Follow us on our new Insta page »
Joanna Vargas Twilight Face Mask

Twilight Face Mask

This deep conditioning mask delivers Epidermal Growth Factor to promote optimal vibrancy and skin resilience. Made with bamboo, this sheet mask will reverse negative effects from the sun and is perfect post-peel or laser treatment to heal the skin.
Uploaded by: smr on

Joanna Vargas Twilight Face Mask
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. 

Expand to read more

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: soothing, astringent

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 >>

Also-called: Epidermal Growth Factor, EGF, rh-Oligopeptide-1;SH-Oligopeptide-1 | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

Sh-Oligopeptide-1 is the famous molecule, which is also called Epidermal Growth Factor or EGF. Chemically speaking, Growth Factors are largish peptides or smallish proteins, or to put it in another way, medium-length amino acid sequences (EGF consists of 53 amino acids).  Biologically speaking, Growth Factors are cellular signal molecules that can stimulate cell growth, proliferation, healing and/or differentiation. 

There are lots of Growth Factors and EGF is just one of them. The topic of "Growth Factors and skincare" is a big, confusing and controversial one and we will try our best to summarize the story for you, including the pros and the cons. 

Expand to read more

EGF is a special snowflake when it comes to skincare as it was the first Growth Factor that made its way into cosmetic products and it is also the most common one. The American biochemist, Stanley Cohen discovered EGF and was awarded a Noble prize in 1986 for it. As the Noble prize may signify, the molecule is significant and powerful and directly stimulates the proliferation of epidermal cells. 

When it comes to Sh-Oligopeptide-1 in a cosmetic product, it has pretty well-established wound healing and skin renewal properties. It might even do more than that. According to a 2012 study on a serum containing barley bioengineered epidermal growth factor, "clinical evaluations showed statistically significant improvement in the appearance of fine lines and rhytids, skin texture, pore size, and various dyschromatic conditions apparent within the first month of use, and continuing improvement trends for the duration of the study" (which was 3 months).

This all sounds amazing, "give me some EGF Serum", we can hear you say! But as we wrote in the intro, the topic is complex and controversial so here are some of the questions that keep coming up around slathering EGF all over our face. 

The first and biggest concern is that if EGF is so good at stimulating cell proliferation, how does it relate to cancer? Is the definition of cancer not "cells proliferating out of control"?  Most experts agree on this answer: EGF is mitogenic (= stimulates cell proliferation) but not mutagenic (= does not alter the cell to make it cancerous)If you do not have cancer, you will not get cancer from EGF. However, if you have cancerous cells, EGF will help them to spread, just like it helps healthy cells. So if you have a lot of moles, excessive UV exposure in the past, or if you have any of the skin cancer risk factors, we suggest you should think twice about using EGF products. The same is true if you have psoriasis, a skin disease related to the abnormal growth of epidermal skin cells. You do not want to add fuel to the fire with EGF. 

Other (less serious) concerns are if EGF can properly penetrate the skin (as it is a medium-sized, polar molecule, so a special delivery system is probably needed), if it can affect collagen synthesis (or just works on the surface plumping up only the upmost layers of the skin) and if it has beneficial effects at all when used in isolation versus when used in a "conditioned media" that contains lots of growth factors resembling the synergistic balance found in the skin. 

Overall, our impression is that EGF is definitely a potent molecule. Some EGF products have a cult-like following adding anecdotal evidence to the clinical studies showing EGF has a beneficial effect on the skin. If you like experimenting, by all means, go ahead (unless you have psoriasis or high skin cancer risk factors), but if you are a better safe than sorry type, stick to daily SPF + a good retinoid product. This duo is still the golden standard of anti-aging.

Are you interested in Growth Factors and skincare? We have some more here:

Arbutin - goodie
Also-called: Beta-Arbutin | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

A pretty well-known and often used ingredient with the magic ability to fade brown spots. It's used traditionally in Japan and can be found naturally in a couple of plants, including the leaves of pear trees, wheat and bearberry

Arbutin seems to work its magic and hinder the pigmentation process at the second step of it. An enzyme called tyrosinase is needed to create melanin (the pigment that causes the brown spots) and while several other skin lightening agents work to inhibit the synthesis of tyrosinase itself (like vitamin C or licorice), arbutin lets tyrosinase be and rather hinders the melanin-forming activity of the enzyme. (So it might be a good idea to combine arbutin with some direct tyrosinase inhibitors for more skin lightening effect.)

Expand to read more

All in all, arbutin is one of the better-known skin brightening agents, that's probably worth a try if pigmentation is an issue for you.

Also-called: vitamin B3, nicotinamide | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient, skin brightening, anti-acne, moisturizer/humectant
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Niacinamide here >>

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A corn sugar derived, water-soluble, pale yellow syrup, that nicely moisturizes the skin. It has a light and smooth skin feel, it is non-tacky, and it can improve the after-feel of the formula. It is also mild and gentle, popular in sensitive skin formulas.

Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

Also-called: Corn Kernel Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic 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". 

Expand to read more

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).

Also-called: Syn-Coll | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

A tripeptide (three amino acids attached to each other: Lys-Val-Lys) that's claimed to protect and boost collagen and improve skin texture.

The manufacturer did an in-vivo (made on real people) study with 45 volunteers and found that used twice daily for 84 days 1% and 2.5% Syn-Coll reduces the appearance of wrinkles by 7 and 12% respectively. In another study (also by the manufacturer) with 33 female Chinese volunteers, 77% of the participants felt that Syn-Coll visibly improved the firmness and elasticity of the skin after 4 weeks. What's more, 60% of the participants also noticed a reduction in the look of the pore size also after 4 weeks of treatment. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emulsion stabilising

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Licorice | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant

The salt form of one of the main anti-inflammatory ingredients in the licorice plant, monoammonium glycyrrhizinate. It’s a yellowish powder with a nice sweet smell. 

It’s used mainly for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, but according to manufacturer info, it’s also sebum regulating so it's a perfect ingredient for problem skin products. 

Expand to read more

Read more about licorice and why it's a skincare superstar here. 

Allantoin - goodie
What-it-does: soothing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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.

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.

Expand to read more

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 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 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). 

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. 

Expand to read more

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: 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. 

Expand to read more

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.

What-it-does: preservative, deodorant

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

Fragrance - icky
Also-called: Fragrance, Parfum;Parfum/Fragrance | What-it-does: perfuming

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 then fragrance is not your best friend - there's no way to know what’s really in it.  

Expand to read more

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!). 

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 soothing
The distillate created from the hazelnut-bush-like magic tree, commonly called Witch Hazel. It might have astringent, soothing, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Epidermal Growth Factor - a smallish protein that works as a potent cell signaling molecule. It stimulates cell proliferation, wound healing and skin renewal. Do not use if you have psoriasis or high skin cancer risk factors. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening
One of the better-known skin brightening agents that's found naturally for example in bearberry. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient | skin brightening | anti-acne | moisturizer/humectant
A multi-functional skincare superstar that has clinically proven anti-aging, skin lightening, anti-inflammatory and barrier repair properties. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A corn sugar-derived, water-soluble, pale yellow syrup, that nicely moisturizes the skin. It has a light and smooth skin feel. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Syn-Coll - An anti-aging tripeptide that's claimed to protect and boost collagen and improve skin texture. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
The salt form of one of the main anti-inflammatory ingredients in the licorice plant, monoammonium glycyrrhizinate. It’s a yellowish powder with a nice sweet smell.  It’s used mainly for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, but according to manufacturer info, it’s also sebum regulating so it' [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
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' [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]
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 | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [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 preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
It can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
The generic term for nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. It is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average. [more]