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Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum

Sunday Riley
A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum

Advanced-strength retinoid serum delivers a 6.5% solution of stabilized retinoid blends and botanical, retinol-alternative extracts into the skin.
Uploaded by: judit on 01/02/2019

Highlights

#fragrance & essentialoil-free #knownamountofactive
Fragrance and Essential Oil Free
Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate: 0.5%

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Skim through

Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Water/Eau/Aqua solvent
Propanediol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Dimethyl Isosorbide solvent
Triheptanoin emollient
Dimethicone emollient 0, 1
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 superstar
Pentylene Glycol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Hexyldecanol emollient
Disiloxane
Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone emulsifying
Diheptyl Succinate emollient
Propylene Carbonate solvent, viscosity controlling
Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate cell-communicating ingredient goodie
PPG-24-Glycereth-24 emulsifying, solvent, surfactant/​cleansing
Phenyl Trimethicone emollient
Retinol cell-communicating ingredient superstar
Ubiquinone (Coq10) antioxidant goodie
Honey Extract moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer skin-identical ingredient, antioxidant, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Algae Extract emollient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Extract
Opuntia Ficus-Indica Fruit Extract soothing, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Bisabolol soothing goodie
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter emollient goodie
Phospholipids skin-identical ingredient, emollient goodie
Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Lecithin emollient, emulsifying goodie
Sodium Acrylates Copolymer viscosity controlling
Hydrogenated Polyisobutene emollient 2, 1
1,2-Hexanediol solvent
4-T- Butylcyclohexanol soothing, cell-communicating ingredient goodie
Polyglyceryl-10 Stearate emulsifying
Caprylyl Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, emollient
Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil emollient 0, 0 goodie
Sorbitol moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0
Cetylhydroxyproline Palmitamide emollient goodie
Polysilicone-11
Benzoic Acid preservative
Dehydroacetic Acid preservative
Sodium Phytate chelating
Glyceryl Polyacrylate
Polysorbate
Hydroxyphenyl Propamidobenzoic Acid soothing goodie
Stearic Acid emollient, viscosity controlling 0, 2-3
Brassica Campestris Sterols emollient
PVP viscosity controlling 0, 0
Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer
Sodium Benzoate preservative
Alcohol antimicrobial/​antibacterial, solvent, viscosity controlling icky
Potassium Phosphate buffering
Decyl Glucoside surfactant/​cleansing
Phenoxyethanol preservative
Hexylene Glycol solvent 0-1, 0-2
Potassium Sorbate preservative
Tocopherol antioxidant 0-3, 0-3 goodie

Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid 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. 

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. 

What-it-does: solvent

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.

What-it-does: emollient

A light, oily liquid (triglyceride of seven carbon length fatty acid, heptanoic acid)  that works as a very high spreadability and low viscosity emollient making the skin nice and smooth.

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). 

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 >>

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: emollient

A yellowish oily liquid that works as a medium spreading emollient and is suitable for a wide pH range. 

Also-called: Hexamethyldisiloxane

A very thin and very volatile (evaporates from the skin rather than absorbs into it) silicone fluid that gives silky softness and great spreadability to the formulas.

Also-called: Cetyl Dimethicone Copolyol | What-it-does: emulsifying

A silicone emulsifier that helps water and silicone oils to mix nicely together. 

What-it-does: emollient

Diheptyl Succinate is a natural, "silicone-alternative" emollient that usually comes to the formula with Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer. The two together is trade-named LexFeel N and depending on their ratio, the duo can mimic both super light, Cyclomethicone-type skin feel as well as more viscous Dimethicone like skin feel. 

The duo also plays well with pure natural oils, and it can reduce their greasiness and tackiness and make them feel nicer on the skin. LexFeel N is also very eco-friendly, 100% natural (Ecocert approved), sustainable and biodegradable. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Granactive Retinoid, HPR, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) is the newest member of the "royal family of skincare" (read who is who in the family here), the retinoid family. The queen of the family is the FDA-approved anti-aging superstar, retinoic acid, aka tretinoin and HPR seems to be a gentle but influential sister princess to the queen.

It's a so-called retinoic acid ester, meaning that it's directly related to retinoic acid. If you've already read our description about retinol or retinyl palmitate, you know that the active ingredient our skin cells can interpret is retinoic acid. Other forms of retinoids have to be converted by our metabolic machinery to do something. That's not the case with HPR.  It binds directly to the retinoid receptors of the skin cells to work its skincare magic. 

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The big promise of HPR is that it's similarly active as retinoic acid (no conversion needed, remember) but without the irritation. According to the manufacturer's tests, 24 hours of an occlusive patch with 0.5% HPR resulted in significantly lower irritation than 0.5% retinol.  Also, there was a "dramatic reduction of lines and wrinkles" after applying 0.2% HPR around the eyes twice a day for 14 days.

These results sound sooo promising that we don't blame you if you wanna run out right now and get an HPR formula to slather on your face.  But, before you do, you have to know that the info we have about HPR at the moment is mainly from the manufacturer, whose tests may or may not be accurate or properly designed (such as controlled, double-blind and conducted on an appropriate number of people). 

As HPR is pretty new there isn't that much independent research we could find yet. We found two Italian studies both examining the efficacy of HPR combined with other things (retinol in both cases, and papain in one of them) for the treatment of acne. Both studies found the formulas effective but they contained other things too, so it's hard to judge how well HPR did.

Regarding anti-aging, there is a pretty recent, Estee Lauder sponsored study that compared the in-vitro (not on real human beings but on skin models) collagen-boosting effectiveness of Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, tretinoin, good old retinol and retinyl palmitate (RP). The results are pretty encouraging showing that  "HPR had greater levels of gene transcription than retinol and RP (RP) at the same concentrations ... however, HPR did not achieve gene transcription levels of ATRA (tretinoin)."  But, a much higher dose might be tolerated from HPR and the highest dose of HPR out-performed tretinoin. Pretty encouraging, though we are very much waiting for a study to confirm all this on real human beings.  

Bottom line: We are really happy to see some innovation happening with retinoids, and we think Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate is a super promising rising star, but it’s not fully proven yet. If you are someone who likes to experiment and try out the newest things, grab your running shoes and try some HPR containing serum now (see product list below :)). If you like the tried and true, however, stick to retinol and tretinoin for now and re-examine the question in a couple of years when (hopefully) more research will be available. 

Are you into Retinoids? Read our shiny description about other members of the retinoid family: 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emollient

A silicone fluid that gives a nonoily, easy to spread emolliency to the formulas. It is also used as a water repellent additive and to reduce the tackiness and stickiness of other ingredients. It also imparts gloss, softness and better manageability to hair.

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: 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!). 

Honey Extract - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

Usually, a glycerin or glycol based extract of honey that has similar properties to pure honey, i.e. moisturizing, soothing and antibacterial magic properties.

If you wanna know more about honey in cosmetics, we have a shiny explanation here >>

It's a special "cross-linked" from of IT-moisturizer, hyaluronic acid (HA). Cross-linked means that "normal" HA pieces (1-2 million Da molecular weight) are chemically bound togeather to create a big, "infinite" mesh.

The special HA mesh has a remarkable water-binding capacity, 5 times more than the already crazy water-binding capacity of "normal" HA. This water filled crosslinked HA gel forms a smooth film on the skin and continuously delivers the bound water, so it gives long-term moisturizing benefits.

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Btw, crosslinking HA was developed for dermal fillers (as crosslinking helps their longevity), and this guy is the topical version of FDA approved dermal filler called Hylan B gel. Smearing crosslinked version all over ourselves is a newish thing, and incoming evidence so far suggests that it's a great idea, even better than normal HA. 

A very recent, 2016 research article compared the topical moisturizing effect of crosslinked HA (not Hylan B gel specifically, but something called Resilient HA or RHA), HMW-HA and LMW-HA and found that "TEWL (that is trans-epidermal water loss, the water that evaporates from the skin) was reduced by 27.8% with RHA, and by 15.6% with HMW HA, but increased by 55.5% with LMW HA." (You can read much more about HMW and LMW HA here in the geeky details section.)

All in all, we think Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer is an awesome version of HA, probably superior to traditional versions, so be happy to spot it on the ingredient list. 

Algae Extract - goodie

We have to admit that Algae Extract is not our favorite ingredient name. It does comply with the INCI standard (the official list about how ingredients on the product labels have to be called, the thing we help you to decode here :)), but there are about 20 000 different kinds of algae and an extract from them can be made in another 10 000 ways.

So, Algae Extract can be anything from La Mer's "Miracle Broth" to a simple brown algae extract that helps to smooth the hair. The official description in the Europiean Cosmetic Ingredient listing is this: "an extract of various species of Algae; Extract of the Seaweed, Fucus vesiculosus, Furaceae". Its official functions include being a humectant (helps skin to attract water), emollient (makes skin feel smooth and nice) and skin conditioner (a catchall phrase for saying it does something good for the skin).

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A 2015 research paper on the potential of uses of algae in cosmetics summarizes that algae are rich sources of biologically active metabolites including antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, alginates, polysaccharides, and carotenoids. Currently, algae extracts are mostly used as moisturizing and thickening agents, but algae also have great potential to combat skin aging, pigmentation as well as working as an antimicrobial.

We have also browsed through Prospector to see what manufacturers say about their algae. There is, for example, an algae extract trade-named Lanablue that comes from blue-green algae (green algae is rare, less than 1% of the total macroalgae in the world) and is claimed to have retinoid like effects (i.e. reduce wrinkles, smooth skin) but without the side effects (though it seems now that the INCI name of Lanablue was changed to Aphanizomenon Flos-Aquae Extract). 

There is another algae extract from another manufacturer that comes from red algae (much more common, about 40% of total macroalgae worldwide) and is claimed to have not only moisturizing but also skin smoothing and densifying effects. 

Here is a brown algae extract (the most common type, about 59% of macroalgae), also just called Algae Extract on the product label that is simply claimed to be a free radical scavenger, aka antioxidant. These were just three random examples from three manufacturers all called Algae extract even though they all come from different algae with different claims.

Anyhow, the point is this; there are tons of different types of Algae Extracts out there. Unless the brand tells you what they use, it's impossible to know for sure. The most probable scenario for the Alge Extract is that it works as a moisturizer and emollient and it might have some additional anti-aging properties.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Prickly Pear Fruit Extract | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant

The extract of Prickly Pear, a cactus that’s native to Mexico. Its main unique thing is that it can reduce the neurosensory irritation caused by the application of topical products such as retinoids (slow reaction) or alpha hydroxy acids (fast reaction). We have a shiny description about  Opuntia Ficus-Indica Extract here >>

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. 

Also-called: Shea Butter | What-it-does: emollient

Unless you live under a rock you must have heard about shea butter. It's probably the most hyped up natural butter in skincare today. It comes from the seeds of African Shea or Karite Trees and used as a magic moisturizer and emollient.

But it's not only a simple emollient, it regenerates and soothes the skin, protects it from external factors (such as UV rays or wind) and is also rich in antioxidants (among others vitamin A, E, F, quercetin and epigallocatechin gallate). If you are looking for rich emollient benefits + more, shea is hard to beat. 

Phospholipids - goodie

A type of lipid that's the major (about 75%) component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient.

It has a water-loving head with two water-hating tails and this structure gives the molecule emulsifying properties. It is also often used to create liposomes, small spheres surrounded by phospholipid bi-layer designed to carry some active ingredient and help its absorption.

Also-called: Baker's Yeast | What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

Saccharomyces cerevisiae (SC)  is the fancy name for common baker’s yeast. 

Usually different kind of yeast extracts are used in skincare for their great hydrating, and general skin conditioning properties. We could find one research paper to back this up: It has found that SC indeed increases skin moisture and had improved skin microrelief (the small wrinkles and surface irregularities of skin). 

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According to manufacturer info coupled with the Mexican cactus, prickly pear it also helps to reduce neurosensory irritation that might occur from potent retinol or AHA products. 

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: viscosity controlling

A big molecule from repeated subunits that is used to form gel-like textures and create a film on the skin. 

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 1

A synthetic liquid oil that can replace mineral oil or silicone oils in the cosmetic formulas. There are different grades depending on the molecular weight ranging from very light, volatile, non-residue leaving ones to more substantial, slight residue leaving ones.

Apart from leaving the skin soft and smooth (emollient), it's also used as a waterproofing agent in sunscreens or makeup products and as a shine enhancer in lip gloss formulas. 

What-it-does: solvent

A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives

Also-called: SymSitive;4-T-Butylcyclohexanol | What-it-does: soothing, cell-communicating ingredient

A soothing molecule whose special feature is to instantly decrease stinging and burning sensations. According to the manufacturer's impressive numbers, it can reduce stinging up to 78% and burning sensation by up to 80% after just 3 minutes. 

It is so effective because it works at a cellular level via intercepting the signals caused by the irritation before they can reach the neuro-receptor. This means that we feel stinging and burning sensations much less and the skin's tolerance threshold is increased

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The effectiveness of SymSitive was also backed up by a comparative study. It found that both 4‐t‐Butylcyclohexanol and fellow cell-communicating, soothing molecule acetyl dipeptide‐1 cetyl ester works, but 4‐t‐Butylcyclohexanol works better.

What-it-does: emulsifying

A vegetable-based, PEG-free ingredient whose job is to help water and oil to mix nicely together (emulsifier). It is created by attaching ten water-loving glycerin molecules with the oil-loving fatty acid, stearic acid. The result is a partly water- and partly oil-loving molecule that creates stable and smooth emulsions that are also cosmetically elegant. It also has some moisturizing and softening benefits for skin and hair.

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

Also-called: Sunflower Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more  we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.

It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.

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Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.

It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%)  and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil

Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's a sweet tasting sugar substitute that helps your skin to hold onto water when used in cosmetic products. It also helps to thicken up products and give them a bit more slip. 

What-it-does: emollient

A pseudo-ceramide that is similar to Ceramide 2 in structure and activity and is claimed to be a great ingredient for a healthy skin barrier or to repair damaged skin or hair. In general, Ceramides are super important lipids in the outer layer of the skin and we have written some more about them here >> 

A type of silicone elastomer (rubber-like material with both viscosity and elasticity) whose major function is forming a nice film on the skin.

It is also cosmetically very elegant with a non-tacky, non-oily and smooth skin feel. It also works as a stable delivery system of active materials, has sebum absorption and control properties and upon application, it transforms into a matte appearance with a powdery after feel.

What-it-does: preservative

An Ecocert-approved, natural preservative that counts as gentle and non-irritating to the skin. Usually, it comes to the formula as part of a preservative blend as it's not enough on its own.

Also-called: Geogard 111A | What-it-does: preservative

A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi and has only milder effect against bacteria. 

It is Ecocert and Cosmos approved, works quite well at low concentrations (0.1-0.6%) and is popular in natural products.

What-it-does: chelating

It’s one of those little helper ingredients that makes sure the product stays the same over time. No color change or anything like that. 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. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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

Also-called: SymCalmin | What-it-does: soothing

An anti-irritant and anti-itch molecule that copies the active ingredient (Avenanthramides) in the well-known soothing plant, oat. 

According to the manufacturer's clinical study (double-blind, 40 people, 4 weeks long), 2% SymCalmin (the trade name of our diluted - 5% - molecule) reduced itchiness significantly by 65% and it also reduced redness by 50%. 

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2-3

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).

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

These three letters stand for Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone, a big molecule created from repeated units of Vinyl Pyrrolidone, aka VP. Its main thing is being an important film former. It was the first synthetic polymer introduced as a hair fixative in the 1950s instead of insect-derived Shellac. 

So PVP likes to attach itself to surfaces such as the hair and the skin and forms a nice, thin, even film there. The film is useful for holding a hairstyle or extending the wear of color cosmetics and sunscreens. The disadvantage of PVP is that the film is a bit brittle and that PVP loves water (hygroscopic) that tends to destroy the film. This is the reason why hair styled with a PVP based product loses its style in high humidity. To fix this problem, there are now several versions of VP containing film formers that are less sensitive to humidity, for example, the molecule called VP/VA Copolymer

The friend of Diheptyl Succinate as the duo is usually used together and is touted as a natural silicone alternative. Read more there >> 

What-it-does: preservative

A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi. 

It’s pH dependent and works best at acidic pH levels (3-5). It’s not strong enough to be used in itself so it’s always combined with something else, often with potassium sorbate.

Alcohol - icky
Also-called: Ethanol | What-it-does: antimicrobial/antibacterial, solvent, viscosity controlling, astringent

Simply alcohol refers to ethanol and it's a pretty controversial ingredient. It has many instant benefits: it's a great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial. No wonder it's popular in toners and oily skin formulas. 

The downside is that it can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list. 

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Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion. If you wanna know more, we wrote a more detailed explanation about what's the deal with alcohol in skincare products at alcohol denat. (it's also alcohol, but with some additives to make sure no one drinks it).

What-it-does: buffering

It’s a little helper ingredient that helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be just right.

A vegetable origin (coconut or palm kernel oil and glucose) cleansing agent with great foaming abilities. It's also mild to the skin and readily biodegradable.

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. 

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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.

What-it-does: solvent | Irritancy: 0-1 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

Similar to other glycols, it's a helper ingredient used as a solvent, or to thin out thick formulas and make them more nicely spreadable. 

Hexylene Glycol is also part a preservative blend named Lexgard® HPO, where it helps the effectiveness of current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol

What-it-does: preservative

It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It’s not a strong one and doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. To do that it has to break down to its active form, sorbic acid. For that to happen, there has to be water in the product and the right pH value (pH 3-4). 

But even if everything is right, it’s not enough on its own. If you see potassium sorbate you should see some other preservative next to it too.

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BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.

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 >>

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