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Skinbetter Science Alto Defense Serum

Alto Defense Serum

An antioxidant serum
Uploaded by: ejamie on

Highlights

#alcohol-free #fragrance & essentialoil-free
Alcohol Free
Fragrance and Essential Oil Free

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Skim through

Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Aqua/Water solvent
Butylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling 0, 1
Propanediol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Ethylhexyl Olivate
Cetearyl Alcohol emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing 1, 2
Chlorogenic Acids antioxidant
Hydrolyzed Sodium Hyaluronate moisturizer/​humectant
Lauryl Lactate emollient
Dimethyl Isosorbide solvent, viscosity controlling
Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract soothing, skin brightening superstar
Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate antioxidant, skin brightening goodie
Ergothioneine antioxidant
Benzylidene Dimethoxydimethylindanone
Arabidopsis Thaliana Extract antioxidant
Carnosine antioxidant, cell-communicating ingredient goodie
Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract antioxidant, soothing superstar
Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract antioxidant, antimicrobial/​antibacterial goodie
Theobroma Cacao Seed Extract antioxidant
Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract antioxidant, soothing, skin brightening, perfuming goodie
Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Extract skin brightening
Euterpe Oleracea Fruit Extract
Trifluoroacetyl Tripeptide-2 cell-communicating ingredient goodie
Buddleja Officinalis Flower Extract sunscreen
Coffea Arabica Leaf Cell Extract antioxidant
Crocus Sativus Leaf Cell Culture Extract
Superoxide Dismutase antioxidant goodie
Ubiquinone antioxidant goodie
Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract antioxidant, soothing, perfuming goodie
Ceramide NP skin-identical ingredient goodie
Ceramide AP skin-identical ingredient goodie
Ceramide Eop skin-identical ingredient goodie
Linoleic Acid skin-identical ingredient, emollient, surfactant/​cleansing goodie
Linolenic Acid skin-identical ingredient, emollient, surfactant/​cleansing, perfuming goodie
Sea Whip Extract
Bisabolol soothing goodie
Tocopherol antioxidant 0-3, 0-3 goodie
Tocopheryl Acetate antioxidant 0, 0
Cholesterol skin-identical ingredient, emollient 0, 0 goodie
Phytosphingosine skin-identical ingredient, cell-communicating ingredient, anti-acne, antimicrobial/​antibacterial goodie
Jojoba Esters soothing, emollient, moisturizer/​humectant
Sodium Pca skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
Pentylene Glycol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Methyl Gluceth-20 moisturizer/​humectant
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 superstar
Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax emollient
Acacia Decurrens Flower Wax emollient
Lecithin emollient, emulsifying goodie
Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate emulsifying
Dicetyl Phosphate emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Propanediol Dicaprylate/Caprate emollient
Polyglycerin-3 moisturizer/​humectant
Ceteth-20 Phosphate surfactant/​cleansing
Diisostearyl Malate emollient, surfactant/​cleansing
Xanthan Gum viscosity controlling, emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Steareth-2 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing 2, 2
Acacia Senegal Gum
Carbomer viscosity controlling 0, 1
Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer viscosity controlling
Dextran viscosity controlling
Sodium Hydroxide buffering
Citric Acid buffering
Disodium EDTA chelating, viscosity controlling
Ethylhexylglycerin preservative
Phenoxyethanol preservative

Skinbetter Science Alto Defense Serum
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. 

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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: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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.

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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. 

Also-called: Zemea | What-it-does: solvent, moisturizer/humectant

Propanediol is a natural alternative for the often used and often bad-mouthed propylene glycol. It's produced sustainably from corn sugar and it's Ecocert approved. 

It's quite a multi-tasker: can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsifying, emulsion stabilising, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 1 | Comedogenicity: 2

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.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: miniHA | What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

It's a super small, chemically chopped up version of sodium hyaluronate. Its trade name is miniHA, and its molecular weight is 10 kDa. This counts as really tiny given that "normal" HA has a molecular weight of 0.5-2 million Da.

To be honest, low molecular weight (LMW), and especially this ultra-low molecular weight HA is a controversial ingredient. On the upside, it can penetrate the skin better (though 10kDa still counts as big!) and might be able to moisturize the deeper layers of the skin where normal HA cannot get. Also, according to the manufacturer of miniHA, it has better antioxidant activity than a 1.6MDa version HA and it also has better sun protection and after-sun repair abilities than the higher MW versions. It also works in synergy with higher molecular weight versions, and the combination of 0.1% 1.45MDa-HA + 0.1% 380 kDa-HA + 0.1% miniHA hydrated the skin significantly better than 0.3% 1.45MDa-HA alone.

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On the downside, the biological role of LMW-HA in the skin is being a pro-inflammatory signaling agent and there is a study by another manufacturer called Evonik showing that HA versions with smaller than 50kDa molecular weight might be pro-inflammatory when put on the skin. Granted, the study was only done on reconstituted human epidermis, so it might or might not be like this on real human skin. 

If you wanna get confused and read much more about hyaluronic acid and what the different molecular weight versions might or might not do, click here and read our excruciatingly long description

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

A little helper ingredient that can boost the performance and enhance the delivery of active ingredients in a formula. It can penetrate deep layers of the skin helping actives to do the same.

It's especially useful to help active ingredients for self-tanning (DHA), anti-acne or skin-whitening to penetrate deeper and work better.

Also-called: Licorice Root;Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract | What-it-does: soothing, skin brightening

You might know licorice as a sweet treat from your childhood, but it's actually a legume that grows around the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, central and southern Russia. It's sweet and yellow and not only used for licorice all sorts but it's also a skincare superstar thanks to two magic properties:

Nr. 1 magic property is that it has skin-lightening or to say it another way depigmenting properties. The most active part is called glabridin. The topical application (meaning when you put it on your face) of 0.5% glabridin was shown to inhibit UVB caused pigmentation of guinea pigs. Another study even suggested that licorice is more effective than the gold standard skin-lightening agent hydroquinone. All in all, licorice is considered to be one of the safest skin lightening agents with the fewest side effects.

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There is just one catch regarding glabridin and licorice: the amount of glabridin in commercial licorice extracts can vary a lot. We have seen extracts with only 4% glabridin as well as 40% glabridin. The latter one is a very-very expensive ingredient, so if you are after the depigmenting properties try to choose a product that boasts its high-quality licorice extract. 

Nr. 2 magic property is that licorice is a potent anti-inflammatory. Glabridin has also some soothing properties but the main active anti-inflammatory component is glycyrrhizin. It’s used to treat several skin diseases that are connected to inflammation including atopic dermatitis, rosacea or eczema. 

Oh, and one more thing: glabridin seems to be also an antioxidant, which is just one more reason to be happy about licorice root extract on an ingredient list. 

Bottom line: Licorice is a great skincare ingredient with significant depigmenting, anti-inflammatory and even some antioxidant properties. Be happy if it's on the ingredient list. :)

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C, Ascorbyl Isotetrapalmitate, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, ATIP | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is a stable, oil-soluble form of skincare big shot Vitamin C. If you do not know, why Vitamin C is such a big deal in skincare, click here and read all about it. We are massive vitamin C fans and have written about it in excruciating detail.

So now, you know that Vitamin C is great and all, but it's really unstable and gives cosmetics companies many headaches. To solve this problem they came up with vitamin C derivatives, and one of them is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (let's call it ATIP in short).

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It's a really promising candidate (see below), but while reading all the goodness about it in a minute, do not forget that derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin but also have to be converted to pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid or AA) and the efficacy of the conversion is often unknown. In addition, vitamin C's three magic properties (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener) are all properly proven in-vivo (on real people), but for the derivatives, it's mostly in-vitro studies or in the case of ATIP, it's in-vitro and done by an ingredient supplier.

With this context in mind let's see what ATIP might be able to do. First, it is stable (if pH < 5), easy to formulate and a joy to work with for a cosmetic chemist.

Second, because it's oil-soluble, its skin penetration abilities seem to be great. So great in fact, that it surpasses the penetration of pure vitamin C threefold at the same concentration and it penetrates successfully into the deeper layers of the skin (that is usually important to do some anti-aging work). There is also in-vitro data showing that it converts to AA in the skin. 

Third, ATIP seems to have all three magic abilities of pure vitamin C: it gives antioxidant protection from both UVB and UVA rays, it increases collagen synthesis (even more than AA) and it has a skin brightening effect by reducing melanogenesis by more than 80% in human melanoma cell cultures.

So this all sounds really great, but these are only in-vitro results at this point. We could find Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate mentioned only in one published in-vivo study that examined the anti-aging properties of a silicone formula containing 10% AA and 7% ATIP. The authors theorized that the 10% AA is released slowly from the silicon delivery system and probably stays in the upper layer of the skin to give antioxidant benefits, while ATIP penetrates more rapidly and deeply and gives some wrinkle-reducing benefits. The study was a small (10 patients), double-blind experiment, and the formula did show some measurable anti-aging results. However, it is hard to know how much pure vitamin C or ATIP can be thanked.

Bottom line: a really promising, but not well-proven vitamin C derivative that can be worth a try especially if you like experimenting (but if you like the tried and true, pure vitamin C will be your best bet).

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Carnosine - goodie

Though its name does not reveal it, Carnosine is a peptide, a small, two amino acid (β-Ala-His) one. It is naturally present in high concentrations in muscle and brain tissues, but the one used in cosmetic products is biomimetic, meaning that it is synthetically produced in a lab to copy the natural thing. 

A 2017 review paper on topical peptides writes about Carnosine that it is a "well-documented aqueous antioxidant with wound healing activity".  

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Other than that we can write about manufacturer-done in-vitro (in the lab, not on real people) studies that show Carnosine to have anti-glycation properties. Glycation is the not-so-nice process that happens when we bombard our body with too much sugar that results in damaged body proteins and eventually in more wrinkles.  

Also, a manufacturer done in vitro study shows that carnosine might have collagen-boosing magic power. However, the 2017 research paper also mentions that even though Carnosine is a small molecule, it is water soluble and does not penetrate the skin past the top layers so we have some doubt if the collagen-boosting works in real life. We could find one anti-aging study made on real people that mentions Carnosine, but it was combined with a bunch of other anti-aging actives so it is pretty much impossible to know what Carnosine did or did not. 

One last thing to mention is that there is also a manufacturer done clinical study (done on real people) that shows carnosine being effective against the damages caused by infrared (IR) radiation. (source)

Also-called: Green Tea | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing
  • Green tea is one of the most researched natural ingredients
  • The active parts are called polyphenols, or more precisely catechins (EGCG being the most abundant and most active catechin)
  • There can be huge quality differences between green tea extracts. The good ones contain 50-90% catechins (and often make the product brown and give it a distinctive smell)
  • Green tea is proven to be a great antioxidant, UV protectant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial
  • Because of these awesome properties green tea is a great choice for anti-aging and also for skin diseases including rosacea, acne and atopic dermatitis
Read all the geeky details about Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract here >>

Also-called: Grape Seed Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial

We wholeheartedly support the rise of seedless grapes as fruit snacks, but when it comes to skincare, we are big fans of the seeds.

They contain the majority of the skin goodies that -  similar to green tea - are mostly polyphenols (but not the same ones as in tea). The most abundant ones in grape are called proanthocyanidins, and 60-70% of them are found in the seeds (it's also often abbreviated as GSP - grape seed proanthocyanidins). In general, the darker the fruit, the more GSPs and other flavonoids it contains.

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So what's so special about GSPs? Well, they are super-potent antioxidants, much stronger than Vitamin C or Vitamin E. And if that's not enough, GSPs and other flavonoids in grape also show UV protecting and anti-cancer properties.

It's definitely a goodie to spot on the INCI list.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Turmeric Root Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, skin brightening, perfuming

Turmeric is the yellow spice you probably know from curry and Indian food. It's also a traditional herbal medicine used in Ayurveda for its bunch of anti-something magic abilities including being anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant and anticarcinogenic. 

As for turmeric and skincare, we have good news: studies show that the root extract and its main biologically active component, curcumin can do multiple good things for the skin. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity, it shows some promise for acne-prone skin and a small study from 2013 showed that it might be able to regulate sebum production

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It's also a potent antioxidant and skin-brightening agent so it often shows up in anti-aging and/or radiance-boosting products. 

What-it-does: skin brightening

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Acai Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Progeline | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

A 3 amino-acid peptide that works by inhibiting the production of progerin, a cell-aging accelerator protein.  The manufacturer claims that Trifluoroacetyl Tripeptide-2 can bring back cell activity to a 20-year-old young cell level and the ingredient can nicely increase skin elasticity, firmness and reduce skin-sagging

In their in-vivo (made on real people) tests, they found that 2%  Progeline cream can lift the sagging jaw-line by up to 10% in 56 days and improve skin elasticity and firmness by about 20% in 28 days.

What-it-does: sunscreen

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: SOD | What-it-does: antioxidant

Superoxide Dismutase - or in short SOD - is the body's smart antioxidant enzyme that protects the cells from highly reactive, cell-damaging superoxide radicals (O2−).

You have probably read the terms "free radicals" and "antioxidants" a thousand times, and you know that free radicals are the evil guys, and antioxidants are the good guys. So superoxide radical is a very common free radical that can cause all kinds of cell damages and superoxide dismutase is an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of superoxide radicals into molecular oxygen and hydrogen peroxide (btw, this one has to be further converted by other antioxidant enzymes, called catalases).

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The extra nice thing about SOD is that it remains intact during the neutralization process and can continue its magic, while non-enzymatic antioxidants (like vitamin E) are used up during neutralization.

The efficacy studies of topical SOD are promising. In-vitro (made in the lab) tests show that SOD is a more effective antioxidant than vitamin E, green tea extract, and MAP. There is also an in-vivo (made on real people) study that measured how SOD can reduce the redness caused by UV rays and it was much more effective than vitamin E (pure or acetate form) and ascorbyl palmitate

All in all, SOD is a really potent antioxidant and slathering it all over yourself is a great way to give the skin a little extra help in protecting itself from all the bad environmental things out there. 

Ubiquinone - goodie
Also-called: Coenzyme Q10 | What-it-does: antioxidant

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.

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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!). 

Also-called: Ginger Root Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, perfuming

The extract coming from ginger, the lovely spice that we all know from the kitchen. It is also a medicinal plant used both in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for pretty much everything you can imagine (muscular pain, sore throat, nausea, fever or cramps,  just to give a few examples).

As for ginger and skincare, the root extract contains the biologically active component called gingerol that has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Combined with Bisabololthe duo works synergistically to sooth the skin and take down redness. 

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Other than that, ginger also contains moisturizing polysaccharides, amino acids, and sugars, and it is also quite well known to increase blood circulation and have a toning effect.

Last but not least, Ginger also has some volatile, essential oil compounds (1-3%). Those are mostly present in ginger oil, but small amounts might be in the extract as well (around 0.5% based on manufacturer info). 

Ceramide NP - goodie
Also-called: Ceramide 3 | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient

One of the many types of ceramides that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up about 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated. It works even better when combined with its pal, Ceramide 1.

We wrote way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.

Ceramide AP - goodie
Also-called: Ceramide 6 II | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient

A type of ceramide that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated. 

We have written way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.

Ceramide Eop - goodie
Also-called: Ceramide 1;Ceramide EOP | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient

Ceramides get quite a lot of hype recently and good news: there is a reason for that. But before we go into the details, let's just quickly define what the heck ceramides are:

They are waxy lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin (called stratum corneum - SC). And they are there in big amounts! The goopy stuff between our skin cells is called extracellular matrix that consists mainly of lipids. And ceramides are about 50% of those lipids (the other important ones are cholesterol with 25% and fatty acids with 15%). 

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Ok, so now we know what ceramides are, let's see what they do in our skin: research shows clearly that they play a super important role in keeping the skin barrier healthy and the skin hydrated. If ceramides in the skin are decreased, more water can evaporate from the skin and there is less water remaining in the skin. So ceramides form kind of a "water-proof" protecting layer and make sure that our skin remains nice and hydrated. 

Now the question is only this: If we put ceramides all over our face do they work as well as ceramides already naturally in our skin? Well, the answer is probably a no, but they do work to some extent. The BeautyBrains blog made a fantastic article about ceramides and they have listed a couple of examples about studies showing that ceramides - especially when used in certain ratios with cholesterol and fatty acids  - do hydrate the skin and can help to repair the skin barrier.

So far we were writing about ceramides in plural. It's because there are lots of different ceramides, a 2014 article writes that currently 12 base classes of ceramides are known with over 340 specific species. Chemically speaking, ceramides are the connection of a fatty acid and a sphingoid base and both parts can have different variations that result in the different types of ceramides. 

Our current one, Ceramide 1, or more recently called Ceramide EOP, was the first one that was identified in 1982 and it's a special snowflake. It contains the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid and has a unique structure. It's believed that ceramide 1 plays a "binding role" in the lipid layers of the extracellular matrix. Along with ceramides 4 and 7, they also play a vital role in epidermal integrity and serve as the main storage areas for linoleic acid (a fatty acid that's also very important for barrier repair).  

Oh, and one more thing: alkaline pH inhibits enzymes that help ceramide synthesis in our skin. So if you use a soap and you notice your skin is becoming dry, now you know why. 

Linoleic Acid - goodie
Also-called: LA, omega-6 fatty acid, 18:2 cis-9,12, Form of Vitamin F | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient, surfactant/cleansing

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. 

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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. 

Also-called: alpha-Linolenic acid, ALA, omega-3 fatty acid, Form of Vitamin F | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient, surfactant/cleansing, perfuming

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.

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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

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Bisabolol - goodie
Also-called: Alpha-Bisabolol | What-it-does: soothing

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. 

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: 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. 

Cholesterol - goodie
What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's one of the important lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. About 25% of the goopy stuff between our skin cells consists of cholesterol. Together with ceramides and fatty acids, they play a vital role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated. 

Apart from being an important skin-identical ingredient, it's also an emollient and stabilizer

It's a type of lipid, a so-called sphingoid base that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. It's found both in "free-form" and as part of famous skin lipids, ceramides.

There is emerging research about Phytosphingosine that shows that it has antimicrobial and cell-communicating properties and is considered part of the skin's natural defense system.

Expand to read more

A 2007 study showed that Phytosphingosine even works against evil acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes and shows promise as a complementing active ingredient in treating acne-prone skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities.  

A nice one to spot in the ingredient list. :)

Jojoba-derived emollient wax esters (fatty acid + fatty alcohol) that make your skin feel nice and smooth. Chemically speaking, pure jojoba oil is also a wax ester (read our shiny explanation here), however, the ingredients called jojoba esters on the ingredient lists are made from jojoba oil and/or hydrogenated jojoba oil via interesterification. 

They have multiple versions with variable fatty acid chain length and the ingredient can have a liquid, a creamy, a soft or firm paste, or even a hard wax consistency. The common thing between all versions is, that unlike most normal triglyceride oils, jojoba esters have superior stability, provide non-greasy emolliency and are readily absorbed into the skin

Sodium Pca - goodie
Also-called: Sodium Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid;Sodium PCA | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

PCA stands for Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid and though it might not sound like it, it is a thing that can be found naturally in our skin. The sodium salt form of PCA is an important skin-identical ingredient and great natural moisturizer that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. 

A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. According to manufacturer info, it's also a moisturizer and helps to make the product feel great on the skin. It works synergistically with preservatives and helps to improve water-resistance of sunscreens. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A corn sugar derived, water-soluble, pale yellow syrup, that nicely moisturizes the skin. It has a light and smooth skin feel, it is non-tacky, and it can improve the after-feel of the formula. It is also mild and gentle, popular in sensitive skin formulas.

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 >>

Also-called: Sunflower Wax | What-it-does: emollient

A hard wax coming from sunflower that has a high melting point and gives excellent thermal stability to the formulas. Similar to other waxes, it is used to stabilize products and give body to them, or to keep stick type formulas, such as lip balms, solid. 

Also-called: Mimosa wax | What-it-does: emollient

The flower wax coming from Mimosa that has nice skin protecting and film-forming properties. It also has a nice, sweet smell well known to perfumers. 

Mimosa wax often comes to the formula together with sunflower and jojoba waxes as the three of them is trade named Acticire and form a natural texture agent that works both as an emollient bringing softness to the formula as well as an active ingredient with skin-repairing, protecting, and moisturizing properties. 

Lecithin - goodie
What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

A very common ingredient that can be found in all cell membranes. In cosmetics it's quite the multi-tasker: it's an emollient and water-binding ingredient but it's also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. It's also often used to create liposomes

What-it-does: emulsifying

A helper ingredient that's used as a co-emulsifier (meaning next to other emulsifiers in the formula it helps water and oil to mix) and as a stabilization agent for foams. Also, has some antimicrobial activity so it can help to boost the effectiveness of the preservative system.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

Three glycerin molecules attached together. It is a humectant and moisturizer ingredient just like glycerin, but the larger molecular structure penetrates slower into the skin and gives milder, longer lasting moisture.

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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). 

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

A waxy solid material that helps oil and water to mix together, aka emulsifier. It is derived from the fatty alcohol, stearyl alcohol by ethoxylating it and thus making the molecule a little water-soluble. This version has only a small amount of ethoxylation and thus the molecule is still largely oil soluble. It is often mixed with more water-soluble emulsifiers (such as Steareth-20) to create stable emulsion systems. 

Also-called: Gum Arabic

A natural polymer (big molecules from repeated subunits) that is harvested from the Acacia tree in the sub-Saharan region in Africa. It's a great thickening and binding agent. Often coupled with xanthan gum, as it helps to reduce its unpleasant stickiness.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

A big molecule created from repeated subunits (a polymer of acrylic acid) that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula.  It usually has to be neutralized with a base (such as sodium hydroxide) for the thickening to occur and it creates viscous, clear gels that also feel nice and non-tacky on the skin. No wonder, it is a very popular and common ingredient.

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). 

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

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.  

Expand to read more

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.

What-it-does: buffering

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. 

Expand to read more

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. 

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: preservative, deodorant

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: 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.

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what‑it‑does solvent
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what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A natural corn sugar derived glycol. It can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. [more]
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A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
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A super small, chemically chopped up version of sodium hyaluronate. Small molecular weight (SMW) HA is a controversial ingredient: it can penetrate deep into the skin and moisturize deeper layers but might act as a pro-inflammatory agent. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
what‑it‑does solvent | viscosity controlling
A helper ingredient that can boost the performance and enhance the delivery of active ingredients. It can penetrate deep layers of the skin helping actives to do the same. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | skin brightening
You might know licorice as a sweet treat from your childhood, but it's actually a legume that grows around the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, central and southern Russia. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening
A stable, oil-soluble form of Vitamin C, that might have (in-vitro results) all the magic abilities of pure vitamin C (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener). [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
what‑it‑does antioxidant
what‑it‑does antioxidant | cell-communicating ingredient
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what‑it‑does antioxidant
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Turmeric Root Extract that has nice anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and skin-brightening properties. [more]
what‑it‑does skin brightening
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A 3 amino-acid peptide that works by inhibiting the production of progerin, a cell-aging accelerator protein.  The manufacturer claims that Trifluoroacetyl Tripeptide-2 can bring back cell activity to a 20-year-old young cell level and the ingredient can nicely increase skin elasticity, firmness and reduce skin-sagging. [more]
what‑it‑does sunscreen
what‑it‑does antioxidant
what‑it‑does antioxidant
Superoxide Dismutase - or in short SOD - is the body's smart antioxidant enzyme that protects the cells from highly reactive, cell-damaging superoxide radicals (O2−). You have probably read the terms "free radicals" [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
Q10 - an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays an important role in energy production. As for skincare, it works as an awesome antioxidant that might also be able to reduce wrinkle depth. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing | perfuming
Ginger extract that has antioxidant and soothing properties. It is also known to increase blood circulation and thus have a toning effect. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
A type of ceramide that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.  We have written way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
Ceramides get quite a lot of hype recently and good news: there is a reason for that. But before we go into the details, let's just quickly define what the heck ceramides are: They are waxy lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin (called stratum corneum - SC). [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient | surfactant/cleansing
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  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient | surfactant/cleansing | perfuming
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. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
One of the active parts of Chamomile that is used in skincare as a nice anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient. [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 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 skin-identical ingredient | emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's one of the important lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. About 25% of the goopy stuff between our skin cells consists of cholesterol. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | cell-communicating ingredient | anti-acne | antimicrobial/antibacterial
A type of lipid that can be found naturally in the skin. Has antimicrobial and cell-communicating properties and is considered to be part of the skin's natural defence system. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | emollient | moisturizer/humectant
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what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's an important skin-identical ingredient and great natural moisturizer that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A multi-functional, silky feeling helper ingredient that can do quite many things. It's used as an emulsion stabilizer, solvent, and a broad spectrum antimicrobial. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A corn sugar-derived, water-soluble, pale yellow syrup, that nicely moisturizes the skin. It has a light and smooth skin feel. [more]
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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]
what‑it‑does emollient
A hard wax coming from sunflower that has a high melting point and gives excellent thermal stability to the formulas. Similar to other waxes, it is used to stabilize products and give body to them, or to keep stick type formulas, such as lip balms, solid.  [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
The flower wax coming from Mimosa that has nice skin protecting and film-forming properties.  [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
It's quite the multi-tasker: an emollient and water-binding ingredient but also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. It's also often used to create liposomes.  [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying
A helper ingredient that's used as a co-emulsifier and as a stabilization agent for foams. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does emollient
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
Three glycerin molecules attached together. It is also a humectant, moisturizer ingredient just like glycerin, but the larger molecular structure penetrates slower into the skin and gives milder, longer lasting moisture.
what‑it‑does surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does emollient | surfactant/cleansing
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A super commonly used thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A waxy solid material that helps oil and water to mix together, aka emulsifier. It is derived from the fatty alcohol, stearyl alcohol by ethoxylating it and thus making the molecule a little water-soluble. [more]
A natural polymer (big molecules from repeated subunits) that is harvested from the Acacia tree in the sub-Saharan region in Africa. It's a great thickening and binding agent. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A common helper ingredient that stabilizes emulsions and helps to thicken up products. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | viscosity controlling
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 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 preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]