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 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
The emollient plant oil that comes from almonds. Similar to other plant oils, it is loaded with skin-nourishing fatty acids (oleic acid - 55-86% and linoleic acid 7-35%) and contains several other skin goodies such as antioxidant vitamin E and vitamin B versions.
It's a nice, basic oil that is often used due to its great smoothing, softening and moisturizing properties. It's also particularly good at treating dry brittle nails (source).
The oil coming from the pulp of one of the most nutritious fruits in the world, the avocado. It's loaded with the nourishing and moisturizing fatty acid, oleic (70%) and contains some others including palmitic (10%) and linoleic acid (8%). It also contains a bunch of minerals and vitamins A, E and D.
Avocado oil has extraordinary skin penetration abilities and can nourish different skin layers. It's a very rich, highly moisturizing emollient oil that makes the skin smooth and nourished. Thanks to its vitamin E content it also has some antioxidant properties. As a high-oleic plant oil, it is recommended for dry skin.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
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.
An often used emollient with a light and silky feel. It's very mild to both skin and eyes and spreads nicely and easily. It's often used in sunscreens as it's also an excellent solvent for sunscreen agents.
A sugar based emulsifier that's especially great for low viscosity lotions or even sprays. It's effective in small amounts, only 1-1.5% is needed to form an emulsion. The resulting cream or lotion has great cosmetic properties with good spreadability and an enhanced soft skin feel.
An extremely common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams and lotions. It also helps to stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions), though it does not function as an emulsifier in itself. Its typical use level in most cream type formulas is 2-3%.
It’s a so-called fatty alcohol, a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, other two emollient fatty alcohols. Though chemically speaking, it is alcohol (as in, it has an -OH group in its molecule), its properties are totally different from the properties of low molecular weight or drying alcohols such as denat. alcohol. Fatty alcohols have a long oil-soluble (and thus emollient) tail part that makes them absolutely non-drying and non-irritating and are totally ok for the skin.
A really famous peptide that is part of Matrixyl 3000, the most sold peptide complex in the word. Before we go and find out what the big deal with Matrixyl 3000 is, let's just focus on Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 itself for a bit.
It's a small three amino acid (they are the building blocks of all proteins) peptide with the amino sequence of glycine-histidine-lysine, or GHK. GHK is attached to palmitic acid (a fatty acid) to increase oil solubility and skin penetration.
The GHK part is the important one as it's a type I collagen fragment. When collagen naturally breaks down in the skin, the resulting peptide fragments signal to the skin that it should get to work and create some nice, new collagen. Adding in collagen fragment peptides, like GHK, might trick the skin into thinking that collagen has broken down and it's time to create some more.
Therefore, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 is believed to be able to stimulate collagen production in the skin, and more collagen means fewer wrinkles and younger looking skin.
In Matrixyl 3000, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 is coupled with Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 and the duo works in synergy to reduce wrinkles and give younger looking skin. According to the manufacturer's in-vivo (made on real people) test, applying 3% Matrixyl 3000 twice a day for 2 months resulted in all of the following things:
- 39.4% reduction in surface occupied by deep wrinkles
- 32.9% reduction in main wrinkle density
- 19.9% reduction in main wrinkle average depth
- 16% improvement in roughness
- 16.2% in lifting effect
- 5.5% improvement in elasticity
- 15.5% improvement in skin tone
Manufacturer results, of course, always have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but if you like peptides, the Matryxil 3000 duo is one of the best-proven and most well-known ones and it's something that is worth trying.
A four amino acid peptide with the amino sequence of glycine-glutamine-proline-arginine. It is attached to palmitic acid (a fatty acid) to increase oil solubility and skin penetration.
It works by reducing the production of the signal molecule, inteleukin-6 (IL-6) which promotes inflammation in the skin and less inflammation means slower degradation of important things (like collagen) that results in younger looking skin for a longer time.
Thanks to Nivea, Q10 is a pretty well-known ingredient and the fame and Beiersdorf's (the parent company of Nivea) obsession with it are not for no reason. It's an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays a big role in energy production.
In fact, it's so important for energy production that if taken as an oral supplement it has a caffeine-like effect and if taken at night you will probably not sleep very well (so you should take it in the morning). Q10 supplementation is not a bad idea: it not only gives you energy but research also shows that oral Q10 increases the Q10 level of the skin (of course, it decreases with age like pretty much every good thing in the skin) and may help to reduce wrinkles. If you are not for supplements, dietary sources include fish, spinach, and nuts.
As for skincare, Q10 comes in the form of a yellow, oil-soluble powder that's shown to absorb into the upper layer of the skin and act there like an awesome antioxidant. It not only has preventative effects but might also be able to reduce the depth of wrinkles, though 0.3% Q10 was used in the study that counts as really high (products containing that much should be very yellow!).
It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMF, hyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here. The TL; DR version of HA is that it's a huge polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) found in the skin that acts as a sponge helping the skin to hold onto water, being plump and elastic. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.
As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution".
In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).
What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable, easier to formulate and cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists.
If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way more about the topic at hyaluronic acid (including penetration-questions, differences between high and low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).
It's one of the active parts of Chamomile that contains about 30% of bisabolol. It's a clear oily fluid that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient.
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.
A vegetable origin (coconut/palm kernel oil, glucose) cleansing agent that gives moderate to high stable foam. It's also biodegradable and mild to the skin.
A white to beige powder that is described as the golden standard emulsifier for emulsions (oil+water mixtures) that are difficult to stabilize. It is especially popular in sunscreens as it can boost SPF protection and increase the water-resistance of the formula.
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.
A pre-neutralised form of super common thickener, Carbomer. This means that it forms viscous gels immediately upon addition to water (while Carbomer has to be neutralized with a base), but it can also be harder to disperse evenly in the formula.
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.
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.
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!).
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically.
No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. Has to be combined with some other nice preservatives, like potassium sorbate to be broad spectrum enough.
In high amounts, it can be a skin irritant, but don’t worry, it’s never used in high amounts.
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.
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.
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|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-3|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-3|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||buffering | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|