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The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + Ha
The Ordinary

Natural Moisturizing Factors + Ha

Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMF) are elements that keep the outer layer of the skin protected and well-hydrated. NMF are made up of multiple amino acids, fatty acids, triglycerides, urea, ceramides, [more] [more] phospholipids, glycerin, saccharides, sodium PCA, hyaluronic acid and many other compounds that are naturally present in the skin. [less]
Uploaded by: suecake on 03/11/2016

Ingredients overview

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A very common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. Comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A fatty (the good, non-drying kind of) alcohol that makes your skin feel smooth and nice (emollient), helps to thicken up products and also helps water and oil to blend (emulsifier).
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A natural corn sugar derived glycol. It can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 2, 2
A handy multi-tasker, white to light yellowish oil-loving wax that works very well in oil-in-water emulsions.  It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient),  stabilizes oil-water mixes and gives body to them.Oh, and one more thing: [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An amino acid that is one of the primary building blocks of hair keratin and skin collagen. It's a natural moisturizing factor and might also help to speed up wound healing.  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
A non-essential amino acid  (important building block of collagen and elastin) that hydrates the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An amino acid (the building blocks of skin proteins, like collagen) that hydrates the skin and might help wound healing and improve wrinkles. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
A non-essential amino acid (a building block of skin proteins like collagen or elastin) that hydrates the skin.
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
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 d [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An essential amino acid (a building block of skin proteins like collagen) that is a skin hydrator. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An essential amino acid that hydrates the skin and might be also a barrier repair ingredient. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
A non-essential amino acid (meaning that our body can produce it) that might be able to improve wrinkles combined with other amino acids, glycine and leucine. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An essential amino acid (important building block of collagen and elastin) that hydrates the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
An amino acid that is important in regulating the immune defense and inflammatory processes in the body. It's a skin moisturizer that might protect from skin infections. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
An essential amino acid that is used in the treatment of vitiligo. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
Sugar - as a skincare ingredient it has water-binding properties, which means that it helps to keep your skin nice and hydrated.  [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
Fancy name for fruit sugar. It has nice water-binding properties and helps to keep skin hydrated. 
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A type of sugar that has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated. 
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's an important skin-identical ingredient and great natural moisturizer that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
PCA stands for Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid and though it might not sound like it, it is a thing that can be found naturally in our skin. In fact, after amino acids, it is the second biggest NMF component of the skin with 12% being PCA of the NMF composition of normal skin.  So similar to other NMFs, it's a skin goodie that  [more]
what‑it‑does buffering | moisturizer/humectant
The sodium salt of lactic acid. It's a great skin moisturizer and also used to regulate the pH value of the cosmetic formula. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
The thing in the pee that is also a natural moisturizing factor (NMF) with mild keratolytic and strong skin moisturizing superpowers. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. It's not only soothing but it' [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient
The famous omega-6 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-6 fatty acids in our body. It is a so-called polyunsaturated fatty acid meaning it has more than one (in this case two) double bonds and a somewhat kinky structure that makes LA and LA-rich oils a thin liquid.It is also an essential fatty acid meaning our body cannot synthesize  [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
A common fatty acid that can be found in lots of plant oils. Its name, "oleic", means derived from olive oil, a plant oil rich in oleic acid, but avocado, macadamia and marula oils, just to name a few, are also oleic rich.Its chemical structure is monounsaturated, meaning it has one double bond (cis-9) that makes it less kinky than polyunsaturated fatty acids with multiple [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient | emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 2
A fatty acid that can be found naturally in the skin. It can make the skin feel nice and smooth in moisturizers (emollient) or it can act as a foam building cleansing agent in cleansers. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 2-3
A common multi-tasker fatty acid that works as an emollient, thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
It's quite the multi-tasker: an emollient and water-binding ingredient but also an emulsifier and can be used for stabilization purposes. It's also often used to create liposomes.  [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0-3, 0-3
Pure Vitamin E. Great antioxidant that gives significant photoprotection against UVB rays. Works in synergy with Vitamin C. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A handy helper ingredient that works as an emulsifier or solubilizer to include oil-loving ingredients (such as fragrance) into water-based products. 
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
Sodium chloride is the fancy name of salt. Normal, everyday table salt. It’s a common little helper ingredient in cosmetics that helps to increase the volume of a product (bulking), to disguise any unpleasant smell (masking) or to thicken up a formula (viscosity controlling). [more]
what‑it‑does exfoliant | buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
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. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
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. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
irritancy, com. 0, 2
Helps to set the pH of a cosmetic formulation to be right. It’s very alkaline. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial
A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. [more]

Skim through

Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Aqua (Water) solvent
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride emollient goodie
Cetyl Alcohol emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling 2, 2
Propanediol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Stearyl Alcohol emollient, viscosity controlling 2, 2
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
Sodium Hyaluronate skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
Arginine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Aspartic Acid skin-identical ingredient goodie
Glycine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Alanine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Serine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Valine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Isoleucine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Proline skin-identical ingredient goodie
Threonine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Histidine skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Phenylalanine skin-identical ingredient goodie
Glucose moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Maltose moisturizer/​humectant
Fructose moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Trehalose moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Sodium PCA skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 goodie
PCA skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Sodium Lactate buffering, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Urea skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Allantoin soothing 0, 0 goodie
Linoleic Acid skin-identical ingredient, emollient goodie
Oleic Acid emollient, emulsifying
Phytosteryl Canola Glycerides
Palmitic Acid skin-identical ingredient, emollient, emulsifying 0, 2
Stearic Acid emollient, viscosity controlling 0, 2-3
Lecithin emollient, emulsifying goodie
Triolein viscosity controlling
Tocopherol antioxidant 0-3, 0-3 superstar
Carbomer viscosity controlling 0, 1
Isoceteth-20 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Polysorbate 60 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Sodium Chloride viscosity controlling
Citric Acid exfoliant, buffering goodie
Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate chelating
Pentylene Glycol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Triethanolamine buffering 0, 2
Sodium Hydroxide buffering
Phenoxyethanol preservative
Chlorphenesin. preservative, antimicrobial/​antibacterial

Ingredients explained

Also-called: 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. 

What-it-does: emollient

A very 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, and it’s also easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular. 

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

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.

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: emollient, viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 2 | Comedogenicity: 2

A handy multi-tasker, white to light yellowish oil-loving wax that works very well in oil-in-water emulsions.  It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient),  stabilizes oil-water mixes and gives body to them.

Oh, and one more thing: it's a so-called fatty alcohol - the good, emollient type of alcohol that is non-drying and non-irritating. It is often mixed with fellow fatty alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, and the mixture is called Cetearyl Alcohol in the ingredient list. 

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: 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).

Arginine - goodie

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

Aspartic Acid - goodie

A non-essential amino acid  (important building block of collagen and elastin) that hydrates the skin. It is also used to set the pH of the cosmetic product (buffering).

Glycine - goodie

A non-essential amino acid (the building blocks of skin proteins, like collagen or elastin), that the body can produce itself, but its production decreases with age. When you put it all over your face, it works as a moisturizer and maybe more. 

According to great skincare blog Futurederm, glycine might help with wound healing and tissue repair and when used together with other amino acids, leucine and proline it might improve wrinkles

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BTW, it's also a building block of a bunch of important and famous peptides, including copper-tripeptide-1, palmitoyl tripeptide-1 or palmitoyl hexapeptide-12.

Alanine - goodie

A non-essential amino acid (a building block of skin proteins like collagen or elastin) that hydrates the skin.

Serine - goodie

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.

Valine - goodie

An essential amino acid (a building block of skin proteins like collagen) that our body cannot produce itself but has to take from external sources, like diet. 

It's a branched chain amino acid that is claimed to enhance energy, increase endurance and aid in muscle tissue recovery and repair when taken as a supplement. It's not clear what valine does when you put it on the skin, but as all amino acids, it must be at least a great skin hydrator.

Isoleucine - goodie

A branch-chained, essential amino acid that can be found in things like almond, cashew or soy protein. When taken orally it may promote protein synthesis. As for skincare - like all the amino acids - it's a skin-identical ingredient and moisturizer. It also seems to be useful as a barrier repair ingredient.  

Proline - goodie

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

Threonine - goodie

An essential amino acid that's also a key building block of collagen and elastin. When taken orally, it helps the digestive and intestinal tracts function more smoothly and also helps the absorption of nutrients. As for skincare, it is not clear what it does other than being a skin hydrator

Histidine - goodie

A semi-essential amino acid meaning that enough has to be eaten from it so that the body does not use up essential amino acids (that our body cannot produce itself) to synthesize it. It has an important role in regulating the immune defense, allergic reactions, and inflammatory processes in the body.

As for skincare, it's a skin moisturizer that might also protect from some skin infections

Phenylalanine - goodie

An essential amino acid that the body cannot produce itself but has to take from the diet. Combined with UVA exposure, phenylalanine is used in the treatment of vitiligo (a pigmentation disorder where patches of the skin lose the pigment).

Glucose - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A fancy name for sugar. Luckily when you put it on your skin it's good for you not like when you eat it. :) It has water-binding properties, which means that it helps to keep your skin nice and hydrated

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Fructose - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

Fancy name for fruit sugar. It has nice water-binding properties and helps to keep skin hydrated

Trehalose - goodie
What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A type of sugar that has water-binding properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated

Sodium PCA - goodie
What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

PCA stands for Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid and though it might not sound like it, it is a thing that can be found naturally in our skin. The sodium salt form of PCA is an important skin-identical ingredient and great natural moisturizer that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. 

PCA - goodie
Also-called: Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid;Pca | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant

PCA stands for Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid and though it might not sound like it, it is a thing that can be found naturally in our skin. In fact, after amino acids, it is the second biggest NMF component of the skin with 12% being PCA of the NMF composition of normal skin.  So similar to other NMFs, it's a skin goodie that helps the skin to hold onto water and stay nicely hydrated. 

The sodium salt of lactic acid. It's a great skin moisturizer and also used to regulate the pH value of the cosmetic formula. It's a natural ingredient approved by both ECOCERT and COSMOS.

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.

Allantoin - goodie
What-it-does: soothing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. 

It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.

Linoleic Acid - goodie
Also-called: LA, omega-6 fatty acid, 18:2 cis-9,12, Form of Vitamin F | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient

The famous omega-6 fatty acid, the mother of all ω-6 fatty acids in our body. It is a so-called polyunsaturated fatty acid meaning it has more than one (in this case two) double bonds and a somewhat kinky structure that makes LA and LA-rich oils a thin liquid.

It is also an essential fatty acid meaning our body cannot synthesize it and has to take it from food. This is not hard at all as plenty of nuts (such as flax, poppy or sesame seeds) and vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower) are rich in LA. The hard thing seems to be eating enough omega-3-s, more specifically eating a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but that is a topic for a what-is-good-to-eat-site and not for us. 

Expand to read more

As for linoleic acid and the skin, LA is a really important little guy found naturally in our skin. It is the most abundant fatty acid in the epidermis and it serves as a structural precursor for important skin lipids called ceramides. Knowing this, it will not come as a surprise that Linoleic acid has a central role in the structure and function of stratum corneum permeability, aka healthy skin barrier.  LA deficiency leads to an impaired more permeable skin barrier and the topical application of LA-rich sunflower oil can fix this issue rapidly (while oleic-rich olive oil did not have the same barrier repairing effect).

LA is not only important for dry, barrier damaged skin types but also for acne-prone skin. Research shows that problem skin has lower levels of linoleic acid (and higher levels of oleic acid) than normal skin. So LA-deficiency in the skin seems to be connected not only to an impaired skin barrier but also to acne and smearing LA all over your face might help with your problem skin. A double-blind study using a 2.5% LA gel for 4 weeks found a 25% reduction in the size of microcomedones, the tiny blocked pores that can later lead to acne.

If that was not enough, we have one more thing to report about LA.  It lightens hyperpigmentation (aka UVB caused sun spots) both by blocking the melanin production of melanocytes (the skin cells that make the pigment melanin) and by enhancing the desquamation of melanin pigment from the upper layers of the skin.

Overall, linoleic acid is a multi-functional skin goodie with barrier repairing, acne-reducing, and skin-lightening magic abilities. It's a nice one to spot on the ingredient list pretty much for any skin type. 

Also-called: Omega-9 fatty acid | What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

A common fatty acid that can be found in lots of plant oils. Its name, "oleic", means derived from olive oil, a plant oil rich in oleic acid, but avocado, macadamia and marula oils, just to name a few, are also oleic rich.

Its chemical structure is monounsaturated, meaning it has one double bond (cis-9) that makes it less kinky than polyunsaturated fatty acids with multiple double bonds. Less kinkiness means that oleic acid and OA-rich oils are a bit thicker and heavier than their LA-rich siblings.

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Maybe this thickness is the reason that Oleic acid is considered comedogenic, and if you have acne-prone skin avoid OA-rich plant oils, and choose linoleic acid-rich versions instead.

The thickness of OA also means that OA-rich oils are considered more nourishing and moisturizing than their LA-rich counterparts, and are generally considered to be more suitable for dry, mature skin types. 

As for oleic acid in its free form (and by free we mean that it is not bound up in a triglyceride structure like it is in oils), it mostly serves as an emulsifier or emulsion stabilizer in small amounts in regular cosmetic products. It is also quite well researched and is used in the pharmaceutical industry as a penetration enhancer

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

A fatty acid that can be found naturally in the skin. In fact, it's the most common saturated fatty acid found in animals and plants.

As for skincare, it can make the skin feel nice and smooth in moisturizers (emollient) or it can act as a foam building cleansing agent in cleansers. It's also a very popular ingredient in shaving foams. 

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).

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

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Tocopherol - superstar
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 >>

What-it-does: viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

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.

A handy helper ingredient that works as an emulsifier or solubilizer to include oil-loving ingredients (such as fragrance) into water-based products. 

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

Also-called: Salt | What-it-does: viscosity controlling

Sodium chloride is the fancy name of salt. Normal, everyday table salt

It’s a common little helper ingredient in cosmetics that helps to increase the volume of a product (bulking), to disguise any unpleasant smell (masking) or to thicken up a formula (viscosity controlling). Sometimes it’s also used as a scrub.

Citric Acid - goodie
What-it-does: exfoliant, buffering

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. 

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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. 

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).

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: buffering | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

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. 

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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.

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

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.  

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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.

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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