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.
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.
- 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
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 natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
- Super common, used for more than 50 years
- Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
- High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
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.
The extract created from the leaves of the hazelnut-bush-like-magic-tree, commonly called Witch Hazel. We have gone into detail about Witch Hazel in cosmetic products here (it's astringent, soothing, antioxidant and antibacterial), but the important part to know about the leaves is that they contain much, much less active components than the bark. In fact, it contains hardly any tannins (only 0.04%) and the most active component in the leaves is the antibacterial gallic acid.
Too many tannins can be very astringent and irritating to the skin, so this is not necessarily a bad thing. Even the small amount of active components in the leaves seem to give it nice soothing, astringent, and antibacterial properties.
Horse Chestnut is quite a common and often used ingredient thanks to a couple of nice magic properties. It contains the active ingredient called escin that helps to maintain healthy blood circulation and strengthen capillaries. This makes horse chestnut useful for rosacea prone skin and it’s also often used in toners for a fresh skin feeling.
It also has some anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties, so all in all, a nice one to spot on the ingredient list.
Fancy name for fruit sugar. It has nice water-binding properties and helps to keep skin hydrated.
A fancy name for sugar. Luckily when you put it on your skin it's good for you not like when you eat it. :) It has water-binding properties, which means that it helps to keep your skin nice and hydrated.
A type fo sugar, usually refined from cane or beet sugar. On the skin, it has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated.
Yes, it's the thing that can be found naturally in pee. And in the skin. It is an awesome natural moisturizing factor, aka NMF. NMFs are important components that help the skin to hold onto water and keep it plump, elastic and hydrated. Urea makes up about 7% of NMFs next to other things such as amino acids (40%), PCA (12%) or Lactate (12%).
What makes urea special, is that it is not only a simple moisturizer, but it is thought to be a "small-molecule regulator of epidermal structure and function" meaning that it has a bunch of extra biological activities. It acts as a mild keratolytic agent (some of its moisturizing action is thought to come from urea's ability to break down bonds in the protein called filaggrin and thus freeing up amino acids in the skin), enhances antimicrobial peptide expression and improves skin barrier function.
Being a mild keratolytic agent and strong moisturizer means that high-percentage (10-40%) urea treatments are found effective in a bunch of skin disorders connected to excessive dryness and malfunctioning skin barrier such as ichthyosis, xerosis, psoriasis, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis.
Overall, just like glycerin, urea is a real oldie but a goodie, a nice ingredient in any moisturizer.
A little helper ingredient that can be a thickener, a humectant, a foam booster, an adhesion promoter and a filler. It's a blend of polysaccharides that helps to moisturize and soften the skin.
A non-essential amino acid (a building block of skin proteins like collagen or elastin) that hydrates the skin.
Glutamic acid is a little molecule and non-essential (our body can synthesize it) amino acid with the important job of being a neurotransmitter in the human body meaning that it helps your nervous system work correctly.
As for what it's doing in cosmetics, Glutamic acids' main thing (similar to other amino acids) is being a humectant moisturizer and skin-conditioning agent (sidenote: if you attach lots of glutamic acid molecules, you get polyglutamic acid that is claimed to be a better than hyaluronic acid humectant). It also seems to affect skin barrier repair, however, it is not clear-cut in which direction.
The complication is that glutamic acid has two distinct forms, L-glutamic acid and D-glutamic acid, that are the mirror images of each other (think of it like your left and right hand). Studies show that a topical application of L-glutamic acid on damaged skin delayed skin repair, while D-glutamic acid application sped up skin repair. As both forms are used by the industry, it is a bit uncertain what you are getting with just glutamic acid on the ingredient list (but if it is a Shiseido group product, it is probably the goodie D-form :)).
Other than that, Glutamic acid can also be used as a pH adjuster and can be processed via biological pathways into pyrrolidone carboxylic acid, the sodium salt of which is a goodie and one of your skin’s natural moisturizing factors.
A non-essential amino acid (important building block of collagen and elastin) that hydrates the skin. It is also used to set the pH of the cosmetic product (buffering).
There is not too much info out there about Hexyl Nicotinate. It's an emollient, moisturizer ingredient. Also according to this study it increases blood flow.
A traditional Korean medicine used for more than 2000 years. Regarding skin care, its main thing seems to be enhancing skin nutrition and metabolism as a result of improving blood circulation.
It also contains biologically active components referred to as ginseng saponins (ginsenosides) that have potent antioxidant properties.
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.
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.
Also called vitamin H, biotin is the main component of many enzymes in our body. A nice ingredient to take as a supplement for stronger nails and hair. When you do not take it as a supplement its effects are a bit more questionable but according to manufacturer info it can smooth the skin and strengthen the hair.
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.
A helper ingredient that usually comes to the formula coupled with PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil. The two together work as surfactants and oil solubilizers. It's a non-sticky duo that works at low concentration and is often used to solubilize fragrance components into water-based formulas.
A mildly viscous, amber-colored liquid with fatty odor, made from Castor Oil and polyethylene glycol (PEG).
If it were a person, we’d say, it’s agile, diligent & multifunctional. It’s mostly used as an emulsifier and surfactant but most often it is used to solubilize fragrances into water-based formulas.
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.
Exactly what it sounds: nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. Fragrance in the US and parfum in the EU is a generic term on the ingredient list that is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average (but it can have as much as 200 components!).
If you are someone who likes to know what you put on your face than fragrance is not your best friend - no way to know what’s really in it.
Also, if your skin is sensitive, fragrance is again not your best friend. It’s the number one cause of contact allergy to cosmetics. It’s definitely a smart thing to avoid with sensitive skin (and fragrance of any type - natural is just as allergic as synthetic, if not worse!).
The caramel in cosmetics is pretty much the same one that you know from the kitchen. It is derived by controlled heat treatment of food-grade carbohydrates (sugars) and works as a brown colorant.
Copy and paste into your blog
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|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | solvent | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0-1, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|