Organo Retinol SerumIngredients explained
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 naturally in our skin and behaves there like a sponge
- It can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water
- It is a big molecule from repeated subunits (polymer) so different molecular weight versions exist (unfortunately there is no way to determine MW from INCI list only)
- High-molecular-weight-HA (>500 kDa) is an excellent surface hydrator, skin protectant and can act as an osmotic pump helping water-soluble actives to penetrate deeper into the skin
- Low-molecular-weight-HA (< 500 kDa) can hydrate the skin somewhat deeper though it is still a big molecule and works mainly in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin)
- Low-molecular-weight-HA might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense (~ 200kDa used in the study)
- Ultra-low-molecular-weight-HA (<50kDa) is a controversial ingredient and might work as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule
An ester that comes from Cetearyl alcohol and the fatty acids of olive oil. It often comes to the formula coupled with Sorbitan Olivate as the two together form the well-known, natural emulsifier trade named Olivem 1000.
Other than helping oil and water to blend, the main thing of Olivem 1000 is generating liquid crystal structures that are similar to the lipid structures of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin). Thanks to this, Olivem 1000 doubles as an active ingredient with significant moisturizing, barrier-repairing and soothing properties.
It also helps to deliver water-soluble actives such as caffeine more effectively, and can even boost SPF in sunscreen formulas. Its typical use level is 1-5% and has wide compatibility with other actives and oils.
Overall, a real multi-tasker with nice sensorial properties. No wonder it is so popular.
Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. One solution is to create stable derivatives that can be absorbed into the skin, convert there to AA and do all the magic AA is proven to do (which is being an antioxidant, a collagen booster, and a skin brightener).
SAP (the vit C derivative, not the enterprise software, obvs) is a promising derivative that has great stability up to pH 7. The challenge with it though is skin penetration. Unfortunately, it seems to be limited, or to quote a great article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology "topically applied ascorbyl phosphate salts are, at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison with AA". Regarding conversion to AA, there seems to be no data about it, so we can neither deny nor confirm it.
We have better news regarding the three magic abilities of vitamin C: there is in-vivo (tested on real people) data showing that SAP does have photo-protective (aka antioxidant) properties, though less than pure AA. SAP might also aid collagen boosting; in-vitro (made in the lab) data shows that it works, but is less effective than another vitamin C derivative, called MAP (that seems to be as effective as pure AA). As for skin-brightening, there is a trade publication with in-vivo data showing that SAP can fade brown spots.
Another thing SAP might be able to do is to help with acne. A 2005 study showed in vitro (in test tubes) that 1% SAP has a strong antimicrobial activity on evil acne causing P. acnes and it also showed in vivo (on real people) that 5% SAP can strongly improve the inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions of acne vulgaris. In fact, the results were comparable or even slightly better than with 5% benzoyl peroxide.
And there is even more regarding SAP and acne. A nice double-blind study from 2009 showed that 5% SAP reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively and when combined with 0.2% retinol the results were even better. With this combination treatment, the improvement was 29.28% after 4 weeks and 63.10% after 8 weeks of application.
Aside from research studies, anecdotal evidence also supports SAP being a promising vitamin C derivative. One of the best-selling (vitamin C) serums in Sephora is the Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, while on Amazon it's the OzNaturals Vitamin C 20 Serum. Another popular choice is the Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum, and all of these contain vitamin C in the form of SAP.
Overall, we think SAP is a goody! In terms of anti-aging, it's probably not as effective as pure Ascorbic Acid, but it's totally worth a try. However, if your skin is acne-prone, SAP is your form of Vitamin C and it's a must-try.
- A multi-functional skincare superstar with several proven benefits for the skin
- Great anti-aging, wrinkle smoothing ingredient used at 4-5% concentration
- Fades brown spots alone or in combination with amino sugar, acetyl glucosamine
- Increases ceramide synthesis that results in a stronger, healthier skin barrier and better skin hydration
- Can help to improve several skin conditions including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Witch hazel is a smallish tree (up to 5m) that's native to North-America, has nice yellow flowers and is similar to the hazelnut bush (hence the name).
As for skincare, it's loaded with active components that have a bunch of magic properties, like astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-bacterial. It's also a well-known vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels narrower) and promotes the healing of broken skin by tightening up the skin proteins and thus creating a protective covering.
The complication, however, is that different extracts and distillates can be made from different parts of the plant (bark, twigs, and leaves are typically used) and different extraction methods from different parts produce different results. So if you see only Witch Hazel Extract or Witch Hazel Water on the ingredient list, it's a bit hard to know what you're actually getting but we will try to summarize the possibilities to give an idea.
The main biologically active components in Witch Hazel are hamamelitannin (a potent astringent and antioxidant), catechins (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) and gallic acid (antibacterial). The bark extract contains by far the most hamamelitannin and it has the most gallic acid and catechins. The twigs contain fewer catechins, less gallic acid, and much less hamamelitannin (4.77% vs 0.18%). The leaves contain hardly any tannins (0.04%) or catechins and contain a medium amount of gallic acid (compared to the bark and twigs).
Witch Hazel also contains tiny amounts of the essential oil and fragrance component eugenol, but the amount is so small that it's probably not significant for the skin.
Apart from the differences in active components in different parts of the Witch Hazel bush, the extraction methods also vary. Witch Hazel Distillate contains 14% added alcohol according to the USP specifications and alcohol is, at best drying, and at worst skin-damaging. Luckily, there are also alcohol-free distillates, so if you prefer no alcohol check the ingredient list carefully. Witch Hazel Extracts can also be made in different ways: browsing Ulprospector, we could find hydroglycolic, hydroalcoholic and glicerine/water based extracts.
Well-known skin care expert, Paula Begoun rates witch hazel as poor and says, "depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitizing amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both." This might be the case if you are dealing with an alcoholic witch hazel bark water or extract, but looking at CosIng (the official INCI name listing of the EU), witch hazel bark water or witch hazel bark extract are not listed ingredients. Bark and leaf or bark and twig or all three are used together to create extracts, so the chance that there is too much hamamelitannin in the final cosmetic ingredient seems small. Also alcohol-free extracts and distillates exist; actually, the majority seem to be alcohol-free nowadays. So all in all, we think "Hamamelis Virginiana Extract" on the ingredient list is nothing to worry about.
We even found a German study that compared the efficacy of Hamamelis ointment to panthenol ointment for soothing the skin in children (from 27 days to 11 years old). They observed 309 children and concluded that both ointments were similarly effective but the one with Hamamelis was even better tolerated (98.2% vs. 92.3% tolerated well the ointments in the two groups).
All in all, Witch Hazel Extract is a sloppy INCI name (btw, not in the CosIng listing), and you do not really know what you're getting. Most probably though, you are getting a goody with nice astringent, soothing, antibacterial, and even antioxidant properties.
The extract coming from the juice containing leaves of the Aloe vera plant. It's usually a hydroglycolic extract (though oil extract for the lipid parts also exists) that has similar moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties as the juice itself. We have written some more about aloe here.
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.
Jojoba is a drought resistant evergreen shrub native to South-western North America. It's known and grown for jojoba oil, the golden yellow liquid coming from the seeds (about 50% of the weight of the seeds will be oil).
At first glance, it seems like your average emollient plant oil: it looks like an oil and it's nourishing and moisturizing to the skin but if we dig a bit deeper, it turns out that jojoba oil is really special and unique: technically - or rather chemically - it's not an oil but a wax ester (and calling it an oil is kind of sloppy).
So what the heck is a wax ester and why is that important anyway? Well, to understand what a wax ester is, you first have to know that oils are chemically triglycerides: one glycerin + three fatty acids attached to it. The fatty acids attached to the glycerin vary and thus we have many kinds of oils, but they are all triglycerides. Mother Nature created triglycerides to be easily hydrolyzed (be broken down to a glycerin + 3 fatty acid molecules) and oxidized (the fatty acid is broken down into small parts) - this happens basically when we eat fats or oils and our body generates energy from it.
Mother Nature also created wax esters but for a totally different purpose. Chemically, a wax ester is a fatty acid + a fatty alcohol, one long molecule. Wax esters are on the outer surface of several plant leaves to give them environmental protection. 25-30% of human sebum is also wax esters to give us people environmental protection.
So being a wax ester results in a couple of unique properties: First, jojoba oil is extremely stable. Like crazy stable. Even if you heat it to 370 C (698 F) for 96 hours, it does not budge. (Many plant oils tend to go off pretty quickly). If you have some pure jojoba oil at home, you should be fine using it for years.
Second, jojoba oil is the most similar to human sebum (both being wax esters), and the two are completely miscible. Acne.org has this not fully proven theory that thanks to this, jojoba might be able to "trick" the skin into thinking it has already produced enough sebum, so it might have "skin balancing" properties for oily skin.
Third, jojoba oil moisturizes the skin through a unique dual action: on the one hand, it mixes with sebum and forms a thin, non-greasy, semi-occlusive layer; on the other hand, it absorbs into the skin through pores and hair follicles then diffuses into the intercellular spaces of the outer layer of the skin to make it soft and supple.
On balance, the point is this: in contrast to real plant oils, wax esters were designed by Mother Nature to stay on the surface and form a protective, moisturizing barrier and jojoba oil being a wax ester is uniquely excellent at doing that.
The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. Legend has it that the medicinal benefits of the oil were considered so important that Australian soldiers were supplied with some tea tree oil in their World War II military kit.
Similar to other essential oils, tea tree oil is a very complex chemical mixture consisting of about 100 components, the major ones being terpinen-4-ol (40%), γ-Terpinene (23%) and α-Terpinene (10%). Terpinen-4-ol is considered to be the main active component but as a great article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews states "while some TTO components may be considered less active, none can be considered inactive" and most components contribute to TTO's strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects.
Regarding skincare and tea tree oil, its most well-known effect is probably being a well established anti-acne ingredient. Multiple studies confirm that TTO is effective against the evil acne-causing bacteria called P. acnes and the effectiveness of 5% TTO gel is comparable to the gold standard anti-acne treatment, 5% Benzoyl Peroxide lotion. You need to be a bit more patient with TTO, though, as its effects come slower but also with fewer side effects.
Regarding TTO and sensitive skin, we say that you should be careful. Even if your skin is not sensitive you should never put undiluted TTO on your skin. Luckily, it contains only very small amounts of the common allergens (such as limonene), but irritant and allergic reactions still happen, especially by oxidation products that occur in older or not properly stored oil. So if you have some pure TTO at home, know that storage matters, keep it in a cool, dry, dark place and use it up in a reasonable amount of time.
Overall, we do not often give a goodie status to essential oils, but we feel that TTO's unique antibacterial and anti-acne properties with its minimal allergen content warrant an exception. If your skin is acne-prone, TTO is something to experiment with.
- Green tea is one of the most researched natural ingredients
- The active parts are called polyphenols, or more precisely catechins (EGCG being the most abundant and most active catechin)
- There can be huge quality differences between green tea extracts. The good ones contain 50-90% catechins (and often make the product brown and give it a distinctive smell)
- Green tea is proven to be a great antioxidant, UV protectant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial
- Because of these awesome properties green tea is a great choice for anti-aging and also for skin diseases including rosacea, acne and atopic dermatitis
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Centella Asiatica - or gotu kola as normal people call it - has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. It’s traditionally used to improve small wounds, burns and scratches and it’s also a well known anti-inflammatory agent for eczema.
Recently science has taken an interest in Gotu Kola as well and it turns out it really has many active compounds with several benefits. Just for hard-core geeks, the main biologically active compounds are pentacyclic triterpenoid saponins called asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic and madecassic acid (also called centellosides).
One of the biological activities of the centellosides is to be able to stimulate GAGs (glycosaminoglycans - polysaccharides that are part of the liquidy stuff between our skin cells), and especially hyaluronic acid synthesis in our skin. This is probably one of the reasons why Centella Asiatica Extract has nice skin moisturizing properties that was confirmed by a 25 people, four weeks study along with Centella's anti-inflammatory effects.
Madecassoside can also help in burn wound healing through increasing antioxidant activity and enhancing collagen synthesis. Asiaticoside was shown to increase antioxidant levels on rats skin when applied at 0.2%.
Centella Asiatica also often shows up in products that try to treat cellulite or striae. Of course, it cannot make a miracle but it might have some effect via regulating microcirculation and normalizing the metabolism in the cells of connective tissues.
Bottom line: Gotu Kola is a great plant ingredient with proven wound healing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Nice to spot on any ingredient list.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
The essential oil coming from the leafs of the lovely herb, rosemary. It contains several fragrant components, including the well-known irritant, camphor (around 15%). It has a nice smell, is a potent antioxidant and it's also an antimicrobial agent.
If your skin is sensitive, it's probably a good idea to avoid it.
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 helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi.
It’s pH dependent and works best at acidic pH levels (3-5). It’s not strong enough to be used in itself so it’s always combined with something else, often with potassium sorbate.
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|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | anti-acne|
|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | skin brightening | anti-acne | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
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|what‑it‑does||soothing | anti-acne | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | soothing|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|