REN Aha Smart Renewal Body SerumIngredients explained
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.
Unless you live under a rock you must have heard about shea butter. It's probably the most hyped up natural butter in skincare today. It comes from the seeds of African Shea or Karite Trees and used as a magic moisturizer and emollient.
But it's not only a simple emollient, it regenerates and soothes the skin, protects it from external factors (such as UV rays or wind) and is also rich in antioxidants (among others vitamin A, E, F, quercetin and epigallocatechin gallate). If you are looking for rich emollient benefits + more, shea is hard to beat.
- It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
- It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
- It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
- In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
- 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)
The sodium salt of lactic acid. It's a great skin moisturizer and also used to regulate the pH value of the cosmetic formula. It's a natural ingredient approved by both ECOCERT and COSMOS.
Lactococcus Ferment Lysate is a fairly new probiotic ingredient that is obtained from the Gram-positive bacteria, Lactococcus lactis. The lysate is a fluid substance that is produced when you break down the cell membrane, which means it contains interesting things including cytoplasm and cell wall fragments.
According to the manufacturer, it positively influences both the speed and quality of epidermal growth that results in better barrier function and overall skin quality. To prove their point, the German manufacturer conducted several in-vitro (made in test tubes) tests examining how the treatment with Lactococcus Ferment Lysate (LFL) affects important skin proteins.
They found that gene expression influencing the proteins binding the live skin cells together (such as Occludin, Desmocollin 1 and Desmoglein 1) is stimulated by LFL, as well as the expression of enzymes (Kallikrein 5 and 7) breaking the bonds between the shedding dead skin cells. LFL also had a positive influence on epidermal growth and on the thickness of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin). Another positive finding was that LFL stimulated the production of antimicrobial peptides that play an important role in the immunocompetence of the skin cells.
As for in-vivo tests, the manufacturer only did one and that had only 5 volunteers. They did some tape stripping (exactly what it sounds, hurting the skin by stripping off the top layers) and examined skin renewal and barrier recovery. 4 days after the experiment 3% Lactococcus Ferment Lysate used twice daily resulted in thicker stratum corneum (the difference was about 2 µm) and less trans-epidermal water loss.
Overall, Lactococcus Ferment Lysate is a promising but fairly unproven ingredient that might help with the natural skin renewal process as well as with a healthy skin barrier and skin flora.
A big sugar molecule (polysaccharide) that is used as a natural thickening and gelling agent. It is similar to more commonly used Xanthan Gum, and the two are also often combined to create gel formulas or to stabilize emulsions.
The main part of a moisturizing complex called Aquaxyl. Comes from two water-binding plant sugars, glucose and xylitol. According to the manufacturer, Aquaxyl is close to a magic moisturizer that not only simply moisturizes, but can "harmonize the skin's hydrous flow".
This means that on the one side it can optimize water reserves by increasing important NMFs (natural moisturizing factors - things that are naturally in the skin and help to keep it hydrated) - like hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate - in the skin. On the other side, it also limits water loss by improving the skin barrier with increased lipid (ceramides and cholesterol) and protein synthesis.
In vivo (made on real people) tests show that 3% Aquaxyl not only increases the water content of the outer layer instantly and in the long run but it also visibly improves cracked, dry skin and smoothes the skin surface after a month of treatment.
The hydrating effect of Aquaxyl was also examined in a comparative study in the Journal of cosmetic dermatology. The hydrogel with 4% Aquaxyl performed as well as the well-known moisturizer, urea and somewhat better than the formula containing NMF components or hydrating plant extract called Imperata Cylindrica.
All in all, Aquaxyl is a goodie and if you have dehydrated, dry skin it's something to look at.
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little 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). The typical use level of Xantha Gum is below 1%, it is usually in the 0.1-0.5% range.
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).
A sugar derived moisturizer that's part of a moisturizing trio called Aquaxyl. You can read more about its magic properties at xylitylglucoside.
If you ever wondered what those little Listerine breath strips were made of, you found your answer! Pullulan is a polysaccharide polymer, which basically means that it’s a big molecule made up of smaller sugar molecule units.
It dissolves in water and can make a thin, elastic, and moisture-absorbing film when spread on the skin that can cause an instant tightening effect. It can also be used as a thickener to get a silicone-like feel and can be used in peel-off masks. Btw, it's made from fungus via fermentation.
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 then fragrance is not your best friend - there's 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!).
A type of sugar molecule, that has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated.
A type of sugar that's part of a moisturizing trio called Aquaxyl. You can read more about its magic properties at xylitylglucoside.
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
The essential oil coming from the rind of the grapefruit. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (86-95% for grapefruit peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer).
Other than that, citrus peel also contains the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them mildly phototoxic. In general, the more sour-bitter the fruit, the more problematic it is regarding phototoxicity: orange and clementine peel contain less of it while lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot contain some more. Be careful with it if it is in a product for daytime use.
The essential oil coming from the peel of the mandarin orange or tangor. In general, the main component of citrus peel oils is limonene (77-86% for mandarin peel), a super common fragrant ingredient that makes everything smell nice (but counts as a frequent skin sensitizer). Apart from smelling nice (and thus being a popular natural fragrance alternative), Mandarin Orange Oil also has significant antioxidant properties that's comparable to synthetic antioxidant BHT or oil-soluble antioxidant big shot vitamin E.
On the con side, the fragrant components of citrus peels might irritate sensitive skin and citrus peels also contain the problematic compound called furanocoumarin that makes them (mildly) phototoxic. Orange mandarin peel contains less from it than some other citruses (like bergamot or lime), but still, be careful with it especially if it's in a product for daytime use.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
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.
BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.
You probably know yeast from the kitchen where you put it into milk with a little sugar and then after a couple of minutes brownish bubbles form. That is the fungi fermenting the sugar.
As for skin care, yeast contains beta-glucan that is a great soothing ingredient and also a mild antioxidant. The yeast extract itself is a silky clear liquid that has some great moisturizing, skin protecting and film-forming properties on the skin.
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 white powdery thing that's the major component of glass and sand. In cosmetics, it’s often in products that are supposed to keep your skin matte as it has great oil-absorbing abilities. It’s also used as a helper ingredient to thicken up products or suspend insoluble particles.
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.
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.
So now you know that pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is really unstable and hard to formulate so the cosmetics industry is coming up with a bunch of derivatives to solve the problem and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (or MAP) is one of them.
MAP does solve the stability problem: it's stable up to pH 7, so far so good. What is not so good is that, as the great review study about vitamin C derivatives in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology writes, MAP is "at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison to AA."
Moreover, derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin, they also have to be converted into pure AA. The good news is that in-vitro data shows that MAP does convert, but the bad news is we do not really know if the same is true on real, living human skin. Even if it does, we don't know how good the conversion rate is (but to be fair the same is true for all other derivatives).
Regarding the three magic abilities of pure vitamin C (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener), there is no published data about MAP's antioxidant or photoprotection capabilities. We have better news about the other two things: in-vitro data shows that MAP can boost collagen synthesis similar to AA (though in the case of AA it's proven in-vivo) and even better, MAP is proven to work as a skin brightener in-vivo (on real people).
Bottom line: when it comes to vitamin C derivatives, MAP is definitely an option. We especially recommend it if you are after skin brightening as this seems to be the strongest point of MAP.
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.
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.
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that smells like lemon and has a bittersweet taste. It can be found in many plant oils, e.g. lemon, orange, lime or lemongrass.
It’s one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.
A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.
It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer.
Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.
All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.
Linalool is a super common fragrance ingredient. It’s kind of everywhere - both in plants and in cosmetic products. It’s part of 200 natural oils including lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, jasmine, geranium and it can be found in 90-95% of prestige perfumes on the market.
The problem with linalool is, that just like limonene it oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. That’s why a product containing linalool that has been opened for several months is more likely to be allergenic than a fresh one.
A study made in the UK with 483 people tested the allergic reaction to 3% oxidised linalool and 2.3% had positive test results.
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | moisturizer/humectant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||buffering | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin brightening | antioxidant|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|