Caffeine Solution 5% + Egcg
The Ordinary

Caffeine Solution 5% + Egcg

This light-textured formula contains an extremely high 5% concentration of caffeine, supplemented with highly-purified Epigallocatechin Gallatyl Glucoside (EGCG) from green tea leaves. Independent studies have shown that topical use of each of caffeine and EGCG can help reduce looks of puffiness and of dark circles in the eye contour. Additional studies have shown that caffeine can also reduce the appearance of cellulite.
Uploaded by: suecake on 03/11/2016
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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. 

Caffeine - goodie
What-it-does: antioxidant

Hello, our favorite molecule that helps us wake up in the morning and then keeps us going through the day. As a super well-known stimulant from coffee, tea and plenty of other soft drinks, Caffeine needs no introduction. So we will skip right to the part where we talk about what the hell it does in so-so many cosmetic products.

Looking at the research, we were surprised to find how versatile Caffeine is. It is a small, water-loving molecule with pretty good skin penetration abilties. Once in the skin, it has nice antioxidant properties, meaning that it reduces the formation of evil free radicals and it might even be useful in preventing UV-induced skin cancers. 

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A well-known thing about Caffeine is that it improves the microcirculation of the blood vessels. Though conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence says that this property is helpful for dark under-eye circles and puffy eyes, we have to mention that the double-blind research we have found about a 3% caffeine gel concluded that "the overall efficacy of the selected caffeine gel in reducing puffy eyes was not significantly different from that of its gel base."  But you know, the proof is in the pudding.

Another thing Caffeine is used for in body care products is its anti-cellulite effects. In theory, it can speed up the lipolysis process (the "fat burning"  by our cells) and stimulate the draining lymph system that might lead to the improvement of cellulite. But here again, the evidence that it actually makes a measurable, let alone visible,  improvement on actual human beings is limited (we could find only some animal skin studies or caffeine being combined with other actives). 

Last, but not least, we have to write about caffeine and hair growth. The theory is that it can inhibit the activity of the 5-α-reductase enzyme that plays an important role in hair loss and allows a renewed growth phase of the hair. We have found some recent and promising research to back this up. A 2017 study compared a 0.2% caffeine liquid with a 5% Minoxidil  (an FDA approved active to treat baldness) solution and found that  "a caffeine-based topical liquid should be considered as not inferior to minoxidil 5% solution in men with androgenetic alopecia", or English translation means that the caffeine liquid was pretty much as good as the FDA-approved Minoxidil stuff. Not bad!

Overall, we think that caffeine is a very versatile and biologically active ingredient. Even though some of its effects are more hyped up than backed up, it is still a nice to have on many ingredient lists. 

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. 

Glycerin - goodie
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • Super common, used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but plays an important role in keeping the stuff between our skin cells healthy
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

What-it-does: absorbent/mattifier

It's a little helper ingredient coming from corn, rice or potato starch that can help to keep skin mat (absorbent), to stabilise emulsions, and to keep the product together (binding). 

Also-called: EGCG | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing

If EGCG does not tell you anything, green tea sure does. We have written about green tea in excruciating details, so if you wanna become an expert in the "green tea in skincare" topic,  click here and read it

So now you know that EGCG is the magic ingredient in green tea. It's the most active polyphenol that green tea owes most of its magic properties to. It's a fantastic antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic agent. Be happy, if you spot it on the ingredient list. 

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).

Also-called: Soybean Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening, soothing, emollient

When you hear the word Soy, you probably associate it with soy sauce or tofu, not skincare. But as it turns out, the soybean has a bunch of useful active components and soybean extract is an interesting cosmetic ingredient with a wide range of possible effects. 

Its main active components are antioxidant phenolic acids and flavonoids as well as small and large soy proteins. The large proteins give soybean extract nice skin smoothing and softening properties, while the small proteins (soybean trypsin inhibitor (STI) and Bowman-Birk inhibitor (BBI)) are thought to inhibit skin pigmentation and delay hair regrowth.   

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Regarding skin pigmentation, the soybean extract works by hindering melanosome transfer, meaning it blocks the melanin pigment from traveling up to the surface of the skin and becoming visible there. This is useful for most pigmentation situations but, if you have melasma, soy is not for you as melasma is estrogen-mediated and soy is a well-known phytoestrogen

The most famous and bioactive flavonoids in soybeans are the isoflavones called genistein and diadzein that have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Genistein is also proven to inhibit UV induced redness in human skin. These isoflavones are also the ones that make soy a phytoestrogen, meaning they have a (weak) estrogenic effect. Topical estrogen is known to decrease skin thinning and collagen loss and soy might be able to do the same, especially during and after menopause when natural estrogen levels run low.  

There is also some promising, but as yet not in-vivo (done on real people), research that soybean extract can stimulate both elastin and collagen synthesis and thus lead to healthier, younger-looking skin. 

Overall, soybean extract is a promising and multi-functional active, a nice addition to most ingredient lists.

Urea - goodie
Also-called: Carbamide | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant

Yes, it's the thing that can be found naturally in pee. And in the skin. It is an awesome natural moisturizing factor, aka NMF.  NMFs are important components that help the skin to hold onto water and keep it plump, elastic and hydrated. Urea makes up about 7% of NMFs next to other things such as amino acids (40%), PCA (12%) or Lactate (12%).

What makes urea special, is that it is not only a simple moisturizer, but it is thought to be a "small-molecule regulator of epidermal structure and function" meaning that it has a bunch of extra biological activities. It acts as a mild keratolytic agent (some of its moisturizing action is thought to come from urea's ability to break down bonds in the protein called filaggrin and thus freeing up amino acids in the skin), enhances antimicrobial peptide expression and improves skin barrier function

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Being a mild keratolytic agent and strong moisturizer means that high-percentage (10-40%) urea treatments are found effective in a bunch of skin disorders connected to excessive dryness and malfunctioning skin barrier such as ichthyosis, xerosis, psoriasis, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis.  

Overall, just like glycerin, urea is a real oldie but a goodie, a nice ingredient in any moisturizer.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A nice little helper ingredient that can thicken up cosmetic products and create beautiful gel formulas. It's derived from cellulose, the major component of the cell wall of green plants. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

It's one of the most commonly used thickeners and emulsion stabilizers. If the product is too runny, a little of xanthan gum will help make it more gel-like.  Used alone, it can make the formula sticky 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 called glucose and sucrose. It’s approved by Ecocert and also used in the food industry (E415). 

Lactic Acid - superstar
  • It’s the second most researched AHA after glycolic acid
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells to reveal newer, fresher, smoother skin
  • It also has amazing skin hydrating properties
  • In higher concentration (10% and up) it improves skin firmness, thickness and wrinkles
  • Choose a product where you know the concentration and pH value because these two greatly influence effectiveness
  • Don’t forget to use your sunscreen (in any case but especially so next to an AHA product)
Read all the geeky details about Lactic Acid here >>

Also-called: EDDS | What-it-does: chelating

A helper ingredient that helps to neutralize the metal ions in the formula (they usually come from water) so it stays nice longer. The special property of this particular ingredient is that it's more effective against more problematic ions, like Cu (copper) and Fe (iron) compared to less problematic ones like Ca (calcium)  and Mg (magnesium).

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent | 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. 

What-it-does: solvent

A nice odorless liquid used mainly as a superior solubilizer and efficacy booster for cosmetic active ingredients such as skincare bigshot vitamin C, self-tanning active DHA or the anti-acne gold standard, benzoyl peroxide

Other than that it can also be used in hair care products where it gives a longer-lasting and more uniform coloring. According to a manufacturer, it might even prevent the formation of split ends.

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.

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.

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