Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel
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.
- It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
- It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
- It can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list
- Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion (read more in geeky details tab)
Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating.
This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners).
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A colorless or yellowish oil that's used as a fragrance. It has a spicy scent and can be found for example in basil, clove or cinnamon oil.
A 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) study examined if clove oil is cytotoxic and found that not only clove oil but also its main constituent, eugenol is cytotoxic even at very low concentration (0.03%). It’s also one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid at least in leave-on products.
A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.
It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer.
Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.
All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.
Cucumber is a nice, non-irritating plant extract that’s known for it’s soothing and emollient properties. It’s not something new to put it on our face: even Cleopatra used it to “preserve her skin”.
It’s commonly believed that cucumber is the answer to puffy eyes, but there is no research confirming this. What research does confirm is that it contains amino acids and organic acids that’s helpful for the skin’s acid mantle. There is also an enzyme (called shikimate dehydrigenase) in the pulp that’s shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Apple needs no introduction as one of the most common fruits on planet Earth. It's not only a healthy fruit snack, it's also a goodie if you put in all over your face.
It's loaded with proteins, starch, sugars, acids, vitamins and salts. The sugars (mainly fructose, glucose, sucrose) give apple fruit extract nice moisturizing and smoothing properties, while the acids (mainly malic and gallic acid) give it mild exfoliant, skin brightening and antibacterial properties.
A traditional Chinese herbal medicine loaded with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids such as baicalin, baicalein, and wogonin.
If that would not be enough, Skullcap Root is also claimed to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties (also against P.acnes and Malassezia furfur) as well as some skin-brightening activity. A multi-functional skin-goodie.
We have to admit that Algae Extract is not our favorite ingredient name. It does comply with the INCI standard (the official list about how ingredients on the product labels have to be called, the thing we help you to decode here :)), but there are about 20 000 different kinds of algae and an extract from them can be made in another 10 000 ways.
So, Algae Extract can be anything from La Mer's "Miracle Broth" to a simple brown algae extract that helps to smooth the hair. The official description in the Europiean Cosmetic Ingredient listing is this: "an extract of various species of Algae; Extract of the Seaweed, Fucus vesiculosus, Furaceae". Its official functions include being a humectant (helps skin to attract water), emollient (makes skin feel smooth and nice) and skin conditioner (a catchall phrase for saying it does something good for the skin).
A 2015 research paper on the potential of uses of algae in cosmetics summarizes that algae are rich sources of biologically active metabolites including antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, alginates, polysaccharides, and carotenoids. Currently, algae extracts are mostly used as moisturizing and thickening agents, but algae also have great potential to combat skin aging, pigmentation as well as working as an antimicrobial.
We have also browsed through Prospector to see what manufacturers say about their algae. There is, for example, an algae extract trade-named Lanablue that comes from blue-green algae (green algae is rare, less than 1% of the total macroalgae in the world) and is claimed to have retinoid like effects (i.e. reduce wrinkles, smooth skin) but without the side effects (though it seems now that the INCI name of Lanablue was changed to Aphanizomenon Flos-Aquae Extract).
There is another algae extract from another manufacturer that comes from red algae (much more common, about 40% of total macroalgae worldwide) and is claimed to have not only moisturizing but also skin smoothing and densifying effects.
Here is a brown algae extract (the most common type, about 59% of macroalgae), also just called Algae Extract on the product label that is simply claimed to be a free radical scavenger, aka antioxidant. These were just three random examples from three manufacturers all called Algae extract even though they all come from different algae with different claims.
Anyhow, the point is this; there are tons of different types of Algae Extracts out there. Unless the brand tells you what they use, it's impossible to know for sure. The most probable scenario for the Alge Extract is that it works as a moisturizer and emollient and it might have some additional anti-aging properties.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
The extract coming from Laminaria Saccharina, a brown algae. According to manufacturer info, it's loaded with a bunch of good-for-the-skin things: alginates are polysaccharides (a big molecule from repeating sugar units) that are water-loving and can form a protective film on the skin. This means moisturizing, skin protecting and soothing magic properties.
The extract also contains another polysaccharide called laminarin, that has decongestant and lipid-reducing action that might be useful for combination, acne-prone skin types.
The third major type of actives in the Laminaria Saccharina Extract are phenolic compounds that have antioxidant and soothing properties. They can also trap heavy metal ions, and give sensitive skin some protection against polluted urban air.
Lactobacillus ferment is an interesting probiotic ingredient with some promising properties.
First, according to a 2009 Estee Lauder patent, it’s a DNA repair enzyme and it can help to protect the skin against environmental aggressors.
Second, still according to Estee Lauder research but now from 2012 the ingredient has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and holds promise in the treatment of acne and rosacea. For the former one 5% was needed to show effectiveness, but for reducing skin sensitivity already 1% showed results.
The anti-acne effect is confirmed also by US manufacturer, Barnet, that says that Lactobacillus ferment is helpful in killing harmful bacteria and creating a healthy balanced microflora. Compared to well-known anti-acne and anti-inflammatory salicylic acid the probiotic worked faster at reducing the size and redness of acne lesions.
It also goes by the trade name Leucidal Liquid SF and can serve in the formula as a natural preservative.
Bottom line: It’s not the most proven ingredient (yet) but definitely a very promising one especially if you have sensitive skin, acne or rosacea.
- 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
Hello, our favorite molecule that helps us wake up in the morning and then keeps us going through the day. As a super well-known stimulant from coffee, tea and plenty of other soft drinks, Caffeine needs no introduction. So we will skip right to the part where we talk about what the hell it does in so-so many cosmetic products.
Looking at the research, we were surprised to find how versatile Caffeine is. It is a small, water-loving molecule with pretty good skin penetration abilties. Once in the skin, it has nice antioxidant properties, meaning that it reduces the formation of evil free radicals and it might even be useful in preventing UV-induced skin cancers.
A well-known thing about Caffeine is that it improves the microcirculation of the blood vessels. Though conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence says that this property is helpful for dark under-eye circles and puffy eyes, we have to mention that the double-blind research we have found about a 3% caffeine gel concluded that "the overall efficacy of the selected caffeine gel in reducing puffy eyes was not significantly different from that of its gel base." But you know, the proof is in the pudding.
Another thing Caffeine is used for in body care products is its anti-cellulite effects. In theory, it can speed up the lipolysis process (the "fat burning" by our cells) and stimulate the draining lymph system that might lead to the improvement of cellulite. But here again, the evidence that it actually makes a measurable, let alone visible, improvement on actual human beings is limited (we could find only some animal skin studies or caffeine being combined with other actives).
Last, but not least, we have to write about caffeine and hair growth. The theory is that it can inhibit the activity of the 5-α-reductase enzyme that plays an important role in hair loss and allows a renewed growth phase of the hair. We have found some recent and promising research to back this up. A 2017 study compared a 0.2% caffeine liquid with a 5% Minoxidil (an FDA approved active to treat baldness) solution and found that "a caffeine-based topical liquid should be considered as not inferior to minoxidil 5% solution in men with androgenetic alopecia", or English translation means that the caffeine liquid was pretty much as good as the FDA-approved Minoxidil stuff. Not bad!
Overall, we think that caffeine is a very versatile and biologically active ingredient. Even though some of its effects are more hyped up than backed up, it is still a nice to have on many ingredient lists.
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.
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.
So now you know that pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is really unstable and hard to formulate so the cosmetics industry is coming up with a bunch of derivatives to solve the problem and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (or MAP) is one of them.
MAP does solve the stability problem: it's stable up to pH 7, so far so good. What is not so good is that, as the great review study about vitamin C derivatives in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology writes, MAP is "at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison to AA."
Moreover, derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin, they also have to be converted into pure AA. The good news is that in-vitro data shows that MAP does convert, but the bad news is we do not really know if the same is true on real, living human skin. Even if it does, we don't know how good the conversion rate is (but to be fair the same is true for all other derivatives).
Regarding the three magic abilities of pure vitamin C (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener), there is no published data about MAP's antioxidant or photoprotection capabilities. We have better news about the other two things: in-vitro data shows that MAP can boost collagen synthesis similar to AA (though in the case of AA it's proven in-vivo) and even better, MAP is proven to work as a skin brightener in-vivo (on real people).
Bottom line: when it comes to vitamin C derivatives, MAP is definitely an option. We especially recommend it if you are after skin brightening as this seems to be the strongest point of MAP.
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.
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.
Copy and paste into your blog
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | soothing|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | preservative|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|