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Laid bare Spot The Difference

Spot The Difference

Banishes blemishes and prevents breakouts.This treatment cream blends Caffeine - a valuable anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, Horse Chestnut Oil to care for and soothe sensitive skin while Fennel calms irritation and Chrysanthemum reduces lumps and bumps.This cream will not strip your skin of essential oils and hydration but will help to reduce shine.
Uploaded by: lilymay on

Laid bare Spot The Difference
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. 

Glycerin - superstar
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 >>

What-it-does: emulsifying | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 3

An oily kind of ingredient that can magically blend with water all by itself. This is called self-emulsifying and SE in its name stands for that.

The difference between "normal" Glyceryl Stearate and this guy is that the SE grade contains a small amount of water-loving soap molecules, such as sodium stearate. This increases Glyceryl Stearate's affinity for water and gives it stronger emulsifying abilities.    

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsifying, emulsion stabilising, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 1 | Comedogenicity: 2

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.

What-it-does: emollient

A super common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. It’s a nice ingredient that just feels good on the skin, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular. 

What-it-does: emollient, perfuming | Irritancy: 3 | Comedogenicity: 3-5

A  clear, colorless oil-like liquid that makes the skin feel smooth and nice (aka emollient) and it does so without it being greasy.

What's more, it can even reduce the heavy, greasy feel in products with high oil content. It's also fast-spreading meaning that it gives the formula a good, nice slip. It absorbs quickly into the skin and helps other ingredients to penetrate quicker and deeper. 

A sugar based emulsifier that's especially great for low viscosity lotions or even sprays. It's effective in small amounts, only 1-1.5% is needed to form an emulsion. The resulting cream or lotion has great cosmetic properties with good spreadability and an enhanced soft skin feel. 

It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically.

No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. Has to be combined with some other nice preservatives, like potassium sorbate to be broad spectrum enough.  

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

Also-called: Sweet Orange Peel Oil, Citrus Sinensis Oil | What-it-does: perfuming

The essential oil coming from the rind of the orange (the sweet one). In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (83-97% for sweet orange peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).

Other than that, citrus peel also contains the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them mildly phototoxic. Orange peel contains less of it than some other citruses (like bergamot or lime), but still, be careful with it especially if it is in a product for daytime use.  

Mannitol - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A type of sugar molecule, that has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated

Also-called: Mandarin Orange Oil, Tangor Oil | What-it-does: perfuming

The essential oil coming from the peel of the mandarin orange or tangor. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (77-86% for mandarin peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).  Apart from smelling nice (and thus being a popular natural fragrance alternative), Mandarin Orange Oil also has significant antioxidant properties that's comparable to synthetic antioxidant BHT or oil-soluble antioxidant big shot vitamin E

On the con side, the fragrant components of citrus peels might irritate sensitive skin and citrus peels also contain the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them (mildly) phototoxic. Orange mandarin peel contains less from it than some other citruses (like bergamot or lime), but still, be careful with it especially if it's in a product for daytime use.  

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). 

Also-called: Sunflower Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more  we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.

It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Geogard 111A | What-it-does: preservative

A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria. 

It is Ecocert and Cosmos approved, works quite well at low concentrations (0.1-0.6%) and is popular in natural products.

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

Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.

What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Caffeine - goodie
What-it-does: antioxidant, perfuming

Hello, our favorite molecule that helps us wake up in the morning and then keeps us going through the day. As a super well-known stimulant from coffee, tea and plenty of other soft drinks, Caffeine needs no introduction. So we will skip right to the part where we talk about what the hell it does in so-so many cosmetic products.

Looking at the research, we were surprised to find how versatile Caffeine is. It is a small, water-loving molecule with pretty good skin penetration abilties. Once in the skin, it has nice antioxidant properties, meaning that it reduces the formation of evil free radicals and it might even be useful in preventing UV-induced skin cancers. 

What-it-does: anti-acne, soothing, deodorant

If you are fighting acne and have looked into oral supplements, chances are that zinc gluconate sounds familiar to you. It is a zinc salt that has research proving it to be effective against inflammatory acne, though not quite as effective as the antibiotic minocycline (31.2% vs. 63.4% success rate). However, zinc supplements are easily available, have little-to-no side effects, so supplementing them with a 30mg per day dose can still be a good idea.

As for smearing zinc gluconate all over your face, it is also not a bad idea. Zinc has multiple magic abilities: it is antibacterial (including evil, acne-causing P. acnes) and sebum-regulating (5α-reductase inhibitor), great for acne-prone skin types. It also stimulates antioxidant enzyme systems (mainly superoxide dismutase) and has nice wound healing abilities acting mainly in the first, proliferation phase. So great for skin types in need of healing and soothing.

Also-called: Rosemary Leaf Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, antimicrobial/antibacterial

The extract coming from the lovely herb, rosemary. It contains lots of chemicals, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and diterpenes. Its main active is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It has also anti-bacterial, astringent and toning properties. 

The leaves contain a small amount of essential oil (1-2%) with fragrant components, so if you are allergic to fragrance, it might be better to avoid it. 

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.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Horse Chestnut | What-it-does: soothing

Horse Chestnut is an often-used ingredient thanks to a couple of nice magic properties. It contains the active ingredient called escin that helps to maintain healthy blood circulation and strengthen capillaries. This makes horse chestnut useful for rosacea-prone skin and it’s also often used in toners for a fresh skin feeling. 

It also has some anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties, so all in all, a nice one to spot on the ingredient list. 

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.

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. 

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.

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 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 emulsifying
irritancy, com. 2, 3
An oily ingredient that can magically blend with water all by itself (called Self Emulsifying). Other than that it’s a nice emollient that gives a smooth and soft appearance to the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 1, 2
A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A very common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. Comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | perfuming
irritancy, com. 3, 3-5
A clear, colorless oil-like liquid that's used as a fast-spreading, non-greasy emollient. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A sugar based emulsifier that's especially great for low viscosity lotions or even sprays. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically. No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. [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]
what‑it‑does perfuming
The essential oil coming from the rind of the orange. Its main component (83-97%) is limonene, the super common fragrant ingredient. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A type of sugar molecule, that has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated.  [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
The essential oil coming from the peel of the mandarin orange. Contains the fragrant component limonene (77-86%) and makes things smell nice. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Sunflower Oil - it's a great emollient that protects & enhances the skin barrier. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria. Popular in natural products.  [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
The famous aloe vera. A great moisturizer and anti-inflammatory ingredient that also helps wound healing and skin regeneration. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | perfuming
The well-known stimulant from coffee. It has nice antioxidant properties and can improve the microcirculation. Might be helpful for dark circles, puffy eyes, as well as cellulite and hair loss. [more]
what‑it‑does anti-acne | soothing
A zinc salt known for its soothing and wound healing properties as well as for its anti-acne properties.  [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing | antimicrobial/antibacterial
Rosemary leaf extract - Its main active is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It has also anti-bacterial, astringent and toning properties. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi. Has to be combined with other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
Horse Chestnut - contains the active called escin that helps to maintain healthy blood circulation and strengthen capillaries and veins. It also has some anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. [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 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
A not so strong preservative that doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. [more]