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 mild, emollient liquid that can improve product spreadability and gives a silky and non-oily feel to the cosmetic products.
- A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
- Super common, used for more than 50 years
- Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
- High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
The emollient plant oil coming from the soybean. It is considered to be a nice, cost-effective base oil with moisturizing properties. As for its fatty acid profile, it contains 48-59% barrier-repairing linoleic acid, 17-30% nourishing oleic acid and also some (4.5-11%) potentially anti-inflammatory linolenic acid.
- It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
- It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
- It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
A kind of polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that helps to thicken up and stabilize products. It usually comes to the formula as part of some thickener complex. For example, coupled with isohexadecane and polysorbate 80, the trio helps to create soft and supple textures.
A super common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient). It also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier) and to thicken up products.
It’s a so-called fatty alcohol (a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol - other two emollient fatty alcohols). Though alcohol is in its name, its properties are totally different from the properties of “normal” alcohol, or denat. alcohol. It’s not drying and not irritating and totally ok for the skin.
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 light, velvety, unique skin feel liquid that is a good solvent and also makes the skin feel nice and smooth (aka emollient). It's often used in makeup products mixed with silicones to give shine and slip to the product. It's also great for cleansing dirt and oil from the skin as well as for taking off make-up.
- Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
- Retinol is not itself active, it has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to actually do something
- Once converted it theoretically has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
- A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10-to-20 times less potent than retinoic acid
- It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
- It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
- Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
- Do not use whilst pregnant
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
The number at the end refers to the oil-loving part and the bigger the number the more emulsifying power it has. 20 is a weak emulsifier, rather called solubilizer used commonly in toners while 60 and 80 are more common in serums and creams.
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).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
Chamomile probably needs no introduction as it's one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. You probably drink it regularly as a nice, calming cup of tea and it's also a regular on skincare ingredient lists.
Cosmetic companies use it mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the terpenoids chamazulene and bisabolol both of which show great anti-inflammatory action in animal studies. On top of that chamomile also has some antioxidant activity (thanks to some other active ingredients called matricine, apigenin and luteolin).
Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it.
It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right. It’s very alkaline (you know the opposite of being very acidic): a 1% solution has a pH of around 10.
It does not have the very best safety reputation but in general, you do not have to worry about it.
What is true is that if a product contains so-called N-nitrogenating agents (e.g.: preservatives like 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, 5-Bromo-5-Nitro- 1,3-Dioxane or sodium nitrate - so look out for things with nitro, nitra in the name) that together with TEA can form some not nice carcinogenic stuff (that is called nitrosamines). But with proper formulation that does not happen, TEA in itself is not a bad guy.
But let’s assume a bad combination of ingredients were used and the nitrosamines formed. :( Even in that case you are probably fine because as far as we know it cannot penetrate the skin.
But to be on the safe side, if you see Triethanolamine in an INCI and also something with nitra, nitro in the name of it just skip the product, that cannot hurt.
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