The Body Shop
Roots Of Strength Firming Shaping Serum
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 clear, colorless, almost odorless oil that spreads nicely and easily and gives a velvet dry skin feel. It is good friends with sunscreen agents and helps to solubilize them. Also, it makes sunscreens feel lighter and spread easier.
- It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
- It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
- It can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list
- Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion (read more in geeky details tab)
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.
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".
Mannose is one of the many sugar molecules out there and similar to the other ones, it works as a great humectant and moisturizer in cosmetic products.
Cellulose is an important component of the cell walls of green plants and it's the most abundant natural polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) on Earth. If the polymer structure is not too big (less than 200 repeated units), cellulose becomes microcrystalline cellulose.
In skin care, it comes as a fine or less fine white powder. The less fine (bigger particle size) version is used as a gentle scrubbing agent (a nice natural, biodegradable alternative to now banned plastic polyethylene) and the ultra fine version is used as a helper ingredient that gives a super-silky, soft touch, reduces tackiness or greasiness and can also be used as a mattifying agent.
Combined with Cellulose Gum, it also works as a nice gelling agent.
It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It can be naturally found in fruits and teas but can also be made synthetically.
No matter the origin, in small amounts (up to 1%) it’s a nice, gentle preservative. Has to be combined with some other nice preservatives, like potassium sorbate to be broad spectrum enough.
In high amounts, it can be a skin irritant, but don’t worry, it’s never used in high amounts.
A corn-derived, white to yellowish, floury powder that works as a handy helper ingredient to create nice feeling emulsions.
It gives a generally pleasant skin feel, has some mattifying effect (though rice starch is better at that), it reduces greasiness and tackiness and helps the formula to spread easily without whitening or shininess.
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.
A natural polysaccharide (big sugar molecule) coming from red edible seaweeds. It is used as a helper ingredient for its gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties.
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!).
A semi-essential (infants cannot synthesize it, but adults can) amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of hair keratin and skin collagen. It's a natural moisturizing factor, a skin hydrator and might also help to speed up wound healing.
Arginine usually has a positive charge (cationic) that makes it substantive to skin and hair (those are more negatively charged surfaces) and an excellent film former. Thanks to the positive charge, it also creates a complex with AHAs (AHAs like to lose a hydrogen ion and be negatively charged, so the positive and the negative ions attract each other) that causes a "time-release AHA effect" and reduces the irritation associated with AHAs.
- It's one of the gold standard ingredients for treating problem skin
- It can exfoliate skin both on the surface and in the pores
- It's a potent anti-inflammatory agent
- It's more effective for treating blackheads than acne
- For acne combine it with antibacterial agents like benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid
A cellulose (the big molecule found in the cell wall of green plants) derivative that is used as an emulsion stabilizer and thickener.
The extract coming from Butcher’s Broom, a common evergreen shrub in the Mediterranean countries. It is known as a potent venous vasoconstrictor, meaning that it helps the narrowing of the blood vessels and increases the microcirculation.
In cosmetic products, this mainly translates to being a good astringent, refreshing and toning ingredient, as well as being an anti-redness, soothing and anti-cellulate agent.
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).
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little of 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).
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).
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 Bisabolol, the duo works synergistically to sooth the skin and take down redness.
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).
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.
Adenosine is an important little compound in our body that has a vital cell-signalling role. Research on smearing it on our face is also promising and shows so far a couple of things:
- It can help with wound healing
- It’s a good anti-inflammatory agent
- It might even help with skin’s own collagen production and improve skin firmness and elasticity
- It helps with barrier repair and protection
- It might be even useful for the hair helping with hair thickness and hair growth
A traditional Korean medicine used for more than 2000 years. Regarding skin care, its main thing seems to be enhancing skin nutrition and metabolism as a result of improving blood circulation.
It also contains biologically active components referred to as ginseng saponins (ginsenosides) that have potent antioxidant properties.
A super common and cheap fragrance ingredient. It's in many plants, e.g. rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint and it's the main component (about 50-90%) of the peel oil of citrus fruits.
It does smell nice but the problem is that it oxidizes on air exposure and the resulting stuff is not good for the skin. Oxidized limonene can cause allergic contact dermatitis and counts as a frequent skin sensitizer.
Limonene's nr1 function is definitely being a fragrance component, but there are several studies showing that it's also a penetration enhancer, mainly for oil-loving components.
All in all, limonene has some pros and cons, but - especially if your skin is sensitive - the cons probably outweigh the pros.
Linalool is a super common fragrance ingredient. It’s kind of everywhere - both in plants and in cosmetic products. It’s part of 200 natural oils including lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, jasmine, geranium and it can be found in 90-95% of prestige perfumes on the market.
The problem with linalool is, that just like limonene it oxidises on air exposure and becomes allergenic. That’s why a product containing linalool that has been opened for several months is more likely to be allergenic than a fresh one.
A study made in the UK with 483 people tested the allergic reaction to 3% oxidised linalool and 2.3% had positive test results.
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that smells like lemon and has a bittersweet taste. It can be found in many plant oils, e.g. lemon, orange, lime or lemongrass.
It’s one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.
- 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
Geraniol is a common fragrance ingredient. It smells like rose and can be found in rose oil or in small quantities in geranium, lemon and many other essential oils.
Citronellol is a very common fragrance ingredient with a nice rose-like odor. In the UK, it’s actually the third most often listed perfume on the ingredient lists.
It can be naturally found in geranium oil (about 30%) or rose oil (about 25%).
As with all fragrance ingredients, citronellol can also cause allergic contact dermatitis and should be avoided if you have perfume allergy. In a 2001 worldwide study with 178 people with known sensitization to fragrances citronellol tested positive in 5.6% of the cases.
There is no known anti-aging or positive skin benefits of the ingredient. It’s in our products to make it smell nice.
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.
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.
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|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | perfuming | solvent | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 3|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | anti-acne | soothing | preservative|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | soothing|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|
|what‑it‑does||exfoliant | buffering|