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.
- GHK-Cu is a copper-peptide complex found naturally in yucky bodily fluids (plasma, saliva, and urine)
- It has unique wound healing properties by stimulating the breakdown of unhealthy, too large collagen in scar tissue and stimulating nice and healthy collagen production afterwards
- It stimulates the production of several important skin-identical ingredients (e.g. collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans)
- It has significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect
- There are a few promising studies showing GHK-Cu can improve skin elasticity, clarity, firmness and reduce lines and wrinkles
- It can improve hair growth by enlarging hair follicles (and bigger follicles produce longer, thicker hair)
- There are some urban legends about possible overdosing or facial hair problems (read more in geeky details)
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).
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.
Beta-Glucan is a nice big molecule composed of many smaller sugar molecules (called polysaccharide). It’s in the cell walls of yeast, some mushrooms, seaweeds, and cereals.
It’s a real goodie no matter if you eat it or put it on your face. Eating it is anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and even lowers the blood cholesterol.
Putting it on your face it also does a bunch of good things: it ‘s shown to have wound healing properties, it’s a mild antioxidant, it’s a great skin soother and moisturizer, and it even shows promising anti-aging benefits.
The manufacturer of the ingredient did a published study with 27 people and examined the effect of 0.5% beta-glucan. They found that despite the large molecular size beta-glucan does penetrate into the skin, even into the dermis (the middle layer of the skin where wrinkles form). After 8 weeks there was a significant reduction of wrinkle depth and height and skin roughness has also improved greatly.
Bottom line: Beta-glucan is a great ingredient, especially for sensitive skin. It soothes, moisturizes and even shows some anti-aging magic properties.
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.
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 pale yellow solid material that helps cosmetic products not to go wrong too soon aka preservative.
It has antioxidant and antibacterial activity and can be used synergistically with IT-preservative phenoxyethanol or 1,2-Hexanediol and Caprylyl Glycol to form a broad spectrum preservative system for cosmetic formulas.
A castor oil derived, white, lard-like helper ingredient that is used as a solubilizer to put fragrances (those are oil loving things) into water-based products such as toners.
Sh-Oligopeptide-1 is the famous molecule, which is also called Epidermal Growth Factor or EGF. Chemically speaking, Growth Factors are largish peptides or smallish proteins, or to put it in another way, medium-length amino acid sequences (EGF consists of 53 amino acids). Biologically speaking, Growth Factors are cellular signal molecules that can stimulate cell growth, proliferation, healing and/or differentiation.
There are lots of Growth Factors and EGF is just one of them. The topic of "Growth Factors and skincare" is a big, confusing and controversial one and we will try our best to summarize the story for you, including the pros and the cons.
EGF is a special snowflake when it comes to skincare as it was the first Growth Factor that made its way into cosmetic products and it is also the most common one. The American biochemist, Stanley Cohen discovered EGF and was awarded a Noble prize in 1986 for it. As the Noble prize may signify, the molecule is significant and powerful and directly stimulates the proliferation of epidermal cells.
When it comes to Sh-Oligopeptide-1 in a cosmetic product, it has pretty well-established wound healing and skin renewal properties. It might even do more than that. According to a 2012 study on a serum containing barley bioengineered epidermal growth factor, "clinical evaluations showed statistically significant improvement in the appearance of fine lines and rhytids, skin texture, pore size, and various dyschromatic conditions apparent within the first month of use, and continuing improvement trends for the duration of the study" (which was 3 months).
This all sounds amazing, "give me some EGF Serum", we can hear you say! But as we wrote in the intro, the topic is complex and controversial so here are some of the questions that keep coming up around slathering EGF all over our face.
The first and biggest concern is that if EGF is so good at stimulating cell proliferation, how does it relate to cancer? Is the definition of cancer not "cells proliferating out of control"? Most experts agree on this answer: EGF is mitogenic (= stimulates cell proliferation) but not mutagenic (= does not alter the cell to make it cancerous). If you do not have cancer, you will not get cancer from EGF. However, if you have cancerous cells, EGF will help them to spread, just like it helps healthy cells. So if you have a lot of moles, excessive UV exposure in the past, or if you have any of the skin cancer risk factors, we suggest you should think twice about using EGF products. The same is true if you have psoriasis, a skin disease related to the abnormal growth of epidermal skin cells. You do not want to add fuel to the fire with EGF.
Other (less serious) concerns are if EGF can properly penetrate the skin (as it is a medium-sized, polar molecule, so a special delivery system is probably needed), if it can affect collagen synthesis (or just works on the surface plumping up only the upmost layers of the skin) and if it has beneficial effects at all when used in isolation versus when used in a "conditioned media" that contains lots of growth factors resembling the synergistic balance found in the skin.
Overall, our impression is that EGF is definitely a potent molecule. Some EGF products have a cult-like following adding anecdotal evidence to the clinical studies showing EGF has a beneficial effect on the skin. If you like experimenting, by all means, go ahead (unless you have psoriasis or high skin cancer risk factors), but if you are a better safe than sorry type, stick to daily SPF + a good retinoid product. This duo is still the golden standard of anti-aging.
Are you interested in Growth Factors and skincare? We have some more here:
- Human Fibroblast Conditioned Media - a growth factor cocktail used in some cosmetic products
- Insulin-like growth factor 1, aka sh-Oligopeptide -2 - a pal of EGF composed of 70 amino acids
- Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, aka Sh-Polypeptide-9 - part of a GF cocktail trade named BIO-Placenta
A pretty famous and better-researched peptide consisting of five amino acids (the building blocks of all proteins). It was created in a joint effort by the French ingredient supplier, Sederma and the cosmetics industry big shot, Procter&Gamble.
The amino acid sequence of the peptide is lysine–threonine–threonine–lysine–serine (KTTKS). Sometimes, it's also called collagen pentapeptide, as it's a subfragment of skin-structure-giving type I collagen. The KTTKS amino sequence is then attached for better oil solubility and skin penetration to palmitic acid and BOOM; we get Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4.
Though most research is manufacturer sponsored, the clinical studies about Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 are promising. In short, it can reduce fine lines, wrinkles and improve skin texture significantly (and at crazy low concentrations, the studies were done with just 3 ppm that is 0.0003%).
There are also studies comparing Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 with anti-aging gold standard, retinol. One of them compared 3ppm Pal-KTTKS with 700 ppm (0.07%) retinol and found that they showed similar wrinkle improving ability with the peptide showing better skin tolerability.
Bottom line, if you are into peptides, this is a good one to try.
If you see a cosmetic product that claims that it has "Botox-like effect" then two things are almost certain: one, the product overpromises and two, it contains Argireline.
So this one is the famous peptide that's marketed by its manufacturer as the "Botox in a jar". The basis for this claim is that it targets the same wrinkle forming mechanism (wrinkles caused by facial muscle movement) as Botox, but the way it works is very different. In addition, the extent to which it can prevent muscles from contracting (and to smooth wrinkles) is very different (otherwise why would anyone use still Botox?).
The manufacturer did several studies to prove that Argireline really works and it does (just not as well as Botox). In-vivo (made on real people) tests showed that using 10% Argireline solution around the eyes for 15 days decreased wrinkles depth by 17%. A Spanish University also did some research and found that Argireline increased the level of skin moisturization and decreased both the depth and width of wrinkles "significantly".
This means, Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 does have some ability to smooth wrinkles (but not as well as Botox - sorry, if we sound like a broken record). Also, we have to agree with TruthInAging, that it's not a collagen builder and not a preventer of structural aging (think vitamin C, AHAs or retinol); it's just a quick fix. If you are looking for one, this could be your thing. If you are more of a "let's treat this aging thing properly" type, then it's probably not your thing.
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|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | soothing | antioxidant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|