|Ingredient name||what-it-does||irr., com.||ID-Rating|
|Glycerin||skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant||0, 0||superstar|
|Stearic Acid||emollient, viscosity controlling||0, 2-3|
|Mineral Oil||emollient||0, 0-2|
|Glycol Stearate||emollient, emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing||0, 0|
|Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E Acetate)||antioxidant||0, 0|
|Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate)||cell-communicating ingredient||1-3, 1-3|
|Panthenol (Provitamin B5)||soothing, moisturizer/humectant||0, 0||goodie|
|Glyceryl Stearate||emollient, emulsifying||0, 1-2|
|Cetyl Alcohol||emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling||2, 2|
|Stearamide Amp||viscosity controlling|
|Magnesium Aluminum Silicate||viscosity controlling||0, 0|
|Carbomer||viscosity controlling||0, 1|
Suave Vitamin LotionIngredients explained
Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product.
It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water.
Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying.
One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time.
- 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
A common multi-tasker fatty acid. It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient), gives body to cream type products and helps to stabilize water and oil mixes (aka emulsions).
The famous or maybe rather infamous mineral oil. The clear oily liquid that is the "cheap by-product" of refining crude oil and the one that gets a lot of heat for its poor provenance. It is a very controversial ingredient with pros and cons and plenty of myths around it. So let us see them:
The pros of mineral oil
Trust us, if something is used for more than 100 years in cosmetic products, it has advantages. Chemically speaking, cosmetic grade mineral oil is a complex mixture of highly refined saturated hydrocarbons with C15-50 chain length. It is not merely a "by-product" but rather a specifically isolated part of petroleum that is very pure and inert.
It is a great emollient and moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. Occlusivity is one of the basic mechanisms of how moisturizers work and it means that mineral oil sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called trans-epidermal water loss, i.e water evaporating out of your skin. When compared to heavy-duty plant oil, extra virgin coconut oil, the two of them were equally efficient and safe as moisturizers in treating xerosis, a skin condition connected to very dry skin.
The other thing that mineral oil is really good at is being non-irritating to the skin. The chemical composition of plant oils is more complex with many more possible allergens or irritating components, while mineral oil is simple, pure and sensitivity to it is extremely rare. If you check out the classic French pharmacy brands and their moisturizers for the most sensitive, allergy prone skin, they usually contain mineral oil. This is no coincidence.
The cons of mineral oil
The pros of mineral oil can be interpreted as cons if we look at them from another perspective. Not penetrating the skin but mostly just sitting on top of it and not containing biologically active components, like nice fatty acids and vitamins mean that mineral oil does not "nourish" the skin in the way plant oils do. Mineral oil does not give the skin any extra goodness, it is simply a non-irritating moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity.
The myths around mineral oil
Badmouthing mineral oil is a favorite sport of many, it is a cheap material and being connected to petrolatum makes it fairly easy to demonize.
While it is true that industrial grade mineral oil contains carcinogenic components (so-called polycyclic compounds), these are completely removed from cosmetic and food grade mineral oil and there is no scientific data showing that the pure, cosmetic grade version is carcinogenic.
What is more, in terms of the general health effects of mineral oils used in cosmetics, a 2017 study reviewed the data on their skin penetration and concluded that "the cosmetic use of mineral oils and waxes does not present a risk to consumers due to a lack of systemic exposure."
Another super common myth surrounding mineral oil is that it is comedogenic. A 2005 study titled "Is mineral oil comedogenic?" examined this very question and guess what happened? The study concluded that "based on the animal and human data reported, along with the AAD recommendation, it would appear reasonable to conclude that mineral oil is noncomedogenic in humans."
Overall, we feel that the scaremongering around mineral oil is not justified. For dry and super-sensitive skin types it is a great option. However, if you do not like its origin or its heavy feeling or anything else about it, avoiding it has never been easier. Mineral oil has such a bad reputation nowadays that cosmetic companies hardly dare to use it anymore.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version.
According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E.
It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne.
By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:
retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid
As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective.
What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.
Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here. It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA.
We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!
Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.
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.
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.
A super common, waxy, white, solid stuff that helps water and oil to mix together, gives body to creams and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
Chemically speaking, it is the attachment of a glycerin molecule to the fatty acid called stearic acid. It can be produced from most vegetable oils (in oils three fatty acid molecules are attached to glycerin instead of just one like here) in a pretty simple, "green" process that is similar to soap making. It's readily biodegradable.
It also occurs naturally in our body and is used as a food additive. As cosmetic chemist Colins writes it, "its safety really is beyond any doubt".
A so-called fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that does all kinds of things in a skincare product: it makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier). Can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil.
The famous Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly. Just like mineral oil, it is also a by-product of refining crude oil, aka petroleum, and it is also a mixture of hydrocarbons but with bigger (C18-90+) carbon chain length.
The unique thing about petrolatum is that it is the most effective occlusive agent known today. While the occlusivity of mineral oil is in the same league as the occlusivity of plant oils, petrolatum is in a league of its own. It sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called transepidermal water loss (TEWL) like nothing else.
This comes in handy healing cracked lips or severely dry skin patches, though overdoing it (i.e. reducing TEWL by more than 40%) is not good as it can create a nice moist place for fungi and bacteria to grow.
As for petrolatum and safety, we can write here pretty much the exact same thing as we have written at mineral oil. There is no evidence whatsoever that cosmetic, USP grade petrolatum is carcinogenic. It also does not absorb into the skin but sits on top of it and that in itself greatly minimises health risks. It also has a long history of safe use, as it was first used as a skincare product more than 100 years ago, in 1872 to be precise.
It is also non-comedogenic, though its pure form is very heavy and greasy so combination and oily skin types might want to avoid it anyway.
Overall, it is the gold-standard occlusive agent known today and a tub of Vaseline comes in handy in any household to heal cracked lips or other severely dry skin patches.
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!).
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.
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).
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
A type of clay mineral that works as a nice helper ingredient to thicken and stabilize formulas. As a clay, it consists of platelets that have a negative charge on the surface (face) and a positive on the edge. So the face of one platelet attracts the edge of the other and this builds a so-called "house of card" structure meaning that Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (MAS) thickens up products and helps to suspend non-soluble particles such as color pigments or inorganic sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).
As the "house of card" structure takes some time to form but collapses quickly if the formula is stirred, products thickened with MAS can be thick in the jar but become easily spreadable upon application (called thixotropy). MAS also gives nice sensory properties, it is not tacky or sticky and gives a rich, creamy skin feel. Also a good team player and works in synergy with other thickeners such as Cellulose Gum or Xanthan Gum.
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.
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.
The most common type of feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason parabens. It's a cheap, effective and well-tolerated ingredient to make sure the cosmetic formula does not go wrong too soon.
Apart from the general controversy around parabens (we wrote about it more here), there is a 2006 in-vitro (made in the lab not on real people) research about methylparaben (MP) showing that when exposed to sunlight, MP treated skin cells suffered more harm than non-MP treated skin cells. The study was not done with real people on real skin but still - using a good sunscreen next to MP containing products is a good idea. (Well, in fact using a sunscreen is always a good idea. :))
A handy 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.
A controversial preservative that has formaldehyde-releasing properties. It works great against bacteria and also has mild fungicide abilities.
Cosmetic chemist, Colin wrote a great article about formaldehyde and DMDM Hydantoin. He writes that formaldehyde is the perfect example of "the dose makes the poison" principle. It's a natural stuff that can also be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating it in tiny amounts is totally ok. However, in larger amounts (according to Wikipedia 30 mL of a solution containing 37% formaldehyde) it's deadly.
The amount of formaldehyde used in cosmetics either neat or through formaldehyde-releasing preservatives is tiny. Probably that is why the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Broad concluded both in 1988 and in 2008 that DMDM Hydantoin is "safe as used in cosmetics".
However, Colins argues that in the case of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, formaldehyde is released slowly and the skin has probably not evolved to deal with that. The lingering formaldehyde might be toxic to the Langerhans Cells that are important for the skin's defense system. Another potential issue is that formaldehyde-releasers might also release other things while reacting with amino acids in the skin that is probably the explanation why some people are not allergic to formaldehyde but are allergic to formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. These are all theories, far from proven facts, but we feel that there are some justified reasons why formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and Dmdm Hydantoin count as controversial.
All in all, it's up to you to decide if you wanna avoid this preservative group or not. If so, there are other, less risky and more skin-friendly options out there.
Titanium Dioxide is one of the two members of the elite sunscreen group called physical sunscreens (or inorganic sunscreens if you’re a science geek and want to be precise).
Traditionally, UV-filters are categorized as either chemical or physical. The big difference is supposed to be that chemical agents absorb UV-light while physical agents reflect it like a bunch of mini umbrellas on top of the skin. While this categorization is easy and logical it turns out it's not true. A recent, 2016 study shows that inorganic sunscreens work mostly by absorption, just like chemical filters, and only a little bit by reflection (they do reflect the light in the visible spectrum, but mostly absorb in the UV spectrum).
Anyway, it doesn't matter if it reflects or absorbs, Titanium Dioxide is a pretty awesome sunscreen agent for two main reasons: it gives a nice broad spectrum coverage and it's highly stable. Its protection is very good between 290 - 350 nm (UVB and UVA II range), and less good at 350-400 nm (UVA I) range. Regular sized Titanium Dioxide also has a great safety profile, it's non-irritating and is pretty much free from any health concerns (like estrogenic effect worries with some chemical filters).
The disadvantage of Titanium Dioxide is that it's not cosmetically elegant, meaning it's a white, "unspreadable" mess. Sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide are often hard to spread on the skin and they leave a disturbing whitish tint. The cosmetic industry is, of course, really trying to solve this problem and the best solution so far is using nanoparticles. The itsy-bitsy Nano-sized particles improve both spreadability and reduce the whitish tint a lot, but unfortunately, it also introduces new health concerns.
The main concern with nanoparticles is that they are so tiny that they are absorbed into the skin more than we want them (ideally sunscreen should remain on the surface of the skin). Once absorbed they might form unwanted complexes with proteins and they might promote the formation of evil free radicals. But do not panic, these are concerns under investigation. A 2009 review article about the safety of nanoparticles summarizes this, "to date, in-vivo and in-vitro studies have not demonstrated percutaneous penetration of nanosized particles in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreens". The English translation is, so far it looks like sunscreens with nanoparticles do stay on the surface of the skin where they should be.
All in all, Titanium Dioxide is a famous sunscreen agent and for good reason, it gives broad spectrum UV protection (best at UVB and UVA II), it's highly stable, and it has a good safety profile. It's definitely one of the best UV-filter agents we have today, especially in the US where new-generation Tinosorb filters are not (yet) approved.
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|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2-3|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0-2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||1-3, 1-3|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||2, 2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|