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Witch Blemish Gel

Blemish Gel

Dissolves excess oils and clears pores
Uploaded by: shinneui on

Witch Blemish Gel
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. 

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. 

  • 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)
Read all the geeky details about Alcohol Denat. here >>

Also-called: Witch Hazel Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial, astringent

Witch hazel is a smallish tree (up to 5m) that's native to North-America, has nice yellow flowers and is similar to the hazelnut bush (hence the name).  

As for skincare, it's loaded with active components that have a bunch of magic properties, like astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-bacterial. It's also a well-known vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels narrower) and promotes the healing of broken skin by tightening up the skin proteins and thus creating a protective covering.

The complication, however, is that different extracts and distillates can be made from different parts of the plant (bark, twigs, and leaves are typically used) and different extraction methods from different parts produce different results. So if you see only Witch Hazel Extract or Witch Hazel Water on the ingredient list, it's a bit hard to know what you're actually getting but we will try to summarize the possibilities to give an idea.

The main biologically active components in Witch Hazel are hamamelitannin (a potent astringent and antioxidant), catechins (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) and gallic acid (antibacterial). The bark extract contains by far the most hamamelitannin and it has the most gallic acid and catechins. The twigs contain fewer catechins, less gallic acid, and much less hamamelitannin (4.77% vs 0.18%). The leaves contain hardly any tannins (0.04%) or catechins and contain a medium amount of gallic acid (compared to the bark and twigs).

Witch Hazel also contains tiny amounts of the essential oil and fragrance component eugenol, but the amount is so small that it's probably not significant for the skin.

Apart from the differences in active components in different parts of the Witch Hazel bush, the extraction methods also vary. Witch Hazel Distillate contains 14% added alcohol according to the USP specifications  and alcohol is, at best drying, and at worst skin-damaging. Luckily, there are also alcohol-free distillates, so if you prefer no alcohol check the ingredient list carefully. Witch Hazel Extracts can also be made in different ways: browsing Ulprospector, we could find hydroglycolic, hydroalcoholic and glicerine/water based extracts.

Well-known skin care expert, Paula Begoun rates witch hazel as poor and says,  "depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitizing amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both." This might be the case if you are dealing with an alcoholic witch hazel bark water or extract, but looking at CosIng (the official INCI name listing of the EU), witch hazel bark water or witch hazel bark extract are not listed ingredients. Bark and leaf or bark and twig or all three are used together to create extracts, so the chance that there is too much hamamelitannin in the final cosmetic ingredient seems small. Also alcohol-free extracts and distillates exist; actually, the majority seem to be alcohol-free nowadays. So all in all, we think "Hamamelis Virginiana Extract" on the ingredient list is nothing to worry about.

We even found a German study that compared the efficacy of Hamamelis ointment to panthenol ointment for soothing the skin in children (from 27 days to 11 years old). They observed 309 children and concluded that both ointments were similarly effective but the one with Hamamelis was even better tolerated (98.2% vs. 92.3% tolerated well the ointments in the two groups).

All in all, Witch Hazel Extract is a sloppy INCI name (btw, not in the CosIng listing), and you do not really know what you're getting. Most probably though, you are getting a goody with nice astringent, soothing, antibacterial, and even antioxidant properties.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
Read all the geeky details about Propylene Glycol here >>

What-it-does: emulsifying, surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.

Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation. 

If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.

As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily. 

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". 

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).

Parfum - icky
Also-called: Fragrance, Parfum;Parfum/Fragrance | What-it-does: perfuming

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!). 

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | 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. Typically used at 1% or less in most formulations.

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. 

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.

Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. 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.

It is typically used in tiny amounts, around 0.1% or less.

Linalool - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, deodorant

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: perfuming

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. 

What-it-does: perfuming

A common fragrance ingredient that smells like jasmine. It is one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.

Limonene - icky
What-it-does: perfuming, solvent, deodorant

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.  

Also-called: Blue 1 | What-it-does: colorant

CI 42090 or Blue 1 is a super common synthetic colorant in beauty & food. Used alone, it adds a brilliant smurf-like blue color, combined with Tartrazine, it gives the fifty shades of green.

You may also want to take a look at...

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 antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling
Alcohol with some additives to make it unconsumable. It is great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent, and antimicrobial. In large amounts, it can be very drying to the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial
With Hazel - loaded with active components (hamamelitannin, catechins, gallic acid) that have astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant or anti-bacterial properties. Also well-known vasoconstrictor and promotes skin healing. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common glycol that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products. It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [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 perfuming
The generic term for nice smelling stuff put into cosmetic products so that the end product also smells nice. It is made up of 30 to 50 chemicals on average. [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 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 chelating | viscosity controlling
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. 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. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A super common fragrance ingredient that can be found among others in lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot or jasmine. The downside of it is that it oxidises on air exposure and might become allergenic. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A common fragrance ingredient with a nice rose-like smell. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A common fragrance ingredient that smells like jasmine. It is one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately because of allergen potential. [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming | solvent
A super common fragrance ingredient found naturally in many plants including citrus peel oils, rosemary or lavender. It autoxidizes on air exposure and counts as a common skin sensitizer. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant
Synthetic colorant with smurf-like blue color. [more]