The Chemistry Brand Hand ChemistryIngredients 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 super common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. It’s a nice ingredient that just feels good on the skin, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular.
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.
A sugar based emulsifier that's especially great for low viscosity lotions or even sprays. It's effective in small amounts, only 1-1.5% is needed to form an emulsion. The resulting cream or lotion has great cosmetic properties with good spreadability and an enhanced soft skin feel.
An extremely common multitasker ingredient that gives your skin a nice soft feel (emollient) and gives body to creams and lotions. It also helps to stabilize oil-water mixes (emulsions), though it does not function as an emulsifier in itself. Its typical use level in most cream type formulas is 2-3%.
It’s a so-called fatty alcohol, a mix of cetyl and stearyl alcohol, other two emollient fatty alcohols. Though chemically speaking, it is alcohol (as in, it has an -OH group in its molecule), its properties are totally different from the properties of low molecular weight or drying alcohols such as denat. alcohol. Fatty alcohols have a long oil-soluble (and thus emollient) tail part that makes them absolutely non-drying and non-irritating and are totally ok for the skin.
- 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 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.
An emollient plant oil coming from the Sacha Inchi plant from the Colombian Amazon.
Similar to other plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing and moisturizing fatty acids: it's especially rich in α-Linolenic acid (42-49%) and linoleic acid (32-38%) and contains less oleic acid (9-14%). It also contains a decent amount of antioxidant vitamin E (200 mg/kg).
The plant extract coming from the leaves of English plantain or narrowleaf plantain that's native to Europe and Asia. The plant has plenty of traditional medicinal uses. Regarding the leaf and the skin, it's used to promote maturation of abscess and to speed up the recovery of incisions, pimples or wounds.
Modern studies do confirm that the plant, and specifically the leaves are loaded with active compounds that give the extract anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant magic properties. An in-vitro (made on chicken membrane, not on real people) study in Phytotherapy Research found that Plantain Leaf Extract in large concentrations has a comparable soothing effect to anti-inflammatory big shot, hydrocortisone.
Another study in the Journal of Herbal Medicine examined the antioxidant properties of the plant and found that the leaf extract has potent antioxidant activity (thanks to its flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acids content) that's comparable or superior to multiple herbs and Chinese medicinal plants.
All in all, definitely a goodie plant extract that's good to spot on the ingredient list.
It's a pretty new anti-aging ingredient that is a "safe and pre-activated source of energy to feed aging skin cells".
It's part of an anti-aging complex trade named Neodermyl, where methylglucoside phosphate is combined with the essential amino acids proline, lysine and also copper. This complex is claimed to be able to increase the collagen I and III production of skin and even more surprisingly, also the elastin production. Both slow down with age and beeing able to boost the skin's own production of these super important proteins results in improved skin firmness and elasticity.
This is a very big deal, especially the elastin part, as there is not yet a clinically proven active ingredient that is able to boost the skin's own elastin production. There are also very few ones (think vitamin C, glycolic acid, and retinol) that are proven to boost collagen. The claims about Neodermyl are not yet confirmed in independent studies but the manufacturer did do some very convincing testing that showed a visible reduction of wrinkle depth and volume in just 15 days. If you are into anti-aging, this is a new active that might be worth a try.
A non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can produce it) that's also one of the major building blocks of collagen. According to the Futurederm blog, it might be able to improve wrinkles when combined with other amino acids, glycine and leucine
A non-essential amino acid (a building block of skin proteins like collagen or elastin) that hydrates the skin.
Serine is an amino acid that most often comes to the formula as part of a moisturizing complex. It's a non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can synthesize it) and serves as a water-binding ingredient.
In general, amino acids are great skincare ingredients that play an important role in proper skin hydration but there is not much info out there about what specifically serine can do for the skin.
A biotechnologically derived ingredient that is produced by the fermentation of a marine bacteria living in the cold Antarctic Ocean. According to the manufacturer's info, it seems to have two different sets of magic properties:
The first set includes skin-protecting and anti-aging abilities: it can help to protect the skin from dryness and redness due to cold weather and it also promotes skin regeneration and smoother skin surface by stimulating protein synthesis in the skin. More specifically, these proteins are type I and IV collagen and elastin, all super important stuff for wrinkle-free, young looking skin (though these results came only from in-vitro tests and might or might not apply to living human skin).
As for in-vivo (tested on real people) efficacy, 1% Antarcticine (the trade name for the diluted version of the Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract) cream increased skin hydration by 14.8% in cold weather and 5% Antarcticine cream decreased the depth of wrinkles by 44% around the eyes.
The second set of magic properties are all about oily skin regulation, such as reducing sebum production, shininess, and pore size. It acts through reducing Melanocortin 5 receptor, a protein important in sebum production. According to the in-vivo tests of the manufacturer, it both immediately reduces skin gloss as well as significantly reduces the number of active follicles and their total surface with ongoing use (by 9.5% and 27.2% after 28 days).
Overall, an interesting, multifunctional ingredient both for anti-aging as well as oily skin control purposes.
A polysaccharide (a big sugar molecule) coming from the edible fruit bodies of the Silver Ear mushroom in China. Legend has it, imperial Concubine Yang Kuei-fei - the most beautiful woman in Chinese history - used it for her facial care.
So Tremella Extract is a big molecule (more than 1M Da molecular weight) with sugar constituents of Mannose, Xylose, and Glucuronic acid (20%). The last one is the most important one, as Glucuronic acid is also a major component in hyaluronic acid (HA). Thanks to this, Tremella is claimed to be an awesome moisturizer with slightly greater water-holding capacities than HA itself. This is quite a big deal as HA is known for its crazy water-holding capacity (up to 1000 times its own weight).
Not only that but Tremella also seems to have some antioxidant effect, it's not sticky (humectants do tend to be sticky) and it leaves skin moist and smooth. No wonder, Concubine Yang Kuei-fei liked this mushroom.
- 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
A sugar beet derived amino acid derivative with nice skin protection and moisturization properties. Betain's special thing is being an osmolyte, a molecule that helps to control cell-water balance. It is also a natural osmoprotectant, meaning that it attracts water away from the protein surface and thus protects them from denaturation and increases their thermodynamic stability.
It also gives sensorial benefits to the formula and when used in cleansers, it helps to make them milder and gentler.
A natural polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that can be found in the cell wall of green plants. It is a natural and sustainable helper ingredient that can improve the absorption of the formula and it also reduces oiliness on the skin. It is also used as a sensory additive and thickening agent.
It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little 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). The typical use level of Xantha Gum is below 1%, it is usually in the 0.1-0.5% range.
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).
A superabsorbent polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that has crazy water binding abilities. Sometimes its referred to as "waterlock" and can absorb 100 to 1000 times its mass in water.
As for its use in cosmetic products, it is a handy multi-tasker that thickens up water-based formulas and also has some emulsifying and emulsion stabilizing properties.
The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right.
For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.
BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.
Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.
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.
BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.
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.
If you have spotted ethylhexylglycerin on the ingredient list, most probably you will see there also the current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol. They are good friends because ethylhexylglycerin can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too.
Also, it's an effective deodorant and a medium spreading emollient.
It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.
It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic.
Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10).
It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.
A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. It's often combined with IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol.
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 then fragrance is not your best friend - there's 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 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.
|what‑it‑does||solvent | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||2, 2|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0-3, 0-3|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|what‑it‑does||viscosity controlling | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||moisturizer/humectant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial|
|what‑it‑does||perfuming | solvent|