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naturium Retinol Serum 2.5%

Retinol Serum 2.5%

Advanced serum is formulated with a 2.5% synergistic blend of microencapsulated retinols and bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative, that helps improve the look of fine lines, wrinkles, elasticity, uneven tone and overall radiance.  
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naturium Retinol Serum 2.5%
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua | 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. 

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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. 

Also-called: Zemea | What-it-does: solvent, moisturizer/humectant

Propanediol is a natural alternative for the often used and often bad-mouthed propylene glycol. It's produced sustainably from corn sugar and it's Ecocert approved. 

It's quite a multi-tasker: can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
  • It has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to work its magic
  • Once converted, it has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
  • A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10-to-20 times less potent than retinoic acid
  • It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
  • It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
  • Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
  • Do not use whilst pregnant
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

Also-called: Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient | Irritancy: 1-3 | Comedogenicity: 1-3

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:

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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.

Bakuchiol - goodie
Also-called: Sytenol A, Phyto Retinol | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient, antimicrobial/antibacterial, antioxidant, emollient

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. 

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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. 

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic 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". 

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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).

What-it-does: emollient, perfuming

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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.

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 >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Tinogard TT | What-it-does: antioxidant, preservative

Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate is an antioxidant molecule used in small amounts (less than 0.8%) to help products stay nice longer. More specifically, it is great at preventing discoloration or other types of oxidative degradation. It is a trendy alternative to often bad-mouthed synthetic antioxidant and stabilizer, BHT

Tocopherol - goodie
Also-called: Vitamin E | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0-3 | Comedogenicity: 0-3
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Tocopherol here >>

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: solvent, emulsifying, perfuming, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0-1 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable. 

Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® HPO, where it helps the effectiveness of current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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.

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.

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BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right. 

For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.  

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BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.

Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

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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. 

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). 

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. 

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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.

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 solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A natural corn sugar derived glycol. It can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Vitamin A - the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC that can smooth wrinkles and make skin firmer. It might also be useful for acne-prone skin as it normalizes keratinization. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
irritancy, com. 1-3, 1-3
An ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that is pretty much the least effective member of the retinoid family. Its anti-aging effects are quite questionable as well as its behavior in the presence of UVA light. (Use it at night if possible!) [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient | antimicrobial/antibacterial | antioxidant | emollient
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. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | perfuming
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [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 antioxidant | preservative
Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate is an antioxidant molecule used in small amounts (less than 0.8%) to help products stay nice longer. More specifically, it is great at preventing discoloration or other types of oxidative degradation. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0-3, 0-3
Pure Vitamin E. Great antioxidant that gives significant photoprotection against UVB rays. Works in synergy with Vitamin C. [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 solvent | emulsifying | perfuming | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0-1, 0-2
Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable.  Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
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. 
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A not so strong preservative that doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [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]