Hydraphase Intense Serum
La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Intense 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.
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.
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.
- It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
- It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
- It can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list
- Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion (read more in geeky details tab)
- 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
Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane is a silicone that is water dispersible (as opposed to most other silicones that are usually oil dispersible). It makes the skin smooth and nice (emollient), moisturizes, helps to reduce tackiness, and also has some foam boosting properties. It is often used in light, watery formulas to give them an extra silky feel.
The famous or maybe rather infamous mineral oil. The clear oily liquid that is the "cheap by-product" of refining crude oil and the one that gets a lot of heat for its poor provenance. It is a very controversial ingredient with pros and cons and plenty of myths around it. So let us see them:
The pros of mineral oil
Trust us, if something is used for more than 100 years in cosmetic products, it has advantages. Chemically speaking, cosmetic grade mineral oil is a complex mixture of highly refined saturated hydrocarbons with C15-50 chain length. It is not merely a "by-product" but rather a specifically isolated part of petroleum that is very pure and inert.
It is a great emollient and moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. Occlusivity is one of the basic mechanisms of how moisturizers work and it means that mineral oil sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called trans-epidermal water loss, i.e water evaporating out of your skin. When compared to heavy-duty plant oil, extra virgin coconut oil, the two of them were equally efficient and safe as moisturizers in treating xerosis, a skin condition connected to very dry skin.
The other thing that mineral oil is really good at is being non-irritating to the skin. The chemical composition of plant oils is more complex with many more possible allergens or irritating components, while mineral oil is simple, pure and sensitivity to it is extremely rare. If you check out the classic French pharmacy brands and their moisturizers for the most sensitive, allergy prone skin, they usually contain mineral oil. This is no coincidence.
The cons of mineral oil
The pros of mineral oil can be interpreted as cons if we look at them from another perspective. Not penetrating the skin but mostly just sitting on top of it and not containing biologically active components, like nice fatty acids and vitamins mean that mineral oil does not "nourish" the skin in the way plant oils do. Mineral oil does not give the skin any extra goodness, it is simply a non-irritating moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity.
The myths around mineral oil
Badmouthing mineral oil is a favorite sport of many, it is a cheap material and being connected to petrolatum makes it fairly easy to demonize.
While it is true that industrial grade mineral oil contains carcinogenic components (so-called polycyclic compounds), these are completely removed from cosmetic and food grade mineral oil and there is no scientific data showing that the pure, cosmetic grade version is carcinogenic.
What is more, in terms of the general health effects of mineral oils used in cosmetics, a 2017 study reviewed the data on their skin penetration and concluded that "the cosmetic use of mineral oils and waxes does not present a risk to consumers due to a lack of systemic exposure."
Another super common myth surrounding mineral oil is that it is comedogenic. A 2005 study titled "Is mineral oil comedogenic?" examined this very question and guess what happened? The study concluded that "based on the animal and human data reported, along with the AAD recommendation, it would appear reasonable to conclude that mineral oil is noncomedogenic in humans."
Overall, we feel that the scaremongering around mineral oil is not justified. For dry and super-sensitive skin types it is a great option. However, if you do not like its origin or its heavy feeling or anything else about it, avoiding it has never been easier. Mineral oil has such a bad reputation nowadays that cosmetic companies hardly dare to use it anymore.
A big molecule created from repeated subunits (a polymer of acrylic acid) that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. It usually has to be neutralized with a base (such as sodium hydroxide) for the thickening to occur and it creates viscous, clear gels that also feel nice and non-tacky on the skin. No wonder, it is a very popular and common ingredient.
The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right.
For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.
BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.
Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.
A semi-essential (infants cannot synthesize it, but adults can) amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of hair keratin and skin collagen. It's a natural moisturizing factor, a skin hydrator and might also help to speed up wound healing.
Arginine usually has a positive charge (cationic) that makes it substantive to skin and hair (those are more negatively charged surfaces) and an excellent film former. Thanks to the positive charge, it also creates a complex with AHAs (AHAs like to lose a hydrogen ion and be negatively charged, so the positive and the negative ions attract each other) that causes a "time-release AHA effect" and reduces the irritation associated with AHAs.
PCA stands for Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid and though it might not sound like it, it is a thing that can be found naturally in our skin. In fact, after amino acids, it is the second biggest NMF component of the skin with 12% being PCA of the NMF composition of normal skin. So similar to other NMFs, it's a skin goodie that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated.
Serine is an amino acid that most often comes to the formula as part of a moisturizing complex. It's a non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can synthesize it) and serves as a water-binding ingredient.
In general, amino acids are great skincare ingredients that play an important role in proper skin hydration but there is not much info out there about what specifically serine can do for the skin.
So now you know that because pure vitamin C is such a diva (very unstable and hard to formulate) the cosmetic industry is trying to come up with some derivatives that have the badass anti-aging properties of vitamin C (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) but without the disadvantages. This is a hard task, and there is not yet a derivative that is really proven to be better in every aspect, but Ascorbyl Glucoside is one of the best options when it comes to vitamin C derivatives. Let's see why:
First, it's really stable and easy to formulate, so the problems that come with pure vitamin C are solved here.
Second, in vitro (meaning made in the lab, not on real humans) studies show that ascorbyl glucoside can penetrate the skin. This is kind of important for an anti-aging ingredient to do the job, so this is good news, though in-vivo (made on real humans) studies are still needed.
Third, in-vitro studies show that after ascorbyl glucoside is absorbed into the skin it is converted to pure vitamin C (though the rate of conversion is still a question mark). It also shows all the three anti-aging benefits (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) that pure vitamin C does.
Bottom line: ascorbyl glucoside is one of the best and most promising vitamin C derivatives that shows similar benefits to that of pure vitamin C, but it's less proven (in vivo vs. in vitro studies) and the extent of the benefits are also not the same.
There is not much info about this guy in itself other than it helps to thicken up products and stabilize oil-in-water emulsions. It usually comes to the formula as part of some thickener complex. For example, coupled with isohexadecane and polysorbate 80, the trio forms an instant gel upon mixing with water.
Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid is a low molecular weight, chemically chopped up version of the naturally big molecule and current IT-moisturizer, Hyaluronic Acid (HA). 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 retain water, making it plump and elastic. As HA is a polymer, the subunits can be repeated many times (as a high-molecular-weight version), or just a few times (as a low-molecular-weight version).
We wrote in detail at HA about how different molecular weight versions do different things both as a component of the skin and as a skincare ingredient, so click here and read about all the details. Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid can also come in different molecular-weight versions with different properties:
- 100-300 kDa version: apart from moisturizing, this size might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense. It is also claimed to boost the wound healing process and is especially helpful for sensitive skin types (acne, rosacea, inflammation-related skin diseases).
- 50k Da version: this is the size that is claimed to be able to absorb into the skin and plump up wrinkles, so it is used mainly as an "anti-aging ingredient"
- below 50k, around 10k Da version: there is a Japanese version trade named Hyalo-Oligo that has only a 10k molecular weight and is claimed to penetrate the skin very well, have a unique touch and give deep and long-lasting moisturization. Based on the Evonik-research and the natural role of LMW-HA in the body working as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule, this ultra-low molecular weight version is a controversial ingredient.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert, you can read much 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).
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).
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.
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!).
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|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | moisturizer/humectant | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|