10% Niacinamide Booster
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.
- 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
An amino acid sugar that can be found in the skin and does there good and important things. One of them is that it's a precursor for the biosynthesis of superstar moisturizer, hyaluronic acid. So acetyl glucosamine itself is also an important skin-identical ingredient and natural moisturizing factor.
But that is not all, acetyl glucosamine has two other great properties proved by double-blind clinical trials. First, it's a promising ingredient against wrinkles: 2% can improve wrinkles, particularly in the eye area.
Second, the same amount can also fade - always stubborn - brown spots. (Do not expect magic, though - the photos from the study show the difference after 8 weeks of daily use. The difference is visible, but not that big. It's always good to have realistic expectations. :)) Combined with skincare superstar niacinamide the duo is synergistic and is more effective at improving hyperpigmentation, so if you are after the skin-lightening benefit look out for products that contain both.
So now you know that because pure vitamin C is such a diva (very unstable and hard to formulate) the cosmetic industry is trying to come up with some derivatives that have the badass anti-aging properties of vitamin C (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) but without the disadvantages. This is a hard task, and there is not yet a derivative that is really proven to be better in every aspect, but Ascorbyl Glucoside is one of the best options when it comes to vitamin C derivatives. Let's see why:
First, it's really stable and easy to formulate, so the problems that come with pure vitamin C are solved here.
Second, in vitro (meaning made in the lab, not on real humans) studies show that ascorbyl glucoside can penetrate the skin. This is kind of important for an anti-aging ingredient to do the job, so this is good news, though in-vivo (made on real humans) studies are still needed.
Third, in-vitro studies show that after ascorbyl glucoside is absorbed into the skin it is converted to pure vitamin C (though the rate of conversion is still a question mark). It also shows all the three anti-aging benefits (antioxidant protection + collagen boosting + fading hyperpigmentation) that pure vitamin C does.
Bottom line: ascorbyl glucoside is one of the best and most promising vitamin C derivatives that shows similar benefits to that of pure vitamin C, but it's less proven (in vivo vs. in vitro studies) and the extent of the benefits are also not the same.
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.
A type of lipid that's the major (about 75%) component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient.
It has a water-loving head with two water-hating tails and this structure gives the molecule emulsifying properties. It is also often used to create liposomes, small spheres surrounded by phospholipid bi-layer designed to carry some active ingredient and help its absorption.
It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMF, hyaluronic 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".
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).
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically.
It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
- 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
The salt form of one of the main anti-inflammatory ingredients in the licorice plant, monoammonium glycyrrhizinate. It’s a yellowish powder with a nice sweet smell.
It’s used mainly for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, but according to manufacturer info, it’s also sebum regulating so it's a perfect ingredient for problem skin products.
Read more about licorice and why it's a skincare superstar here.
You might know licorice as a sweet treat from your childhood, but it's actually a legume that grows around the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, central and southern Russia. It's sweet and yellow and not only used for licorice all sorts but it's also a skincare superstar thanks to two magic properties:
Nr. 1 magic property is that it has skin-lightening or to say it another way depigmenting properties. The most active part is called glabridin. The topical application (meaning when you put it on your face) of 0.5% glabridin was shown to inhibit UVB caused pigmentation of guinea pigs. Another study even suggested that licorice is more effective than the gold standard skin-lightening agent hydroquinone. All in all, licorice is considered to be one of the safest skin lightening agents with the fewest side effects.
There is just one catch regarding glabridin and licorice: the amount of glabridin in commercial licorice extracts can vary a lot. We have seen extracts with only 4% glabridin as well as 40% glabridin. The latter one is a very-very expensive ingredient, so if you are after the depigmenting properties try to choose a product that boasts its high-quality licorice extract.
Nr. 2 magic property is that licorice is a potent anti-inflammatory. Glabridin has also some soothing properties but the main active anti-inflammatory component is glycyrrhizin. It’s used to treat several skin diseases that are connected to inflammation including atopic dermatitis, rosacea or eczema.
Oh, and one more thing: glabridin seems to be also an antioxidant, which is just one more reason to be happy about licorice root extract on an ingredient list.
Bottom line: Licorice is a great skincare ingredient with significant depigmenting, anti-inflammatory and even some antioxidant properties. Be happy if it's on the ingredient list. :)
Thanks to Nivea, Q10 is a pretty well-known ingredient and the fame and Beiersdorf's (the parent company of Nivea) obsession with it are not for no reason. It's an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays a big role in energy production.
In fact, it's so important for energy production that if taken as an oral supplement it has a caffeine-like effect and if taken at night you will probably not sleep very well (so you should take it in the morning). Q10 supplementation is not a bad idea: it not only gives you energy but research also shows that oral Q10 increases the Q10 level of the skin (of course, it decreases with age like pretty much every good thing in the skin) and may help to reduce wrinkles. If you are not for supplements, dietary sources include fish, spinach, and nuts.
As for skincare, Q10 comes in the form of a yellow, oil-soluble powder that's shown to absorb into the upper layer of the skin and act there like an awesome antioxidant. It not only has preventative effects but might also be able to reduce the depth of wrinkles, though 0.3% Q10 was used in the study that counts as really high (products containing that much should be very yellow!).
If EGCG does not tell you anything, green tea sure does. We have written about green tea in excruciating details, so if you wanna become an expert in the "green tea in skincare" topic, click here and read it.
So now you know that EGCG is the magic ingredient in green tea. It's the most active polyphenol that green tea owes most of its magic properties to. It's a fantastic antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic agent. Be happy, if you spot it on the ingredient list.
Beta-Glucan is a nice big molecule composed of many smaller sugar molecules (called polysaccharide). It’s in the cell walls of yeast, some mushrooms, seaweeds, and cereals.
It’s a real goodie no matter if you eat it or put it on your face. Eating it is anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and even lowers the blood cholesterol.
Putting it on your face it also does a bunch of good things: it ‘s shown to have wound healing properties, it’s a mild antioxidant, it’s a great skin soother and moisturizer, and it even shows promising anti-aging benefits.
The manufacturer of the ingredient did a published study with 27 people and examined the effect of 0.5% beta-glucan. They found that despite the large molecular size beta-glucan does penetrate into the skin, even into the dermis (the middle layer of the skin where wrinkles form). After 8 weeks there was a significant reduction of wrinkle depth and height and skin roughness has also improved greatly.
Bottom line: Beta-glucan is a great ingredient, especially for sensitive skin. It soothes, moisturizes and even shows some anti-aging magic properties.
An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid).
Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier.
Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.
Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation.
If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.
As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily.
Though its name does not reveal it, Carnosine is a peptide, a small, two amino acid (β-Ala-His) one. It is naturally present in high concentrations in muscle and brain tissues, but the one used in cosmetic products is biomimetic, meaning that it is synthetically produced in a lab to copy the natural thing.
A 2017 review paper on topical peptides writes about Carnosine that it is a "well-documented aqueous antioxidant with wound healing activity".
Other than that we can write about manufacturer-done in-vitro (in the lab, not on real people) studies that show Carnosine to have anti-glycation properties. Glycation is the not-so-nice process that happens when we bombard our body with too much sugar that results in damaged body proteins and eventually in more wrinkles.
Also, a manufacturer done in vitro study shows that carnosine might have collagen-boosing magic power. However, the 2017 research paper also mentions that even though Carnosine is a small molecule, it is water soluble and does not penetrate the skin past the top layers so we have some doubt if the collagen-boosting works in real life. We could find one anti-aging study made on real people that mentions Carnosine, but it was combined with a bunch of other anti-aging actives so it is pretty much impossible to know what Carnosine did or did not.
One last thing to mention is that there is also a manufacturer done clinical study (done on real people) that shows carnosine being effective against the damages caused by infrared (IR) radiation. (source)
Genistein is a super active component of soybean. It has very potent antioxidant abilities and is proven to inhibit UVB-induced redness in human skin.
It is a phytoestrogen (a plant-derived molecule with estrogenic effect) so it is especially useful for situations when natural estrogen levels are low, such as during and after menopause. Low estrogen levels can cause skin thinning and collagen loss and genistein might be able to help with that.
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.
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.
A little helper ingredient that is used to adjust the pH of the product. It also helps to keep products stay nice longer by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (they usually come from water).
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 one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little of 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).
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.
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 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.
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|what‑it‑does||cell-communicating ingredient | skin brightening | anti-acne | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | skin brightening|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | soothing|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | cell-communicating ingredient|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||chelating | buffering|