Shine Refine Mask
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.
Fuller's Earth describes types of clay that have absorbing and bleaching properties. The name comes from traditional textile workers cleaning or "fulling" wool with this clay. It consists mainly of the clay mineral called palygorskite (that's different both from kaolin or bentonite) or some type of bentonite (mainly calcium montmorillonite).
In cosmetic products, Fuller's Earth is used as an absorbent that can suck up excess oil from the skin. It's excellent absorbent properties also mean that too much of it can dry out the skin, so just like with bentonite, use it for good measure and moisturize after it.
An extremely common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams and lotions. It also helps to stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions), though it does not function as an emulsifier in itself. Its typical use level in most cream type formulas is 2-3%.
It’s a so-called fatty alcohol, a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, other two emollient fatty alcohols. Though chemically speaking, it is alcohol (as in, it has an -OH group in its molecule), its properties are totally different from the properties of low molecular weight or drying alcohols such as denat. alcohol. Fatty alcohols have a long oil-soluble (and thus emollient) tail part that makes them absolutely non-drying and non-irritating and are totally ok for the skin.
A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) 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".
A super common, medium-spreading emollient ester that gives richness to the formula and a mild feel during rubout. It can be a replacement for mineral oil and is often combined with other emollients to achieve different sensorial properties.
- 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
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.
A kind of polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that helps to create beautiful gel-like textures. It's also a texturizer and thickener for oil-in-water emulsions. It gives products a good skin feel and does not make the formula tacky or sticky.
It works over a wide pH range and is used between 0.5-1.2%.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
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 most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version.
According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E.
- It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
- It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores
- It's a potent anti-inflammatory agent
- It's more effective for treating blackheads than acne
- For acne combine it with antibacterial agents like benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid
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 than fragrance is not your best friend - 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!).
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.
It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne.
By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:
retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid
As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective.
What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.
Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here. It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA.
We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!
Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.
- It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
- It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
- It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
- In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
- Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
- Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
- 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
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.
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.
When it comes to sunscreen agents, Zinc Oxide is pretty much in a league of its own. It's a physical (or inorganic) sunscreen that has a lot in common with fellow inorganic sunscreen Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) but a couple of things make it superior even to TiO2.
If physical sunscreens don't tell you anything, go ahead and read about the basics here. Most of what we wrote about Titanium Dioxide is also true for Zinc Oxide so we will focus here on the differences.
The first main difference is that while TiO2 gives a nice broad spectrum protection, Zinc Oxide has an even nicer and even broader spectrum protection. It protects against UVB, UVA II, and UVA I almost uniformly, and is considered to be the broadest range sunscreen available today.
It's also highly stable and non-irritating. So much so that Zinc Oxide also counts as a skin protectant and anti-irritant. It's also often used to treat skin irritations such as diaper rash.
As for the disadvantages, Zinc Oxide is also not cosmetically elegant. It leaves a disturbing whitish tint on the skin, although, according to a 2000 research paper by Dr. Pinnell, it's slightly less white than TiO2. Still, it's white and disturbing enough to use Zinc Oxide nanoparticles more and more often.
We wrote more about nanoparticles and the concerns around them here, but the gist is that if nanoparticles were absorbed into the skin that would be a reason for legitimate health concerns. But luckily, so far research shows that sunscreen nanoparticles are not absorbed but remain on the surface of the skin or in the uppermost (dead) layer of the skin. This seems to be true even if the skin is damaged, for example, sunburnt.
All in all, if you've found a Zinc Oxide sunscreen that you are happy to use every single day, that's fantastic and we suggest you stick with it. It's definitely one of the best, or probably even the best option out there for sun protection available worldwide.
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