizing factor).
It helps to protect the skin barrier and even demonstrates some antioxidant properties. It does not clog pores and leaves a non-greasy, non-heavy feeling on the skin.
Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene, a lighter, more stable and less oxidative version of it. That’s why, it shows up more often in the ingredient lists.
You can read all about squalene here.
A subtropical plant that thrives in flooded environments and is claimed to give excellent long-term moisturizing effects. Its hydrating ability is due to the chemical composition of the rhizomes that contain natural osmoprotective compounds such as 3-dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), potassium, starches, and sugars.
Osmoprotective compounds are interesting, skincare-wise, as they are thought to be able to increase intracellular osmosis, meaning water is drawn into the skin cells. According to the efficacy data from the manufacturer, 2% of ABS Imperata Cylindrica Extract (the trade name of the diluted version of the root extract) is able to increase the level of skin moisturization by almost 45%, which is 88% more effective than the untreated control.
This all sounds great, however, in terms of comparative effectiveness, Imperata Cylindrica came up somewhat short in the study published in the Journal of cosmetic dermatology. They compared four hydrogels with different moisturizer actives and although all the formulas did hydrate the skin, the one with Imperata Cylindrica extract performed less well than the same formula with urea or sugar-based hydrating trio, called Aquaxyl.
Still, it is a skin goodie with nice moisturizing properties, so if you are after skin hydration, it is a good one to spot on the INCI list.
A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
It can be produced from most vegetable oils 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".
Researching the difference between the two kinds of arbutin, you can read in multiple places on the internet that alpha-arbutin is stronger in effect. Unfortunately, it's never backed up with a credible source. :( Our own research resulted in conflicting results: a study from 1995 found that alpha-arbutin is 10x as effective on mouse melanoma as beta-arbutin. On the other hand, a more recent study from 2015 found that beta-arbutin is more effective both on mouse melanoma cells and on human melanoma cells (btw, kojic acid was the most effective on human melanoma cells).
None of the studies we could find is in-vivo (made on real people) anyways, so who knows. We think you cannot go wrong with trying both beta- and alpha-arbutin and see if one works better for you than the other.
A very common water-loving surfactant and emulsifier that helps to keep water and oil mixed nicely together.
It's often paired with glyceryl stearate - the two together form a super effective emulsifier duo that's salt and acid tolerant and works over a wide pH range. It also gives a "pleasing product aesthetics", so no wonder it's popular.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right. It’s very alkaline (you know the opposite of being very acidic): a 1% solution has a pH of around 10.
It does not have the very best safety reputation but in general, you do not have to worry about it.
What is true is that if a product contains so-called N-nitrogenating agents (e.g.: preservatives like 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, 5-Bromo-5-Nitro- 1,3-Dioxane or sodium nitrate - so look out for things with nitro, nitra in the name) that together with TEA can form some not nice carcinogenic stuff (that is called nitrosamines). But with proper formulation that does not happen, TEA in itself is not a bad guy.
But let’s assume a bad combination of ingredients were used and the nitrosamines formed. :( Even in that case you are probably fine because as far as we know it cannot penetrate the skin.
But to be on the safe side, if you see Triethanolamine in an INCI and also something with nitra, nitro in the name of it just skip the product, that cannot hurt.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
As you can see from the what-it-does list, it's a handy multi-tasker that can do quite many things. It's a white to light yellowish water-loving wax that works very well in oil-in-water emulsions. It not only stabilizes the formula but also helps to thicken it up.
Oh, and one more thing: it's a so-called fatty alcohol - the good, emollient type of alcohol that is non-drying.
A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient). It also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier) and to thicken up products.
It’s a so-called fatty alcohol (a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol - other two emollient fatty alcohols). Though alcohol is in its name, its properties are totally different from the properties of “normal” alcohol, or denat. alcohol. It’s not drying and not irritating and totally ok for the skin.
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. :)
Probably the cheapest and most common silicone of all. As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier on the skin. 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's the heaviest of all silicones used for hair care and smoothes the hair like no other thing. It can be a bit difficult to wash out.
A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives.
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.
It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize other ingredients.
The essential oil coming from the sweet orange. In the case of orange (and citruses in general), the essential oil is mainly in the peel of the fruit, so it's pretty much the same as the orange peel oil (also has the same CAS number - a unique ID assigned to chemicals).
Its main component is limonene (up to 97%), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners. If the product is too runny, a little of xanthan gum will help make it more gel-like. The slight problem with it though is that too much xanthan gum tends to make the product sticky.
BTW, it’s natural stuff produced from some sugars called glucose and sucrose. It’s approved by Ecocert and also used in foods (E415).
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.
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