Skin Smoothing Exfoliator
Proactive+ Skin Smoothing ExfoliatorIngredients explained
The gold standard topical ingredient in treating acne today. There is no miracle cure for acne (we do really wish for one, *sigh*), but Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) is probably the closest thing we have. But, as usual, big effects come with big side effects, so we think BP is best used as a last resort (at least, in the topical treatment field).
The good thing about BP is that it is amazingly effective against inflammatory-type acne. Not so much against blackheads or whiteheads, but against acne that is caused by the evil bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (and that is most types of acne). Apart from being antibacterial, it is also anti-inflammatory, keratolytic and wound-healing, all of which are properties that make it so darn effective against spots.
Another big pro of BP is that there is no bacterial resistance to it, meaning if it works once it will continue to work. Antibiotics are also a common way to treat acne, but antibiotic-resistant P. acnes are increasing worldwide. BP will probably help you even if antibiotics have stopped working, and the two are also often combined for a more complex acne therapy. Btw, BP plays nice not only with antibiotics but also with retinoids.
The side-effects part? BP works its antibacterial magic by being a powerful oxidizing agent, meaning it is a pro-oxidant. As in the opposite of an antioxidant. BP literally generates evil ROS (reactive oxygen species) in the skin that kills P. acnes but also harms the surrounding skin cells. Ongoing BP-use ages your skin, which is why, we say, use it as a last resort. If you do use BP, please also use a good sunscreen and a good antioxidant serum to apologise to your skin (btw, these things are useful in any case). Use the BP treatment at night and the antioxidant serum in the morning so that they do not cancel each other out.
Another side effect of BP is that it can be very skin drying. BP is an example where more is not better. In fact, it is equally effective at concentrations of 2.5, 5.0 and 10%, but the higher the concentration the more irritating and drying side effects occur. So using BP at 2.5% percent is the ideal amount. Another side effect which is good to know is that BP can bleach bedsheets and clothes. Be careful with your expensive satin bedsheets.
Overall, Benzoyl Peroxide is a uniquely effective topical acne treatment, but it comes at a price. Use it as a last resort and for good measure (and with plenty of moisturizers, sunscreen, and antioxidant serum).
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 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".
- 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
Polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world. It is a super versatile polymer (molecule from repeated subunits) and when it comes to cosmetics, it is often referred to as microbeads. Well, it used to be referred to as microbeads, as it was banned in 2015 in the " Microbead-Free Waters Act" due to the small plastic spheres accumulating in the waters and looking like food to fish. Well done by Obama.
But being versatile means that polyethylene does not only come as scrub particles but also as a white wax. In its wax-form, it is still well, alive and pretty popular. It thickens up water-free formulas, increases hardness and raises the melting point of emulsions and water-less balms. It is particularly common in cleansing balms and stick-type makeup products due to its ability to add body, hardness and slip to these formulas.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
The famous omega-6 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-6 fatty acids in our body. It is a so-called polyunsaturated fatty acid meaning it has more than one (in this case two) double bonds and a somewhat kinky structure that makes LA and LA-rich oils a thin liquid.
It is also an essential fatty acid meaning our body cannot synthesize it and has to take it from food. This is not hard at all as plenty of nuts (such as flax, poppy or sesame seeds) and vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower) are rich in LA. The hard thing seems to be eating enough omega-3-s, more specifically eating a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but that is a topic for a what-is-good-to-eat-site and not for us.
As for linoleic acid and the skin, LA is a really important little guy found naturally in our skin. It is the most abundant fatty acid in the epidermis and it serves as a structural precursor for important skin lipids called ceramides. Knowing this, it will not come as a surprise that Linoleic acid has a central role in the structure and function of stratum corneum permeability, aka healthy skin barrier. LA deficiency leads to an impaired more permeable skin barrier and the topical application of LA-rich sunflower oil can fix this issue rapidly (while oleic-rich olive oil did not have the same barrier repairing effect).
LA is not only important for dry, barrier damaged skin types but also for acne-prone skin. Research shows that problem skin has lower levels of linoleic acid (and higher levels of oleic acid) than normal skin. So LA-deficiency in the skin seems to be connected not only to an impaired skin barrier but also to acne and smearing LA all over your face might help with your problem skin. A double-blind study using a 2.5% LA gel for 4 weeks found a 25% reduction in the size of microcomedones, the tiny blocked pores that can later lead to acne.
If that was not enough, we have one more thing to report about LA. It lightens hyperpigmentation (aka UVB caused sun spots) both by blocking the melanin production of melanocytes (the skin cells that make the pigment melanin) and by enhancing the desquamation of melanin pigment from the upper layers of the skin.
Overall, linoleic acid is a multi-functional skin goodie with barrier repairing, acne-reducing, and skin-lightening magic abilities. It's a nice one to spot on the ingredient list pretty much for any skin type.
The famous omega-3 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-3 fatty acids in our body. Next to linoleic acid, it is the other essential fatty acid that our body cannot synthesize and we have to ingest it from our food. It is also a PUFA, aka polyunsaturated fatty acid with three double bonds, a kinky chemical structure and thus a liquid consistency.
While linoleic acid is abundant in the skin, this is not the case with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is not entirely clear if it is meant to be like that or if this is a consequence of not eating enough Omega-3 with the typical Western diet.
Leafy green vegetables, walnuts, flax seeds and fish oils are rich sources of ALA and if you are not eating a lot from these, supplementing with fish oil is a pretty good idea backed by research. It is a good idea both in terms of general health benefits as well as potentially improving inflammation-related skin issues such as atopic dermatitis or acne.
As for using ALA topically, we have to say that its role and effects seem to be less direct than with LA. ALA's main role in the skin appears to be modulating the immune response of the epidermis. This is probably helpful for inflammatory skin diseases but most studies examine ALA as an oral supplement and not when applied topically. One exception, we could find, is a study that found that topically applied ALA has nice spot-fading abilities.
To be honest, it seems to us that oral supplementation of ALA is more important than smearing it all over your face. However, that is not to say that topical ALA is a bad thing, it is a good thing. It is a skin-identical ingredient, it is probably moisturizing and anti-inflammatory but its topical effects are less established than that of fellow omega fatty acid, linoleic acid.
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.
Probably the most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.
As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity.
As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types).
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.
Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating.
This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners).
- 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
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 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!).
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|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient | surfactant/cleansing | perfuming|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|