Maah skin Day CreamIngredients 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.
The emollient plant oil coming from the kernel (the seed of the seed) of the delicious apricot fruit. Like other plant oils, it contains antioxidant vitamin E and nourishing fatty acids (mostly oleic acid 54-74%, linoleic acid 12-35%).
It's a nice general purpose emollient, has nourishing and moisturizing properties (as a high oleic oil it's ideal for dry skin types) and is quite easily absorbed into the 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 common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
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.
Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.
It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%) and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil.
Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.
- 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
You probably know olive oil from the kitchen as a great and healthy option for salad dressing but it's also a great and healthy option to moisturize and nourish the skin, especially if it's on the dry side.
Similar to other emollient plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing fatty acids: oleic is the main component (55-83%), and also contains linoleic (3.5-20%) and palmitic acids (7-20%). It also contains antioxidant polyphenols, tocopherols (types of vitamin E) and carotenoids and it's one of the best plant sources of skin-identical emollient, Squalene.
Overall, a great option for dry skin but less so for acne-prone or damaged skin.
There is definitely some craze going on for coconut oil both in the healthy eating space (often claimed to be the healthiest oil to cook with but this is a topic for another site) and in the skin and hair care space.
We will talk here about the latter two and see why we might want to smear it all over ourselves. Chemically speaking, coconut oil has a unique fatty acid profile. Unlike many plant oils that mostly contain unsaturated fatty acids (fatty acids with double bonds and kinky structure such as linoleic or oleic), coconut oil is mostly saturated (fatty acids with single bonds only) and its most important fatty acid is Lauric Acid (about 50%). Saturated fatty acids have a linear structure that can stack nice and tight and hence they are normally solid at room temperature. Coconut oil melts around 25 °C so it is solid in the tub but melts on contact with the skin.
The saturated nature of coconut oil also means that it is a heavy-duty-oil ideal for dry skin types. A double-blind research confirmed that extra virgin coconut oil is as effective in treating xerosis (aka very dry skin) as mineral oil. Another study found that coconut oil is more effective than mineral oil in treating mild to moderate atopic dermatitis (aka eczema) in children.
So when it comes to dry skin, coconut oil is a goodie, no question there. The question is if it is good or bad for acne-prone skin. Its main fatty acid, Lauric Acid has some research showing that it is a promising ingredient against evil acne-causing bacteria, P. acnes but at the same time, both Lauric Acid and coconut oil have a very high comedogenic rating (4 out of 5). Though comedogenic ratings are not very reliable, anecdotal evidence (i.e. people commenting in forums) shows that people have mixed experiences. While some claim that it worked wonders on their acne others say that it gave them serious blackheads and zits. Try it at your own risk.
As for hair care, coconut oil has pretty solid research showing that it can penetrate into the hair very well (better than mineral oil and sunflower oil) and it can prevent hair protein loss as well as combing damage. If you have problems with damaged hair, split ends, coconut oil is worth trying as a pre- or/and post-wash treatment. Labmuffin has an awesome blogpost explaining in more detail why coconut oil is good for your hair.
A couple of other things worth mentioning: coconut oil might help with wound healing (promising animal study), it has some antifungal activity (against dermatophytes that cause the thing known as ringworm) and it also works as an insect repellent against black flies.
Overall, coconut oil is definitely a goodie for the hair and dry skin. If that warrants for the magic oil status it enjoys, we don't know.
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.
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.
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.
A common multi-tasker fatty acid. It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient), gives body to cream type products and helps to stabilize water and oil mixes (aka emulsions).
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.
When you hear oatmeal, you probably think of breakfast, but the finely ground version of whole oat kernels, aka colloidal oatmeal, can do good things for your skin, especially if it's dry, itchy or prone to skin-rashes or eczema.
Oat is loaded with compounds good for the body, inside or outside, such as soothing agent beta-glucan (5%), lipids (3-11%) including barrier repairing omega-3 and 6 fatty acids or phenolic antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents (avenanthramides).
The soothing, antioxidant and skin-protecting abilities of oat are so well-established that it is an active natural ingredient covered by the FDA OTC Skin Protectant monograph in the US, meaning that colloidal oatmeal can be claimed as an active ingredient on the INCI list and Aveeno is a mass-market brand built around oat-containing products.
If your skin is dry, irritated, inflamed or eczema-prone, colloidal oatmeal is something to try.
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically.
It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.
- 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 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).
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).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Also known as Sugarcane, Saccharum Officinarum is a handy moisturizing ingredient mostly used as a humectant. This means that it can help the skin to attract water and then to hold onto it.
It bears a close relationship to AHA superstar, Glycolic Acid that can be derived from it, so it's often claimed that Sugarcane Extract itself also exfoliates and brightens the skin. We could not find any research studies to back this up, but Saccharum Officinarum very often comes to the formula combined with other acid containing plant extracts trade named ACB Fruit Mix. According to manufacturer data, 5% of the fruit mix increases cellular renewal by 24%, while 4% pure Glycolic did the same by 33%. So maybe, a tiny bit of exfoliation, but if you want proven efficacy, stick to pure acids.
We have to start by writing that there are about 900 citrus species in the world, and plenty of them are used to make different kinds of extracts used in cosmetics. This particular one, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Fruit Extract is a very common ingredient, however, the species "Citrus Aurantium Dulcis" seem to exist only on ingredient lists and the real world calls this guy Citrus Sinensis or, you know, orange.
To complicate matters further, there are lots of varieties and lots of extraction methods, so it is a bit hard to know what you are getting with this one, but we will try our best to summarize the possibilities.
A very common scenario is that Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Fruit Extract is on the ingredient list for its mild, natural exfoliant properties. It contains mainly citric acid and some malic acid, AHA exfoliants known for their skin renewing properties. If that's the case, it is usually combined with other AHA containing fruits such as bilberry, sugar cane, lemon, and sugar maple in a super popular ingredient mix trade named ACB Fruit Mix.
But orange fruit is loaded with lots of other active compounds with a wide variety of possible effects. A well-known one is the antioxidant vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, but the dosage will vary based on the extraction method, and it’s possible that some of the ascorbic acid content will degrade before extraction process even takes place. If you want vitamin C in your skincare, that is smart, but do not rely on orange fruit extract for it.
Flavonoids (hesperidin, naringin, luteolin, and ferulic acid) are also nice active compounds with possible antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vasoprotective effects. Some of them (namely hesperidin and luteolin) might even have skin brightening activity by inhibiting tyrosinase, the famous enzyme needed for melanin production.
The orange extract also contains carbohydrates, aka sugars (mostly glucose, fructose, and sucrose, but also some bigger polysaccharides such as pectin) giving the ingredient some moisturizing properties.
Some essential oil content is usually also present in citrus fruit extracts, which means a nice scent and antibacterial properties, but also some questionable compounds such as fragrance allergen limonene or phototoxic compound bergaptene. If the amount is big enough to worry about is questionable, probably not, however, the same question applies to all the nice beneficial compounds.
Overall, we think that the orange fruit extract is a very complex ingredient with lots of potentially good things in it, but we could not find proper in-vivo (made on real people) studies made with standardized extracts to validate what it really does or does not under real-world use cases.
If life gives the cosmetic industry lemon, it makes lemon fruit extract. As to why, we can write here extremely similar things to our shiny description of orange fruit extract. Being both of them citruses, they contain very similar active compounds with very similar (potential) effects on the skin.
Just like orange fruit, lemon fruit also contains citric acid so it is commonly used as a natural, mild exfoliating agent. If this is the case, it is usually combined with other AHA containing fruit extracts such as bilberry, sugar cane, orange, and sugar maple in a super popular ingredient mix trade named ACB Fruit Mix.
But, citrus fruits are chemically complex mixtures with a bunch of other active components such as vitamin C, flavonoids, phenolics, carbohydrates and essential oil (this latter one coming from the rind of the fruit, but still present in some amount in the fruit extract). These have the potential to give lemon extract antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-dandruff, venotonic and moisturizing properties, but the essential oil also brings some questionable compounds such as fragrance allergen limonene or phototoxic compound bergaptene. If your skin is sensitive, be careful with citrus extracts.
The extract coming from the Sugar Maple tree, the one whose leaf is on the Canadian flag and gives us maple syrup.
The main reason it is used in skin care is that it contains natural AHA acids, namely Malic and Tartaric, and hence why it supposedly helps slough off dead skin cells in combination with other acid-containing fruit extracts as part of the trade name ACB Fruit Mix. The manufacturer claims that both malic and tartaric increase elasticity in the skin, but from our research, the only confirmed uses of these acids are as pH adjusters, especially in the tiny amounts they can be found in the Fruit Mix (less than 1%).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. One solution is to create stable derivatives that can be absorbed into the skin, convert there to AA and do all the magic AA is proven to do (which is being an antioxidant, a collagen booster, and a skin brightener).
SAP (the vit C derivative, not the enterprise software, obvs) is a promising derivative that has great stability up to pH 7. The challenge with it though is skin penetration. Unfortunately, it seems to be limited, or to quote a great article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology "topically applied ascorbyl phosphate salts are, at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison with AA". Regarding conversion to AA, there seems to be no data about it, so we can neither deny nor confirm it.
We have better news regarding the three magic abilities of vitamin C: there is in-vivo (tested on real people) data showing that SAP does have photo-protective (aka antioxidant) properties, though less than pure AA. SAP might also aid collagen boosting; in-vitro (made in the lab) data shows that it works, but is less effective than another vitamin C derivative, called MAP (that seems to be as effective as pure AA). As for skin-brightening, there is a trade publication with in-vivo data showing that SAP can fade brown spots.
Another thing SAP might be able to do is to help with acne. A 2005 study showed in vitro (in test tubes) that 1% SAP has a strong antimicrobial activity on evil acne causing P. acnes and it also showed in vivo (on real people) that 5% SAP can strongly improve the inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions of acne vulgaris. In fact, the results were comparable or even slightly better than with 5% benzoyl peroxide.
And there is even more regarding SAP and acne. A nice double-blind study from 2009 showed that 5% SAP reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively and when combined with 0.2% retinol the results were even better. With this combination treatment, the improvement was 29.28% after 4 weeks and 63.10% after 8 weeks of application.
Aside from research studies, anecdotal evidence also supports SAP being a promising vitamin C derivative. One of the best-selling (vitamin C) serums in Sephora is the Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, while on Amazon it's the OzNaturals Vitamin C 20 Serum. Another popular choice is the Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum, and all of these contain vitamin C in the form of SAP.
Overall, we think SAP is a goody! In terms of anti-aging, it's probably not as effective as pure Ascorbic Acid, but it's totally worth a try. However, if your skin is acne-prone, SAP is your form of Vitamin C and it's a must-try.
The essential oil coming from the rind of the grapefruit. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (86-95% for grapefruit 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. In general, the more sour-bitter the fruit, the more problematic it is regarding phototoxicity: orange and clementine peel contain less of it while lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot contain some more. Be careful with it if it is in a product for daytime use.
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.
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