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Peter Thomas Roth Aha/Bha Acne Clearing Gel

Aha/Bha Acne Clearing Gel

Acne Clearing Gel with Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Acid.
Uploaded by: cottomcandy on

Skim through

Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Salicylic Acid (2%) exfoliant, anti-acne, soothing, preservative superstar
Alcohol Denat antimicrobial/​antibacterial, solvent, viscosity controlling icky
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice soothing, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Arginine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Arnica Montana Flower Extract perfuming icky
BHT antioxidant, preservative
Butylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling 0, 1
Butylparaben preservative
Citric Acid buffering
Cyclopentasiloxane emollient, solvent
Denatonium Benzoate
Diazolidinyl Urea preservative icky
Disodium Phosphate buffering
Ethylparaben preservative
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 superstar
Glycolic Acid exfoliant, buffering superstar
Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract soothing, skin brightening superstar
Glyoxal antimicrobial/​antibacterial, perfuming
Helianthus Annuus(Sunflower) Seed Oil emollient 0, 0 goodie
Hydroxyethylcellulose viscosity controlling
Isobutylparaben preservative, antimicrobial/​antibacterial
Methylparaben preservative 0, 0
Phenoxyethanol preservative
Polysorbate 60 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Potassium Sorbate preservative
Propylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling 0, 0
Propylparaben preservative, perfuming 0, 0
Retinyl Palmitate cell-communicating ingredient 1-3, 1-3
Sodium Benzoate preservative
Sodium Hydroxide buffering
Sodium Nitrate soothing
Sodium Phosphate buffering
T-Butyl Alcohol perfuming, solvent
Water/Aqua/Eau solvent

Peter Thomas Roth Aha/Bha Acne Clearing Gel
Ingredients explained

Also-called: BHA | What-it-does: exfoliant, anti-acne, soothing, preservative
  • It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
  • It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores
  • It's a potent anti-inflammatory agent
  • It's more effective for treating blackheads than acne
  • For acne combine it with antibacterial agents like benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid
Read all the geeky details about Salicylic Acid here >>

  • 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)
Read all the geeky details about Alcohol Denat. here >>

Also-called: Aloe Vera | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant

Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.

What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie. 

Arginine - goodie

A semi-essential (infants cannot synthesize it, but adults can) amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of hair keratin and skin collagen. It's a natural moisturizing factor, a skin hydrator and might also help to speed up wound healing

Arginine usually has a positive charge (cationic) that makes it substantive to skin and hair (those are more negatively charged surfaces) and an excellent film former.  Thanks to the positive charge, it also creates a complex with AHAs (AHAs like to lose a hydrogen ion and be negatively charged, so the positive and the negative ions attract each other) that causes a "time-release AHA effect" and reduces the irritation associated with AHAs

Also-called: Mountain Arnica Extract | What-it-does: perfuming

A nice yellow flower living in the mountains. It has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries, though its effect on skin is rather questionable. It's most famously used to treat bruisings, but there are some studies that show that it's not better than placebo (source: wikipedia).  Also, some consider it to be anti-inflammatory, while other research shows that it can cause skin irritation. 

Also-called: Butylated Hydroxy Toluene | What-it-does: antioxidant, preservative

It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.

There is some controversy around BHT. It's not a new ingredient, it has been used both as a food and cosmetics additive since the 1970s. Plenty of studies tried to examine if it's a carcinogen or not. This Truth in Aging article details the situation and also writes that all these studies examine BHT when taken orally.

Expand to read more

As for cosmetics, the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) concluded that the amount of BHT used in cosmetic products is low (usually around 0.01-0.1%),  it does not penetrate skin far enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and it is safe to use in cosmetics.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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.

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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. 

What-it-does: preservative

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

Expand to read more

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. 

What-it-does: emollient, solvent

A super commonly used 5 unit long, cyclic structured silicone that is water-thin and does not stay on the skin but evaporates from it (called volatile silicone). Similar to other silicones, it gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel

It's often combined with the non-volatile (i.e. stays on the skin) dimethicone as the two together form a water-resistant, breathable protective barrier on the skin without a negative tacky feel.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative

An antimicrobial preservative that helps your products not to go wrong too quickly. It works especially well against bacteria, specifically gram-negative species, yeast, and mold.

Somewhat controversial, it belongs to an infamous family of formaldehyde-releasers. That is, it slowly breaks down to form formaldehyde when it is added to a formula. We have written more about formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and the concerns around them at Dmdm Hydantoin, but do not get too scared, those are more theories than proven facts.

Expand to read more

As for Diazolidinyl Urea itself, a study from 1990 writes that at concentrations up to 0.4%, it was a mild cumulative skin irritant, but the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) reviewed it in 2006 and found that, in concentrations of <0.5%, it is safe as used, as the amount of formaldehyde released will be smaller than the recommended limit (of less than 0.2%).

All in all, it is up to your personal decision and skin sensitivity. 

What-it-does: buffering

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative

A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. Read more about parabens here >>

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 >>

Glycolic Acid - superstar
What-it-does: exfoliant, buffering
  • It’s the most researched AHA with the most proven skin benefits
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
  • It can help skin’s own collagen production that results in firmer, younger skin
  • It can fade brown spots caused by sun damage or PIH
  • Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
  • Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
  • Slight stinging or burning with a stronger AHA product is normal
  • If your skin is very sensitive, rosacea prone choose rather a BHA or PHA product
Read all the geeky details about Glycolic Acid here >>

Also-called: Licorice Root;Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract | What-it-does: soothing, skin brightening

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.

Expand to read more

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. :)

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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.

Also-called: HEC | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising

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. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: preservative | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon

Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))

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.

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

What-it-does: preservative

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.

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BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
Read all the geeky details about Propylene Glycol here >>

What-it-does: preservative, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.

Also-called: Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient | Irritancy: 1-3 | Comedogenicity: 1-3

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:

Expand to read more

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.

What-it-does: preservative

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.

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.

What-it-does: soothing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: buffering

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: perfuming, solvent

A clear liquid with a camphor-like odor that is used as a solvent

Also-called: Aqua;Water | 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. 

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does exfoliant | anti-acne | soothing | preservative
One of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin. It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores and it's a potent anti-inflammatory agent. [more]
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling
Alcohol with some additives to make it unconsumable. It is great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent, and antimicrobial. In large amounts, it can be very drying to the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
The famous aloe vera. A great moisturizer and anti-inflammatory ingredient that also helps wound healing and skin regeneration. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of hair keratin and skin collagen. It's a natural moisturizing factor and might also help to speed up wound healing.  [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
Mountain Arnica Extract - Most famously used to treat bruisings, though the scientific basis for its effectiveness is questionable. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | preservative
It's the acronym for Butylated Hydroxy Toluene. It's a common synthetic antioxidant that's used as a preservative.There is some controversy around BHT. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent
It's a super commonly used water-thin volatile silicone that gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel.  [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
An antimicrobial preservative that helps your products not to go wrong too quickly. It works especially well against bacteria, specifically gram-negative species, yeast, and mold.Somewhat controversial, it belongs to an infamous family of formaldehyde-releasers. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
what‑it‑does preservative
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. [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 exfoliant | buffering
The most researched and well-known AHA exfoliant. It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin. In larger concentration (>10%) it's a proven collagen booster. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | skin brightening
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. [more]
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | perfuming
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 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. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial
what‑it‑does preservative
irritancy, com. 0, 0
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.  Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) sho [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]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
what‑it‑does preservative
A not so strong preservative that doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common glycol that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products. It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | perfuming
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A very common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
irritancy, com. 1-3, 1-3
An ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that is pretty much the least effective member of the retinoid family. Its anti-aging effects are quite questionable as well as its behavior in the presence of UVA light. (Use it at night if possible!) [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
A preservative that works mainly against fungi. Has to be combined with other preservatives. [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 soothing
what‑it‑does buffering
what‑it‑does perfuming | solvent
A clear liquid with a camphor-like odor that is used as a solvent.  [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]