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.
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.
It is a low molecular weight (LMW) version of the naturally big molecule and current IT-moisturizer, Hyaluronic Acid (HA). 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 retain water, making it plump and elastic. As HA is a polymer, the subunits can be repeated many times (as a high-molecular-weight version), or just a few times (as a low-molecular-weight version).
We wrote in detail at HA about how different molecular weight versions do different things both as a component of the skin and as a skincare ingredient, so click here and read about all the details. Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid can also come in different molecular-weight versions with different properties:
- 100-300 kDa version: apart from moisturizing, this size might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense. It is also claimed to boost the wound healing process and is especially helpful for sensitive skin types (acne, rosacea, inflammation-related skin diseases).
- 50k Da version: this is the size that is claimed to be able to absorb into the skin and plump up wrinkles, so it is used mainly as an "anti-aging ingredient"
- below 50k, around 10k Da version: there is a Japanese version trade named Hyalo-Oligo that has only a 10k molecular weight and is claimed to penetrate the skin very well, have a unique touch and give deep and long-lasting moisturization. Based on the Evonik-research and the natural role of LMW-HA in the body working as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule, this ultra-low molecular weight version is a controversial ingredient.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert, you can read much 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).
A polysaccharide (a big sugar molecule) coming from the edible fruit bodies of the Silver Ear mushroom in China. Legend has it, imperial Concubine Yang Kuei-fei - the most beautiful woman in Chinese history - used it for her facial care.
So Tremella Extract is a big molecule (more than 1M Da molecular weight) with sugar constituents of Mannose, Xylose, and Glucuronic acid (20%). The last one is the most important one, as Glucuronic acid is also a major component in hyaluronic acid (HA). Thanks to this, Tremella is claimed to be an awesome moisturizer with slightly greater water-holding capacities than HA itself. This is quite a big deal as HA is known for its crazy water-holding capacity (up to 1000 times its own weight).
Not only that but Tremella also seems to have some antioxidant effect, it's not sticky (humectants do tend to be sticky) and it leaves skin moist and smooth. No wonder, Concubine Yang Kuei-fei liked this mushroom.
A sugar beet derived amino acid derivative with nice skin protection and moisturization properties. Betain's special thing is being an osmolyte, a molecule that helps to control cell-water balance. It is also a natural osmoprotectant, meaning that it attracts water away from the protein surface and thus protects them from denaturation and increases their thermodynamic stability.
It also gives sensorial benefits to the formula and when used in cleansers, it helps to make them milder and gentler.
- 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 helper ingredient that is used as a bulking and viscosity controlling agent.
It can also be used as a heat generating agent in water-less formulas as it has an instant heat-generating chemical reaction with water.
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.
A nice little helper ingredient that can thicken up cosmetic products and create beautiful gel formulas. It's derived from cellulose, the major component of the cell wall of green plants. It is compatible with most co-ingredients and gives a very good slip to the formulas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
Copy and paste into your blog
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|