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Neostrata High Potency Cream Aha 20

High Potency Cream Aha 20

A potent anti-aging cream formulated to exfoliate, moisturize and restore skin on the face and neck to a youthful appearance and texture. This oil-free, non-comedogenic and fragrance-free formula will leave skin smooth and comfortable with a youthful glow.
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Neostrata High Potency Cream Aha 20
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Water | 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. 

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. 

What-it-does: exfoliant, buffering
  • It’s the most researched AHA with the most proven skin benefits
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
  • It can help skin’s own collagen production that results in firmer, younger skin
  • It can fade brown spots caused by sun damage or PIH
  • Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
  • Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
  • Slight stinging or burning with a stronger AHA product is normal
  • If your skin is very sensitive, rosacea prone choose rather a BHA or PHA product
Read all the geeky details about Glycolic Acid here >>

Arginine - goodie

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

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
Read all the geeky details about Propylene Glycol here >>

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2-3

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).

What-it-does: buffering

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

A liquid fatty acid created from oleic acid. It's claimed to have great odour, thermal and oxidation stability and is great for  the stabilization of pigments and mineral particles in oils and solvents. It's quite popular in foundations.

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

A very common water-loving surfactant and emulsifier that helps to keep water and oil mixed nicely together. 

It's often paired with glyceryl stearate - the two together form a super effective emulsifier duo that's salt and acid tolerant and works over a wide pH range. It also gives a "pleasing product aesthetics", so no wonder it's popular.

Lactobionic Acid - superstar
Also-called: PHA | What-it-does: exfoliant, buffering

Lactobionic acid is the brother or maybe the sister of gluconolactone. Usually, it’s called a PHA, though some studies call it bionic acid or aldobionic acid. Not that this matters too much. What matters is that it’s similarly awesome to gluconolactone. So go read about gluconolactone to get the idea.

In a nutshell,  it’s a next generation AHA, with almost all the benefits and more and without the irritation. It gently lifts off dead skin cells and makes your skin smooth and even. It moisturizes and helps the skin barrier. Can be used on sensitive skin too or post cosmetic procedure.  In the long run, it has anti-aging benefits (though a tad less than AHAs), and it’s even an antioxidant.  

Must try, just like the other AHAs. 

What-it-does: emollient, solvent, perfuming

A  clear, colorless and odorless, highly volatile (meaning it does not absorb into the skin but evaporates from it) liquid that's used as an emollient. It gives a nice non-oily light skin feel and it can improve the slip of the formula without leaving a tacky residue behind.

It's also popular in make-up products as its volatility makes mascaras and foundations last longer. If that would not be enough, it's also an excellent solvent, and it's a regular not only on the ingredients lists of make-ups but also on makeup removers.  

What-it-does: emollient, solvent

A light, velvety, unique skin feel liquid that is a good solvent and also makes the skin feel nice and smooth (aka emollient). It's often used in makeup products mixed with silicones to give shine and slip to the product. It's also great for cleansing dirt and oil from the skin as well as for taking off make-up.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-2

A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.

Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) in a pretty simple, "green" process that is similar to soap making. It's readily biodegradable.

It also occurs naturally in our body and is used as a food additive. As cosmetic chemist Colins writes it, "its safety really is beyond any doubt".

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, surfactant/cleansing, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

A so-called fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that does all kinds of things in a skincare product: it makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier). Can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.

What-it-does: emulsifying | Irritancy: 1 | Comedogenicity: 0

A popular, vegetable-derived oil-loving emulsifier that helps water to mix with oil. In itself, it is suitable for water-in-oil emulsions (where water droplets are dispersed in oil), but it is more often used as a co-emulsifier next to other, water-loving emulsifiers. 

Chemically speaking, it comes from the attachment of sorbitan (a dehydrated sorbitol (sugar) molecule) with the fatty acid Stearic Acid, that creates a partly water (the sorbitan part) and partly oil soluble (stearic part) molecule. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, absorbent/mattifier | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. So the face of one platelet attracts the edge of the other and this builds a so-called "house of card" structure meaning that Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (MAS) thickens up products and helps to suspend non-soluble particles such as color pigments or inorganic sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).

As the "house of card" structure takes some time to form but collapses quickly if the formula is stirred, products thickened with MAS can be thick in the jar but become easily spreadable upon application (called thixotropy). MAS also gives nice sensory properties, it is not tacky or sticky and gives a rich, creamy skin feel. Also a good team player and works in synergy with other thickeners such as Cellulose Gum or Xanthan Gum

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.

As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity. 

As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types). 

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). 

Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.

It is typically used in tiny amounts, around 0.1% or less.

Bisabolol - goodie
Also-called: Alpha-Bisabolol | What-it-does: soothing

It's one of the active parts of Chamomile that contains about 30% of bisabolol. It's a clear oily fluid that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient. 

Also-called: Butylated Hydroxy Toluene | What-it-does: antioxidant, preservative

It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.

There is some controversy around BHT. It's not a new ingredient, it has been used both as a food and cosmetics additive since the 1970s. Plenty of studies tried to examine if it's a carcinogen or not. This Truth in Aging article details the situation and also writes that all these studies examine BHT when taken orally.

As for cosmetics, the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) concluded that the amount of BHT used in cosmetic products is low (usually around 0.01-0.1%),  it does not penetrate skin far enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and it is safe to use in cosmetics.

What-it-does: preservative, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.

What-it-does: preservative | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon

Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))

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 exfoliant | buffering
The most researched and well-known AHA exfoliant. It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin. In larger concentration (>10%) it's a proven collagen booster. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of hair keratin and skin collagen. It's a natural moisturizing factor and might also help to speed up wound healing.  [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common glycol that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products. It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 2-3
A common multi-tasker fatty acid that works as an emollient, thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
A liquid fatty acid with great odour, thermal and oxidation stability. It's great for the stabilization of pigments and mineral particles in oils and solvents. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A commonly used water-soluble surfactant and emulsifier. [more]
what‑it‑does exfoliant | buffering
A next generation AHA, a so-called PHA that gently exfoliates skin without irritation. It also moisturizes and helps the skin barrier. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent | perfuming
A  clear, colorless and odorless, highly volatile (meaning it does not absorb into the skin but evaporates from it) liquid that's used as an emollient and gives a nice, non-oily light skin-feel. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent
A light, velvety, unique skin feel liquid that is a good solvent and also makes the skin feel nice and smooth. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 1-2
Waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier).
what‑it‑does emulsifying
irritancy, com. 1, 0
A popular, vegetable-derived oil-loving emulsifier that helps water to mix with oil. In itself, it is suitable for water-in-oil emulsions (where water droplets are dispersed in oil), but it is more often used as a co-emulsifier next to other, water-loving emulsifiers.  Chemically speaking, it comes from the attachment of sorbitan (a dehydrated sorbitol (sugar) molecule) with the fatty [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Compared to the pure form it's more stable, has longer shelf life, but it's also more poorly absorbed by the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | viscosity controlling
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
One of the active parts of Chamomile that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | preservative
It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.There is some controversy around BHT. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
irritancy, com. 0, 0
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.  Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) sho [more]