Monsia LipsIngredients 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.
- 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
A 100% natural and plant-derived moisturizer that mimics the natural carbohydrate fraction found in the upper layer of the skin. Its special magic power is to bind to the skin stronger and longer than other moisturizer ingredients do so it can keep the skin hydrated longer than usual.
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).
At first glance, you could think that Bakuchiol is your average plant extract. It is derived from the seeds of Psoralea Corylifolia, aka Babchi, a plant important in Indian and Chinese medicine. The molecule was first isolated in 1973 and several anti-something properties are known about it: it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-bacterial and hepatoprotective magical abilities like plenty of other Ayurvedic plant extracts.
What makes Bakuchiol a special snowflake is the recent discovery that it behaves on the skin in a way very similar to well-known skincare superstar, retinol. While chemically, it has nothing to do with the vitamin-A family, aka retinoids, comparative gene expression profiling (a fancy way of saying that they compared how retinol and bakuchiol modify the way skin cells behave and produce important skin proteins such as collagen) shows that retinol and bakuchiol regulate skin cell behavior in a similar way.
To be more specific, both Bakuchiol and retinol upregulate collagen I, III and IV production and downregulate MMP, the evil collagen attacking enzyme in our skin. This means more collagen stays in our skin and we all know that more collagen equals firmer, more wrinkle-free skin. A 12-week clinical study using a 0.5% Bakuchiol formula with 17 people using it twice a day confirmed a significant improvement in lines and wrinkles, elasticity, firmness and an overall reduction in photo-damage. Also, the test formula was very well tolerated, without any retinol-like side effects.
What's more, a 2018 double-blind study with 44 people compared 0.5% Bakuchiol with 0.5% retinol cream and found that "bakuchiol is comparable to retinol in its ability to improve photoaging and is better tolerated than retinol". A super promising result after 12 weeks.
If you are not a daredevil-type who doesn't want to stop using a super well-proven retinol for a newbie like Bakuchiol, we have good news. The two also work very nicely together and Bakuchiol can actually help to stabilize the otherwise unstable and hard to formulate retinol.
And we are still not done, as Bakuchiol shows not only anti-aging properties but also nice anti-acne effects. 1% Bakuchiol seems to be very effective in itself (57% reduction in acne after 6 weeks treatment) and even better when combined with 2% salicylic acid (67% reduction in acne after 6 weeks). We like that Bakuchiol is such a good team player! The molecule works against acne in multiple ways: It downregulates 5α-reductase (a sebum-controlling enzyme), it is antibacterial (including P. acnes), anti-inflammatory and it inhibits lipid-peroxidation, an evil oxidative process that is recently thought to be a very early trigger in the acne process.
We feel that this description is becoming very long so we will just mention that Bakuchiol also seems to positively regulate hydration-related genes such as Aquaporin 3 and also shows some melanin-inhibiting properties.
Overall, we think Bakuchiol is an awesome molecule with lots of promise both for anti-aging and anti-acne. But the proof compared to the well-established superstars is far from solid, so in a skincare routine, we would rather add Bakuchiol next to retinol than straight up replace it. Unless you are a gimme-the-newest-shiny-thing-under-the-sun-type.
Chamomile probably needs no introduction as it's one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. You probably drink it regularly as a nice, calming cup of tea and it's also a regular on skincare ingredient lists.
Cosmetic companies use it mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the terpenoids chamazulene and bisabolol both of which show great anti-inflammatory action in animal studies. On top of that chamomile also has some antioxidant activity (thanks to some other active ingredients called matricine, apigenin and luteolin).
Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it.
The oil-soluble extract coming from the edible, orange part of the carrot. It is created by macerating the carrot root in a carrier oil such as sunflower or olive oil, and the resulting thing (base oil + carrot root extract) is often called carrot oil or carrot root oil. (Not to be confused with carrot seed oil, that can be fixed or essential and comes from the seeds.)
The root extract is known for containing the orange pigment beta-carotene, aka provitamin A. It is a famous molecule for being a potent antioxidant, suntan accelerator and having skin-regenerative abilities. Carrot oil also contains vitamin E and some fatty acids that give the oil further antioxidant and barrier repairing properties.
It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version.
According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E.
Thanks to Nivea, Q10 is a pretty well-known ingredient and the fame and Beiersdorf's (the parent company of Nivea) obsession with it are not for no reason. It's an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays a big role in energy production.
In fact, it's so important for energy production that if taken as an oral supplement it has a caffeine-like effect and if taken at night you will probably not sleep very well (so you should take it in the morning). Q10 supplementation is not a bad idea: it not only gives you energy but research also shows that oral Q10 increases the Q10 level of the skin (of course, it decreases with age like pretty much every good thing in the skin) and may help to reduce wrinkles. If you are not for supplements, dietary sources include fish, spinach, and nuts.
As for skincare, Q10 comes in the form of a yellow, oil-soluble powder that's shown to absorb into the upper layer of the skin and act there like an awesome antioxidant. It not only has preventative effects but might also be able to reduce the depth of wrinkles, though 0.3% Q10 was used in the study that counts as really high (products containing that much should be very yellow!).
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 >>
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.
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 helper ingredient that functions as a film-forming polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits).
It usually comes to the formula as part of a thickener-emulsifier trio paired with Polyisobutene and Polysorbate 20. The three togeather have excellent thickening properties with remarkable emulsifying-stabilising abilities. They also have a nice silicone feel with glide-on spreading.
It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula.
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.
The essential oil coming from the sweet orange. In the case of orange (and citruses in general), the essential oil is mainly in the peel of the fruit, so it's pretty much the same as the orange peel oil (also has the same CAS number - a unique ID assigned to chemicals).
Its main component is limonene (up to 97%), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).
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).
A natural polysaccharide (big sugar molecule) coming from red edible seaweeds. It is used as a helper ingredient for its gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties.
A super versatile and common mineral powder that comes in different particle sizes. It is a multi-tasker used to improve skin feel, increase product slip, give the product light-reflecting properties, enhance skin adhesion or serve as an anti-caking agent.
It is also the most commonly used "base" material for layered composite pigments such as pearl-effect pigments. In this case, mica is coated with one or more metal oxides (most commonly titanium dioxide) to achieve pearl effect via the physical phenomenon known as interference.
Titanium Dioxide is one of the two members of the elite sunscreen group called physical sunscreens (or inorganic sunscreens if you’re a science geek and want to be precise).
Traditionally, UV-filters are categorized as either chemical or physical. The big difference is supposed to be that chemical agents absorb UV-light while physical agents reflect it like a bunch of mini umbrellas on top of the skin. While this categorization is easy and logical it turns out it's not true. A recent, 2016 study shows that inorganic sunscreens work mostly by absorption, just like chemical filters, and only a little bit by reflection (they do reflect the light in the visible spectrum, but mostly absorb in the UV spectrum).
Anyway, it doesn't matter if it reflects or absorbs, Titanium Dioxide is a pretty awesome sunscreen agent for two main reasons: it gives a nice broad spectrum coverage and it's highly stable. Its protection is very good between 290 - 350 nm (UVB and UVA II range), and less good at 350-400 nm (UVA I) range. Regular sized Titanium Dioxide also has a great safety profile, it's non-irritating and is pretty much free from any health concerns (like estrogenic effect worries with some chemical filters).
The disadvantage of Titanium Dioxide is that it's not cosmetically elegant, meaning it's a white, "unspreadable" mess. Sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide are often hard to spread on the skin and they leave a disturbing whitish tint. The cosmetic industry is, of course, really trying to solve this problem and the best solution so far is using nanoparticles. The itsy-bitsy Nano-sized particles improve both spreadability and reduce the whitish tint a lot, but unfortunately, it also introduces new health concerns.
The main concern with nanoparticles is that they are so tiny that they are absorbed into the skin more than we want them (ideally sunscreen should remain on the surface of the skin). Once absorbed they might form unwanted complexes with proteins and they might promote the formation of evil free radicals. But do not panic, these are concerns under investigation. A 2009 review article about the safety of nanoparticles summarizes this, "to date, in-vivo and in-vitro studies have not demonstrated percutaneous penetration of nanosized particles in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreens". The English translation is, so far it looks like sunscreens with nanoparticles do stay on the surface of the skin where they should be.
All in all, Titanium Dioxide is a famous sunscreen agent and for good reason, it gives broad spectrum UV protection (best at UVB and UVA II), it's highly stable, and it has a good safety profile. It's definitely one of the best UV-filter agents we have today, especially in the US where new-generation Tinosorb filters are not (yet) approved.
A big sugar molecule (polysaccharide) that is used as a natural thickening and gelling agent. It is similar to more commonly used Xanthan Gum, and the two are also often combined to create gel formulas or to stabilize emulsions.
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.
BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.
Citric acid comes from citrus fruits and is an AHA. If these magic three letters don’t tell you anything, click here and read our detailed description on glycolic acid, the most famous AHA.
So citric acid is an exfoliant, that can - just like other AHAs - gently lift off the dead skin cells of your skin and make it more smooth and fresh.
There is also some research showing that citric acid with regular use (think three months and 20% concentration) can help sun-damaged skin, increase skin thickness and some nice hydrating things called glycosaminoglycans in the skin.
But according to a comparative study done in 1995, citric acid has less skin improving magic properties than glycolic or lactic acid. Probably that’s why citric acid is usually not used as an exfoliant but more as a helper ingredient in small amounts to adjust the pH of a formulation.
A little helper ingredient that is used to adjust the pH of the product. It also helps to keep products stay nice longer by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (they usually come from water).
The trio is invaluable for "skin-colored" makeup products (think your foundation and pressed powder) as blending these three shades carefully can produce almost any shade of natural-looking flesh tones.
A superabsorbent polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that has crazy water binding abilities. Sometimes its referred to as "waterlock" and can absorb 100 to 1000 times its mass in water.
As for its use in cosmetic products, it is a handy multi-tasker that thickens up water-based formulas and also has some emulsifying and emulsion stabilizing properties.
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||1-3, 1-3|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||sunscreen | colorant|
|what‑it‑does||chelating | buffering|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|