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Judith Williams Serum Elixier Anti-Aging Retinol Expert

Serum Elixier Anti-Aging Retinol Expert

It stimulates cell proliferation and promotes the skin renewal process, old flakes of skin are removed and the growth of new skin cells is promoted. The result is a visibly renewed complexion and less wrinkles.
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Judith Williams Serum Elixier Anti-Aging Retinol Expert
Ingredients explained

Also-called: 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. 

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. 

Also-called: Soybean Oil | What-it-does: emollient, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 3

The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is considered to be a nice, cost-effective base oil with moisturizing properties. As for its fatty acid profile, it contains 48-59% barrier-repairing linoleic acid, 17-30% nourishing oleic acid and also some (4.5-11%) potentially anti-inflammatory linolenic acid

Glycerine - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol;Glycerin | 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: Shea Butter | What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling

Unless you live under a rock you must have heard about shea butter. It's probably the most hyped up natural butter in skincare today. It comes from the seeds of African Shea or Karite Trees and used as a magic moisturizer and emollient.

But it's not only a simple emollient, it regenerates and soothes the skin, protects it from external factors (such as UV rays or wind) and is also rich in antioxidants (among others vitamin A, E, F, quercetin and epigallocatechin gallate). If you are looking for rich emollient benefits + more, shea is hard to beat. 

Also-called: Macadamia Oil | What-it-does: emollient

The golden yellow oil coming from the Macadamia nut, a native Australian nut. Similar to other plant oils, it's loaded with emollient and nourishing fatty acids. It's a high oleic acid oil (50-67% oleic acid and only 0-5% linoleic acid) that makes it very emollient and ideal for dry skin types.

Its unique property is that it contains high amounts of a rare fatty acid called palmitoleic acid (12-25%) that give Macadamia oil a "cushiony" feel. It's also easily absorbed and makes the skin soft and supple. 

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

A fatty alcohol (the non-drying type with a long oil loving chain of 22 carbon atoms) that is used to increase the viscosity of the formula and it also helps the oily and the watery parts to stay nicely mixed together (called emulsion stabilizing). 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A 100% vegetable origin, biodegradable, mild cleansing agent that gives moderate to high amount of foam. It's happy to work together with other surfactants (in general, that helps to create milder formulas). 

A little helper ingredient that can boost the performance and enhance the delivery of active ingredients in a formula. It can penetrate deep layers of the skin helping actives to do the same.

It's especially useful to help active ingredients for self-tanning (DHA), anti-acne or skin-whitening to penetrate deeper and work better.

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Granactive Retinoid, HPR, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) is the newest member of the "royal family of skincare" (see who is who on this cool retinoids family tree), the retinoid family. The queen of the family is the FDA-approved anti-aging superstar, retinoic acid, aka tretinoin and HPR seems to be a gentle but influential sister princess to the queen.

Good to know: the trade name of HPR is Granactive Retinoid. The manufacturer produces it as 10% active and 90% solvent called dimethyl isosorbide. When a product claims 2% Granactive Retinoid, it means 0.2% Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (and 1.8% dimethyl isosorbide) on the ingredient list. 

It's a so-called retinoic acid ester, meaning that it's directly related to retinoic acid. If you've already read our description about retinol or retinyl palmitate, you know that the active ingredient our skin cells can interpret is retinoic acid. Other forms of retinoids have to be converted by our metabolic machinery to do something. That's not the case with HPR.  It binds directly to the retinoid receptors of the skin cells to work its skincare magic. 

The big promise of HPR is that it's similarly active as retinoic acid (no conversion needed, remember) but without the irritation. According to the manufacturer's tests, 24 hours of an occlusive patch with 0.5% HPR resulted in significantly lower irritation than 0.5% retinol.  Also, there was a "dramatic reduction of lines and wrinkles" after applying 0.2% HPR around the eyes twice a day for 14 days.

These results sound sooo promising that we don't blame you if you wanna run out right now and get an HPR formula to slather on your face.  But, before you do, you have to know that the info we have about HPR at the moment is mainly from the manufacturer, whose tests may or may not be accurate or properly designed (such as controlled, double-blind and conducted on an appropriate number of people). 

As HPR is pretty new there isn't that much independent research we could find yet. We found two Italian studies both examining the efficacy of HPR combined with other things (retinol in both cases, and papain in one of them) for the treatment of acne. Both studies found the formulas effective but they contained other things too, so it's hard to judge how well HPR did.

Regarding anti-aging, there is a pretty recent, Estee Lauder sponsored study that compared the in-vitro (not on real human beings but on skin models) collagen-boosting effectiveness of Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, tretinoin, good old retinol and retinyl palmitate (RP). The results are pretty encouraging showing that  "HPR had greater levels of gene transcription than retinol and RP (RP) at the same concentrations ... however, HPR did not achieve gene transcription levels of ATRA (tretinoin)."  But, a much higher dose might be tolerated from HPR and the highest dose of HPR out-performed tretinoin. Pretty encouraging, though we are very much waiting for a study to confirm all this on real human beings.  

Bottom line: We are really happy to see some innovation happening with retinoids, and we think Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate is a super promising rising star, but it’s not fully proven yet. If you are someone who likes to experiment and try out the newest things, grab your running shoes and try some HPR containing serum now (see product list below :)). If you like the tried and true, however, stick to retinol and tretinoin for now and re-examine the question in a couple of years when (hopefully) more research will be available. 

Are you into Retinoids? Read our shiny description about other members of the retinoid family: 

It's a little helper ingredient coming from corn, rice or potato starch that can help to keep skin mat (absorbent), to stabilise emulsions, and to keep the product together (binding). 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emollient

The combination of glycerin + two behenic acid molecules that works as an oil-gelling agent, emulsion stabilizer, and high-performance compacting agent in pressed powders. We wrote a bit more at its little sis, glyceryl behenate.

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). 

What-it-does: preservative

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.

What-it-does: preservative

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.

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

Parfum - 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.  

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!). 

Linalool - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, deodorant

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. 

What-it-does: perfuming

It’s a common fragrance ingredient that has a light floral smell.  It’s one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.

Geraniol - icky
What-it-does: perfuming

Geraniol is a common fragrance ingredient. It smells like rose and can be found in rose oil or in small quantities in geranium, lemon and many other essential oils. 

Just like other similar fragrance ingredients (like linalool and limonene) geraniol also oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. Best to avoid if you have sensitive skin.

Limonene - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, solvent, deodorant

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.  

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 emollient | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 3
The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is rich in barrier repairing linoleic acid (48-59%) and is generally a good moisturizing oil. [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 emollient | viscosity controlling
Shea butter that's considered to be a magic moisturizer and emollient. It is also soothing and rich in antioxidants. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
The golden yellow oil coming from the Macadamia nut, a native Australian nut. Similar to other plant oils, it's loaded with emollient and nourishing fatty acids. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
A fatty alcohol (the non-drying type) that is used to increase the viscosity of the formula and stabilize emulsions. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing
A 100% vegetable origin, biodegradable, mild cleansing agent that gives moderate to high amount of foam. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | viscosity controlling
A helper ingredient that can boost the performance and enhance the delivery of active ingredients. It can penetrate deep layers of the skin helping actives to do the same. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Vitamin A - the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC that can smooth wrinkles and make skin firmer. It might also be useful for acne-prone skin as it normalizes keratinization. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
The newest member of the retinoid family. Its big promise is that it's similarly active as retinoic acid but without the irritation. For now, it's a very promising but not properly proven active both for anti-aging and acne treatment. [more]
It's a little helper ingredient coming from corn, rice or potato starch that can help to keep skin mat (absorbent), to stabilise emulsions, and to keep the product together (binding). 
what‑it‑does chelating
what‑it‑does emollient
The combination of glycerin + two behenic acid molecules that works as an oil-gelling agent, emulsion stabilizer, and high-performance compacting agent in pressed powders.
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi. Has to be combined with other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A not so strong preservative that doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [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]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A super common fragrance ingredient that can be found among others in lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot or jasmine. The downside of it is that it oxidises on air exposure and might become allergenic. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that has a light floral smell.  It’s one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A common fragrance ingredient that smells like rose and can be found in rose oil. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming | solvent
A super common fragrance ingredient found naturally in many plants including citrus peel oils, rosemary or lavender. It autoxidizes on air exposure and counts as a common skin sensitizer. [more]