Follow us on our new Insta page »
Physicians Formula Spotlight Illuminating Primer

Spotlight Illuminating Primer

Illuminating primer
Uploaded by: cocoabl on 30/10/2019

Physicians Formula Spotlight Illuminating Primer
Ingredients explained

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. 

Expand to read more

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: emollient

A natural based very light and highly spreading emollient that can be an alternative to water-thin, volatile silicone, Cyclopentasiloxane.

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2-4

A super common, medium-spreading emollient ester that gives richness to the formula and a mild feel during rubout. It can be a replacement for mineral oil and is often combined with other emollients to achieve different sensorial properties.

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 >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Synthetic Mica

Synthetic Fluorphlogopite is the synthetic version of the super commonly used mineral, Mica. The advantage of being synthetic is that it has a more consistent quality, fewer impurities and an even lower heavy metal content than Mica (not that Mica's heavy metal content is high). It is also more transparent and has improved light reflection. 

The two main use cases for Synthetic Fluorphlogopite is being used neat as a superior "filler" or skin tone enhancer or it can also serve as a base for multi-layered, composite pigments such as pearl effect pigments where it is coated with one or more layers of metal oxide, most commonly titanium dioxide. 

Also-called: Sepinov EMT 10 | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising

This long-named, polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits) is a helper ingredient that's good at emulsifying and stabilizing oils into water-based formulas. It also acts as a thickening and gelling agent that creates nice, non-sticky and supple textures. It works over a very wide pH range (3-12) and can be used to thicken up low-ph formulas, such as exfoliants.

spherical texturizing powder that's used as a texture enhancer and soft focus agent. It's claimed to give silicone type softness to the formula and also works as a (temporary) wrinkle filler. 

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-2

A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.

Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) in a pretty simple, "green" process that is similar to soap making. It's readily biodegradable.

Expand to read more

It also occurs naturally in our body and is used as a food additive. As cosmetic chemist Colins writes it, "its safety really is beyond any doubt".

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

A very common water-loving surfactant and emulsifier that helps to keep water and oil mixed nicely together. 

It's often paired with glyceryl stearate - the two together form a super effective emulsifier duo that's salt and acid tolerant and works over a wide pH range. It also gives a "pleasing product aesthetics", so no wonder it's popular.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that's used as a gloss improver for lipsticks and lipglosses. Its stickiness also helps lip products to stay on longer. 

Combined with polyacrylate-13 and polysorbate 20, it forms a very effective tickener-emulsifier trio.

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. 

Expand to read more

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.

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.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

Expand to read more

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. 

What-it-does: preservative

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

What-it-does: solvent | 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

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

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: emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-2

A handy helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix nicely together, aka emulsifier. It is especially recommended for protective, baby care and general purpose emollient creams. 

It also helps to disperse insoluble particles (think color pigments or zinc/titanium dioxide sunscreen) nice and even in cosmetic formulas. 

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.

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.

Expand to read more

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: CI 77861, Tin Dioxide | What-it-does: colorant

Far from the tin cans you find in the supermarket, Tin Oxide is mostly used when dealing with so-called effect pigments, tricky composite pigments that can do color travel (change color depending on the viewing angle) or give multiple color effect. 

It's often found alongside Mica (as a base material) and Titanium Dioxide (as a coating) to give a glossy, pearlescent effect. Together, they make up a trademarked technology called RonaFlair Blanace from the German manufacturer Merck. According to their info, this combination can balance out undesirable tones in the skin, making it a popular choice for brightening products and highlighters.

Expand to read more

Other than that, CosIng (the official EU INCI database) lists its uses as being a bulking agent (to increase the volume of products), as well as a physical exfoliant or an opacifying agent, but being part of composite effect pigments is a much more common use case. 

Tocopherol - goodie
Also-called: Vitamin E | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0-3 | Comedogenicity: 0-3
  • Primary fat-soluble antioxidant in our skin
  • Significant photoprotection against UVB rays
  • Vit C + Vit E work in synergy and provide great photoprotection
  • Has emollient properties
  • Easy to formulate, stable and relatively inexpensive
Read all the geeky details about Tocopherol here >>

Also-called: Ci 75470 | What-it-does: colorant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Carmine is a natural pigment that gives a bright, strawberry red shade. It counts as a special snowflake as it is the only organic pink/red colorant permitted for use around the eye area in the US.

Outside of the US though, it is not that often used, as unlike most other colorants (that tend to be synthetic or if natural, plant-derived), Carmine is animal-derived and comes from an insect called Coccus cacti. This makes it both very expensive and excludes it from animal-friendly, vegan cosmetic products.  

Also-called: Ci 77491/77492/77499 | What-it-does: colorant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

A bit of a sloppy ingredient name as it covers not one but three pigments: red, yellow and black iron oxide.

The trio is invaluable for "skin-colored" makeup products  (think your foundation and pressed powder) as blending these three shades carefully can produce almost any shade of natural-looking flesh tones. 

Also-called: CI 77019

A super versatile and common mineral powder that comes in different particle sizes. It is a multi-tasker used to improve skin feel, increase product slip, give the product light-reflecting properties, enhance skin adhesion or serve as an anti-caking agent.

It is also the most commonly used "base" material for layered composite pigments such as pearl-effect pigments. In this case, mica is coated with one or more metal oxides (most commonly titanium dioxide) to achieve pearl effect via the physical phenomenon known as interference. 

Also-called: Titanium Dioxide/Ci 77891;Ci 77891 | What-it-does: colorant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Ci 77891 is the color code of titanium dioxide. It's a white pigment with great color consistency and dispersibility.

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 emollient
A natural based very light and highly spreading emollient that can be an alternative to water-thin, volatile silicone, Cyclopentasiloxane.
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 2-4
A super common, medium-spreading emollient ester that gives richness to the formula and a mild feel during rubout. [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]
Synthetic Fluorphlogopite is the synthetic version of the super commonly used mineral, Mica. The advantage of being synthetic is that it has a more consistent quality, fewer impurities and an even lower heavy metal content than Mica (not that Mica's heavy metal content is high). [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A helper ingredient that's good at stabilizing water-based formulas and also serves as a thickener. [more]
A spherical texturizing powder that's used as a texture enhancer and soft focus agent. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 1-2
Waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth. [more]
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A commonly used water-soluble surfactant and emulsifier. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that's used as a gloss improver for lipsticks and lipglosses. Combined with polyacrylate-13 and polysorbate 20, it forms a very effective tickener-emulsifier trio. [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 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 soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
It can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
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 emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Compared to the pure form it's more stable, has longer shelf life, but it's also more poorly absorbed by the skin. [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 emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 1-2
A handy helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix nicely together. [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 emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Sunflower Oil - it's a great emollient that protects & enhances the skin barrier. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
Far from the tin cans you find in the supermarket, Tin Oxide is mostly used when dealing with so-called effect pigments, tricky composite pigments that can do color travel (change color depending on the viewing angle) or give multiple color effect.  It's often found alongside Mica (as a base material) and Titanium Dioxide (as a coating) to give a glossy, pearlescent effect. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0-3, 0-3
Pure Vitamin E. Great antioxidant that gives significant photoprotection against UVB rays. Works in synergy with Vitamin C. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Carmine is a natural pigment that gives a bright, strawberry red shade. It counts as a special snowflake as it is the only organic pink/red colorant permitted for use around the eye area in the US. Outside of the US though, it is not that often used, as unlike most other colorants (that tend to be synthetic or if natural, plant-derived), Carmine  [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A mix of red, yellow and black iron oxide. [more]
A mineral powder used to improve skin feel, increase product slip, give the product some light-reflecting properties, enhance skin adhesion or serve as an anti-caking agent. A real multi-tasker. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Titanium dioxide as a colorant. It's a white pigment with great color consistency and dispersibility.