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Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser

Paula's Choice
Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser

This blend of gentle cleansing ingredients thoroughly removes makeup, excess oil and impurities while soothing skin.
Uploaded by: mxunicorn on 27/06/2017

Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua | 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. 

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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: surfactant/cleansing

A cleansing agent that's claimed to be so gentle on the skin that it hardly impacts the skin barrier. It also gives a rich, creamy foam, it's based on vegetable fatty acids and is readily biodegradable.

It's an especially important and popular ingredient in "syndet bars" (or soapless soaps). Dr. Leslie Baumann says in her great Cosmetic Dermatology book that thanks to the unique molecular characteristic of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, it "has defined a new dimension in the mildness of cleansing bars".

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

A mild amphoteric (contains both a negative and a positive ion in its water-loving head part) surfactant that gives a nice foam and also has the unique ability to reduce irritation from other co-surfactants. 

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).

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

A so-called diester created from two stearic acid molecules and an ethylene glycol molecule. Its main thing is being an opacifier and pearling agent in cleansing products making them white and glossy. It can also give body to creams and emulsions.

Also-called: Sunflower Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more  we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.

It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.

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Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.

It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%)  and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil

Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A big polymer molecule that has a bunch of different versions and thus different uses. It can act as a film former,  as thickening agent, or it can increase the water-resistance in sunscreens. It is also used to entrap pigments/inorganic sunscreens within a micron size matrix for even coverage and easy application.

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 1 | Comedogenicity: 2

An extremely common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams and lotions. It also helps to stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions), though it does not function as an emulsifier in itself. Its typical use level in most cream type formulas is 2-3%.  

It’s a so-called fatty alcohol, a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, other two emollient fatty alcohols.  Though chemically speaking, it is alcohol (as in, it has an -OH group in its molecule), its properties are totally different from the properties of low molecular weight or drying alcohols such as denat. alcohol. Fatty alcohols have a long oil-soluble (and thus emollient) tail part that makes them absolutely non-drying and non-irritating and are totally ok for the skin.

Also-called: Aloe Leaf Extract | What-it-does: soothing, emollient, moisturizer/humectant

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.

Also-called: Salt | What-it-does: viscosity controlling

Sodium chloride is the fancy name of salt. Normal, everyday table salt

If (similar to us) you are in the weird habit of reading the label on your shower gel while taking a shower, you might have noticed that sodium chloride is almost always on the ingredient list. The reason for this is that salt acts as a fantastic thickener in cleansing formulas created with ionic cleansing agents (aka surfactants) such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate. A couple of percents (typically 1-3%) turns a runny surfactant solution into a nice gel texture.

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If you are into chemistry (if not, we understand, just skip this paragraph), the reason is that electrolytes (you know, the Na+ and Cl- ions) screen the electrostatic repulsion between the head groups of ionic surfactants and thus support the formation of long shaped micelles (instead of spherical ones) that entangle like spaghetti, and viola, a gel is formed. However, too much of it causes the phenomenon called "salting out", and the surfactant solution goes runny again. 

Other than that, salt also works as an emulsion stabilizer in water-in-oil emulsions, that is when water droplets are dispersed in the outer oil (or silicone) phase. And last but not least, when salt is right at the first spot of the ingredient list (and is not dissolved), the product is usually a body scrub where salt is the physical exfoliating agent

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

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.  

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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). 

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.

What-it-does: emulsifying, solvent, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0-1 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable. 

Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® HPO, where it helps the effectiveness of current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol

What-it-does: chelating

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.

What-it-does: preservative

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. 

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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.

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 surfactant/cleansing
A cleansing agent that's claimed to be so gentle on the skin that it hardly impacts the skin barrier. It also gives a rich, creamy foam, it's based on vegetable fatty acids and is readily biodegradable. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing
A mild amphoteric (contains both a negative and a positive ion in its water-loving head part) surfactant that gives a nice foam and also has the unique ability to reduce irritation from other co-surfactants. 
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 skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling
A so-called diester created from two stearic acid molecules and an ethylene glycol molecule. Its main thing is being an opacifier and pearling agent in cleansing products making them white and glossy. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Sunflower Oil - it's a great emollient that protects & enhances the skin barrier. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A big polymer molecule that has a bunch of different versions and thus different uses. It can act as a film former,  as a thickening agent, or it can increase the water-resistance in sunscreens. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 1, 2
A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | emollient | moisturizer/humectant
The extract coming from the juice containing leaves of the Aloe vera plant with moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
Sodium chloride is the fancy name of salt. Normal, everyday table salt.  If (similar to us) you are in the weird habit of reading the label on your shower gel while taking a shower, you might have noticed that sodium chloride is almost always on the ingredient list. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | solvent | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0-1, 0-2
Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable.  Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® [more]
what‑it‑does chelating
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 preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]