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.
A vegetable-based emollient ester (oleyl alcohol + erucic acid) that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It has a rich and caring skin feel, very similar to jojoba oil.
- A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
- Super common, used for more than 50 years
- Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
- High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
It seems to us that squalane is in fashion and there is a reason for it. Chemically speaking, it is a saturated (no double bonds) hydrocarbon (a molecule consisting only of carbon and hydrogen), meaning that it's a nice and stable oily liquid with a long shelf life.
It occurs naturally in certain fish and plant oils (e.g. olive), and in the sebum (the oily stuff our skin produces) of the human skin. As f.c. puts it in his awesome blog post, squalane's main things are "emolliency, surface occlusion, and TEWL prevention all with extreme cosmetic elegance". In other words, it's a superb moisturizer that makes your skin nice and smooth, without being heavy or greasy.
Another advantage of squalane is that it is pretty much compatible with all skin types and skin conditions. It is excellent for acne-prone skin and safe to use even if you have fungi-related skin issues, like seborrhea or fungal acne.
The unsaturated (with double bonds) and hence less stable version of Squalane is Squalene, you can read about it here >>
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.
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.
The oil coming from the seeds of the nice, little, yellow-flowered plant called Evening Primrose. Similar to other plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing and moisturizing fatty acids. It's a very rich source of linoleic acid (66-76%), and also contains the soothing and healing superstar fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (aka GLA, 7-12%) (Btw, the richest known source of GLA is the borage oil, but evening primrose still counts as a very good source of it). It also contains oleic acid, but not too much around 6-15%.
Since the 1980's, EPO is a well-known food supplement and there are quite a lot of studies examining what happens if you take it orally. It seems to be helpful with a bunch of things: atopic dermatitis, dry eyes, brittle nails, sunburn and even acne.
As for the skin, it's a great hydrating plant oil, that can also reduce inflammation and irritation. It's a superb healing agent that can truly help dry skin, not just on the surface by covering it (and not letting water to evaporate) but by initiating structural changes within the skin. If that's not enough, it also helps skin cell regeneration.
All in all, a real goodie especially for dry, easily irritated skin.
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 white to beige powder that helps oil and water to mix nicely together (aka oil in water emulsifier). It is a good emulsifier choice for stable water-resistant sunscreen formulas.
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.
It's a waxy emollient with a melting point near to skin temperature. It gives body and consistency to the formula and leaves a velvety feel on the skin.
It has a high comedogenicity index (5 out of 5), so it might clog pores if you are prone to it. Famous dermatologist, Dr. Leslie Baumann also writes in her book, The Skin Type Solution to avoid this ingredient if you are acne-prone.
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.
A biologically active component that can be found in rice bran oil. It has natural antioxidant properties and can help to stabilize other unstable plant oils. Interestingly, it also seems to possess some natural sunscreen abilities.
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.
A linoleic acid (aka omega-6 fatty acid) stabilized under a ceramide-like structure. It's a bioengineered ingredient obtained by solvent-free enzymatic synthesis from the linoleic-rich safflower oil.
Omega-6 Ceramide is claimed to have barrier repairing (by increasing cellular cohesion) and skin soothing activity and is especially recommended for damaged skin.
An Ecocert-approved, natural preservative that counts as gentle and non-irritating to the skin. Usually, it comes to the formula as part of a preservative blend as it's not enough on its own.
A glycerin and lauric acid derived multi-functional ingredient that works as a co-emulsifier (helps water and oil to mix together next to other emulsifiers), emollient (makes skin nice and smooth) and anti-microbial agent (preservative booster). It also has some thickening and refatting properties in cleansing formulas.
It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMF, hyaluronic 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".
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).
- 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
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little of 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).
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).
Sweet, exotic and floral, it’ no surprise that Ylang Ylang is a popular essential oil. It is coming from the yellow, fragrant flowers of the Cananga tree native to tropical Asia and, similar to other essential oils, it is a chemically complex mixture with several pros and cons.
Unfortunately, these are a bit tricky to pin down as the composition varies largely depending on where it is sourced, how the oil is extracted and the grade of it that is used in the product, but we’ll do our best!
Let’s start with the easy stuff. The main components are fragrant molecules, including super common linalool (1-19%), benzyl benzoate (2-10%) and several others adding up to a max amount of 37.6% of EU sensitizers. The most expensive Extra grade is the most fragrant (has more benzyl acetate and cresyl methyl ether) and is used in high-end perfumes, while the First and Second grades are less fragrant, and used mainly in cosmetics.
Other than smelling nice and making cosmetic formulas also smell nice, Ylang Ylang might have some antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits and also works as an insect repellent. Its nice smell is also commonly known as being relaxing and calming (also backed up by a few recent studies), but it is an aromatherapy use case (when inhaled) so this probably does not count much skincare-wise.
On the other hand, the nice smell also means allergen fragrant components and 37.6% of EU sensitizers counts as quite high and the oil is considered to have high skin sensitization potential. It is a good idea to avoid if your skin is sensitive.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A common fragrance ingredient that has a faint sweet balsamic smell. It can also be a solvent and can fight against microbes and insects very well.
It's one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.
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.
Citronellol is a very common fragrance ingredient with a nice rose-like odor. In the UK, it’s actually the third most often listed perfume on the ingredient lists.
It can be naturally found in geranium oil (about 30%) or rose oil (about 25%).
As with all fragrance ingredients, citronellol can also cause allergic contact dermatitis and should be avoided if you have perfume allergy. In a 2001 worldwide study with 178 people with known sensitization to fragrances citronellol tested positive in 5.6% of the cases.
There is no known anti-aging or positive skin benefits of the ingredient. It’s in our products to make it smell nice.
With a sweet, light and floral scent, Farnesol is a popular fragrancing ingredient to make your cosmetics that bit nicer to use. It starts its life as a colorless liquid that can either be synthetically created or extracted from loads of plants like citronella, neroli, ylang-ylang, and tuberose.
The reason we list it as icky is because Farnesol is one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labeled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential, so it is best avoided if you have super sensitive skin.
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.
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.
Copy and paste into your blog
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|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient|
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|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||2, 0-5|
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|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
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