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Sandra Lee MD Retinol Serum

Retinol Serum

Retinol Serum is a PM, time-release formula that activates throughout the night, instead of all at once, to minimize irritation. Get into bed with this serum and you’ll wake up with glowing skin. It’s called beauty sleep for a reason.
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Sandra Lee MD Retinol Serum
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua | 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: emollient, solvent

A super commonly used 5 unit long, cyclic structured silicone that is water-thin and does not stay on the skin but evaporates from it (called volatile silicone). Similar to other silicones, it gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel

It's often combined with the non-volatile (i.e. stays on the skin) dimethicone as the two together form a water-resistant, breathable protective barrier on the skin without a negative tacky feel.

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. 

A clear, colorless liquid that works as a solvent and viscosity decreasing ingredient. It also has great skin-moisturizing abilities. 

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 >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A white, elastomeric silicone powder that gives a nice silky and powdery feel to the products. It also has some oil and sebum absorption capabilities. 

A thick, high molecular weight silicone that is usually diluted in another, lighter silicone fluid (like dimethicone or cyclopentasiloxane). The dimethiconol containing silicone blends leave a silky smooth, non-greasy film on the skin.

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.

As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity. 

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As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types). 

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 3

A white waxy solid that helps water and oil to mix nicely together (emulsifier). It is derived from the fatty alcohol lauryl alcohol by ethoxylating it and thus making the molecule a lot more water-soluble. In fact, Laureth-23 is mostly water-soluble acting as a solubilizer for dissolving small amounts of oily things into water-based formulas. 

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 4 | Comedogenicity: 5

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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: chelating

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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.

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
  • It has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to work its magic
  • Once converted, it 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
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

Also-called: Retinopeptide 189 | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

A newish peptide with the promise of mimicking the effects of the skincare superstar, retinol (vitamin A) but without its negative side effects. Similar to retinol, Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3 is claimed to increase cell turnover and to promote the synthesis of collagen but without skin irritation or stinging. 

To back up its claim, the German manufacturer did a so-called gene array screening test, where they examined the effect of the molecule on 96 skin-related genes. They did screening for both retinoic acid (the active form of retinol) and our guy Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3. They found that retinoic acid upregulates 21 of the 92 studied genes, and amongst those, 16 genes are also upregulated by Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3. So they trade named the molecule as Retinopeptide 189, as in a peptide that mimics the effects of retinoic acid. 

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To further prove their point, Symrise (the manufacturer) went ahead and did some ex-vivo testing (meaning testing on human skin explants). They compared a 0.1% retinoic acid solution with 5% and 10% Retinopeptide 189 cream and found that the 10% cream induces a significant increase (43%) in collagen-1 that is comparable to the effect of 0.1% retinoic acid (which performed even better with more than a 50% increase). 

They also found that both retinoic acid 0.1% and Retinopeptide 189 5% cream increased epidermal cellular layers in the skin explants showing that both ingredients can increase cell turnover, however retinoic acid did significantly better both in active effects as well as side effects.

Unfortunately, there are currently no in-vivo test results (at least with could not find any), so if you prefer the tried and true, stick with retinol. However, if you are the adventurous type or if your skin is sensitive and cannot tolerate retinoids, Myristoyl Nonapeptide-3 is a promising alternative. 

Also-called: SymPeptide 226 | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

A five amino acid peptide (Lys-Leu-Ala-Lys-Lys) attached to the oil-soluble fatty acid, myristic acid for better bioavailability. It is known to significantly stimulate keratin genes, i. e. it can convince the cells to produce more keratin, the super important structural protein in hair, nails and the outermost layer of the skin.

Most often you will meet Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17 combined with Myristoyl Hexapeptide-16 in eyelash growth products, as the two together can visibly increase eyelash length after two weeks. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Vitamin F Ethyl Ester | What-it-does: emollient, perfuming

A type of oil soluble vitamin F that is used as an emollient. Read more at ethyl oleate.

This ingredient name is not according to the INCI-standard. :( What, why?!

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic 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". 

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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).

Allantoin - goodie
What-it-does: soothing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. 

It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

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Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.

Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation. 

If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.

As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily. 

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C, SAP | What-it-does: antioxidant, anti-acne

The sodium salt form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. If you do not know what the big fuss about vitamin C is, you are missing out and you have to click here and read all the geeky details about it.

Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. One solution is to create stable derivatives that can be absorbed into the skin, convert there to AA and do all the magic AA is proven to do (which is being an antioxidant, a collagen booster, and a skin brightener).

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SAP (the vit C derivative, not the enterprise software, obvs) is a promising derivative that has great stability up to pH 7. The challenge with it though is skin penetration. Unfortunately, it seems to be limited, or to quote a great article from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology "topically applied ascorbyl phosphate salts are, at very best, poorly absorbed in comparison with AA". Regarding conversion to AA, there seems to be no data about it, so we can neither deny nor confirm it.

We have better news regarding the three magic abilities of vitamin C: there is in-vivo (tested on real people) data showing that SAP does have photo-protective (aka antioxidant) properties, though less than pure AA. SAP might also aid collagen boosting; in-vitro (made in the lab) data shows that it works, but is less effective than another vitamin C derivative, called MAP (that seems to be as effective as pure AA). As for skin-brightening, there is a trade publication with in-vivo data showing that SAP can fade brown spots

Another thing SAP might be able to do is to help with acne. A 2005 study showed in vitro (in test tubes) that 1% SAP has a strong antimicrobial activity on evil acne causing P. acnes and it also showed in vivo (on real people) that 5% SAP can strongly improve the inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions of acne vulgaris. In fact, the results were comparable or even slightly better than with 5% benzoyl peroxide. 

And there is even more regarding SAP and acne. A nice double-blind study from 2009 showed that  5% SAP reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively and when combined with 0.2% retinol the results were even better. With this combination treatment, the improvement was 29.28% after 4 weeks and 63.10% after 8 weeks of application. 

Aside from research studies, anecdotal evidence also supports SAP being a promising vitamin C derivative. One of the best-selling (vitamin C) serums in Sephora is the Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, while on Amazon it's the OzNaturals Vitamin C 20 Serum. Another popular choice is the Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum, and all of these contain vitamin C in the form of SAP. 

Overall, we think SAP is a goody!  In terms of anti-aging, it's probably not as effective as pure Ascorbic Acid, but it's totally worth a try. However, if your skin is acne-prone, SAP is your form of Vitamin C and it's a must-try.

What-it-does: preservative

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: buffering

It's a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of the products to be right. It has an alkaline pH and can neutralize acidic ingredients.

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | solvent
It's a super commonly used water-thin volatile silicone that gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel.  [more]
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 | perfuming | viscosity controlling
A clear, colorless liquid that works as a solvent and viscosity decreasing ingredient. It also has great skin-moisturizing abilities.  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
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 emulsifying | viscosity controlling
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A white, elastomeric silicone powder that gives a nice silky and powdery feel to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | moisturizer/humectant
A thick, high molecular weight silicone that is usually diluted in a lighter silicone fluid. The dimethiconol containing silicone blends leave a silky smooth, non-greasy film on the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 3
A white waxy solid that helps water and oil to mix nicely together (emulsifier). It is derived from the fatty alcohol lauryl alcohol by ethoxylating it and thus making the molecule a lot more water-soluble. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 4, 5
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 chelating
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Vitamin A - the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC that can smooth wrinkles and make skin firmer. It might also be useful for acne-prone skin as it normalizes keratinization. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
A peptide that - according to the manufacturer - mimics the effects of skincare superstar, retinol but without the irritation. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
A five amino acid peptide (Lys-Leu-Ala-Lys-Lys) attached to the oil-soluble fatty acid, myristic acid for better bioavailability. It is known to significantly stimulate keratin genes, i. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening
what‑it‑does emollient | perfuming
A type of oil soluble vitamin F that is used as an emollient. Read more at ethyl oleate. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. It's not only soothing but it' [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | anti-acne
The sodium salt form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. If you do not know what the big fuss about vitamin C is, you are missing out and you have to click here and read all the geeky details about it. Pure vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid, AA) is great and all, but its lack of stability is a big challenge for the cosmetics industry. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
what‑it‑does buffering
It's a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of the products to be right. It has an alkaline pH and can neutralize acidic ingredients.