WOW skin science Am2Pm SunscreenIngredients 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 clear, oil-soluble, "cosmetically-elegant" liquid that is the most commonly used chemical sunscreen. It absorbs UVB radiation (at wavelengths: 280-320 nm) with a peak protection at 310nm.
It only protects against UVB and not UVA rays (the 320-400 nm range) – so always choose products that contain other sunscreens too. It is not very stable either, when exposed to sunlight, it kind of breaks down and loses its effectiveness (not instantly, but over time - it loses 10% of its SPF protection ability within 35 mins). To make it more stable it can be - and should be - combined with other sunscreen agents to give stable and broad-spectrum protection (the new generation sunscreen agent, Tinosorb S is a particularly good one for that).
Regarding safety, there are also some concerns around Octinoxate. In vitro (made in the lab not on real people) and animal studies have shown that it may produce hormonal (estrogen-like) effects. Do not panic, the studies were not conducted under real life conditions on real human people, so it is probably over-cautious to avoid Octinoxate altogether. However, if you are pregnant or a small child (under 2 yrs. old), choose a physical (zinc oxide/titanium dioxide) or new-generation Tinosorb based sunscreen, just to be on the super-safe side. :)
Overall, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate is an old-school chemical sunscreen agent. There are plenty of better options for sun protection today, but it is considered "safe as used" (and sunscreens are pretty well regulated) and it is available worldwide (can be used up to 10% in the EU and up to 7.5% in the US).
An oil-soluble chemical sunscreen agent that protects skin in the UVB and somewhat in the UVA II range with a peak absorption of 304 nm. Its protection is not strong enough on its own but it is quite photostable (loses 10% of SPF protection in 95 mins) and is often used to stabilize other photo-unstable UV-filters, for example, Avobenzone. It is also often used to improve the water resistance of the products.
Octocrylene's safety profile is generally quite good, though a review study in Contact Dermatitis reports an "increasing number of patients with photo contact allergy to octocrylene." Mainly adults with ketoprofen-sensitivity and children with sensitive skin are affected, so if you have a small kid, it is probably better to use octocrylene-free sunscreens.
The famous Avobenzone. It is a special snowflake as it is the only globally available chemical sunscreen agent that provides proper UVA protection (in the US, new generation sunscreen agents are not approved because of impossible FDA regulations). It is the global gold standard of UVA protection and is the most used UVA sunscreen in the world.
It gives very good protection across the whole UVA range (310-400 nm that is both UVA1 and UVA2) with a peak protection at 360 nm. The problem with it, though, is that it is not photostable and degrades in the sunlight. Wikipedia says that avobenzone loses 36% of its UV-absorption capacity after just one hour of sunlight (yep, this is one of the reasons why sunscreens have to be reapplied after a few hours).
The cosmetic's industry is trying to solve the problem by combining avobenzone with other UV filters that enhance its stability (like octocrylene, Tinosorb S or Ensulizole) or by encapsulating it and while both solutions help, neither is perfect. Interestingly, the combination of avobenzone with mineral sunscreens (that is titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) is not a good idea. In the US, it is flat out prohibited as avobenzone becomes unstable when combined with mineral sunscreens.
As for safety, avobenzone has a pretty good safety profile. It counts as non-irritating, and unlike some other chemical sunscreens, it shows no estrogenic effect. The maximum concentration of avobenzone permitted is 5% in the EU and 3% in the US.
An oil-soluble chemical sunscreen agent that protects the skin from UVB (295-315 nm) with a peak protection at 306 nm. Homosalate is not a strong UV filter in and of itself (gives only SPF 4.3 protection at max. allowed 10% concentration) and it is not photostable (looses 10% of its SPF protection in 45 mins) so it always has to be combined with other sunscreens for proper protection. Its big advantage, though, is that it is a liquid and is excellent for dissolving other hard to solubilize powder sunscreen agents, like the famous Avobenzone.
Regarding Homosalate's safety profile, we do not have the best news. In-vitro (made in the labs) studies have shown that it might have some estrogenic activity. Do not panic, these studies were not conducted on real humans under real world conditions. Still, if you are a 'better safe than sorry' type, be careful when using Homosalate containing sunscreens long-term and full-body.
As of 2020, Homosalate is permitted to be used up to 10% in the EU and 15% in the US, but the EU is currently considering restricting it to only 1.4% (probably taking effect from 2022).
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".
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.
- 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
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 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).
Titanium Dioxide is one of the two members of the elite sunscreen group called physical sunscreens (or inorganic sunscreens if you’re a science geek and want to be precise).
Traditionally, UV-filters are categorized as either chemical or physical. The big difference is supposed to be that chemical agents absorb UV-light while physical agents reflect it like a bunch of mini umbrellas on top of the skin. While this categorization is easy and logical it turns out it's not true. A recent, 2016 study shows that inorganic sunscreens work mostly by absorption, just like chemical filters, and only a little bit by reflection (they do reflect the light in the visible spectrum, but mostly absorb in the UV spectrum).
Anyway, it doesn't matter if it reflects or absorbs, Titanium Dioxide is a pretty awesome sunscreen agent for two main reasons: it gives a nice broad spectrum coverage and it's highly stable. Its protection is very good between 290 - 350 nm (UVB and UVA II range), and less good at 350-400 nm (UVA I) range. Regular sized Titanium Dioxide also has a great safety profile, it's non-irritating and is pretty much free from any health concerns (like estrogenic effect worries with some chemical filters).
The disadvantage of Titanium Dioxide is that it's not cosmetically elegant, meaning it's a white, "unspreadable" mess. Sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide are often hard to spread on the skin and they leave a disturbing whitish tint. The cosmetic industry is, of course, really trying to solve this problem and the best solution so far is using nanoparticles. The itsy-bitsy Nano-sized particles improve both spreadability and reduce the whitish tint a lot, but unfortunately, it also introduces new health concerns.
The main concern with nanoparticles is that they are so tiny that they are absorbed into the skin more than we want them (ideally sunscreen should remain on the surface of the skin). Once absorbed they might form unwanted complexes with proteins and they might promote the formation of evil free radicals. But do not panic, these are concerns under investigation. A 2009 review article about the safety of nanoparticles summarizes this, "to date, in-vivo and in-vitro studies have not demonstrated percutaneous penetration of nanosized particles in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sunscreens". The English translation is, so far it looks like sunscreens with nanoparticles do stay on the surface of the skin where they should be.
All in all, Titanium Dioxide is a famous sunscreen agent and for good reason, it gives broad spectrum UV protection (best at UVB and UVA II), it's highly stable, and it has a good safety profile. It's definitely one of the best UV-filter agents we have today, especially in the US where new-generation Tinosorb filters are not (yet) approved.
A handy helper ingredient that comes in a white powder form and works as an anti-caking and oil-absorbing agent. It also gives products good spreadability, long lasting and velvet touch characteristics. It is popular both in skincare and makeup products.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
When it comes to cosmetic oils and hype, argan oil is for sure leading the way. Dubbed as the "liquid gold of Morocco", we have to admit we have some trouble determining why this oil enjoys such a special miracle status. Not that it's not good, it is good, even great but reading the research about argan and a bunch of other plant oils we just do not see the big, unique differentiating factor (though that might be our fault not reading enough, obvs.)
So, argan oil comes from the kernel of the argan fruit that comes from the argan tree that grows only in Morocco. The tree is slow growing and getting the oil is a hard job. The traditional process is that the ripe argan fruits fall from the tree, then goats eat them up and poop out the seeds. The seeds are collected and smashed with a stone to get the kernels inside. This part is the hard one as the seeds have extremely hard shells. Once the kernels are obtained, the oil is pressed out from them (the kernels contain about 50% oil).
As for skincare, argan oil is loaded with lots of skin goodies (but so are many other plant oils): it contains 80% nourishing and moisturizing unsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic (38-50%), linoleic (28-38%) and palmitic (10-18%). It also contains a relatively large amount of antioxidant vitamin E (600-900 mg/kg, about twice as much as olive), small amounts of antioxidant phenols (including caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and epicatechin), as well as some rare sterols with soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Thanks to all the above goodness in argan oil, it can greatly nourish and moisturize the skin and hair. It's also claimed to be able to neutralize collagen-damaging free radicals, help reduce scars, and revitalize and improve skin elasticity. You can even read that argan might help acne-prone skin, but being a high oleic oil, we would be careful with that.
All in all, argan oil is a real goodie but we do not fully understand the special miracle status it enjoys.
The extract coming from the juice containing leaves of the Aloe vera plant. It's usually a hydroglycolic extract (though oil extract for the lipid parts also exists) that has similar moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties as the juice itself. We have written some more about aloe here.
You might know licorice as a sweet treat from your childhood, but it's actually a legume that grows around the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, central and southern Russia. It's sweet and yellow and not only used for licorice all sorts but it's also a skincare superstar thanks to two magic properties:
Nr. 1 magic property is that it has skin-lightening or to say it another way depigmenting properties. The most active part is called glabridin. The topical application (meaning when you put it on your face) of 0.5% glabridin was shown to inhibit UVB caused pigmentation of guinea pigs. Another study even suggested that licorice is more effective than the gold standard skin-lightening agent hydroquinone. All in all, licorice is considered to be one of the safest skin lightening agents with the fewest side effects.
There is just one catch regarding glabridin and licorice: the amount of glabridin in commercial licorice extracts can vary a lot. We have seen extracts with only 4% glabridin as well as 40% glabridin. The latter one is a very-very expensive ingredient, so if you are after the depigmenting properties try to choose a product that boasts its high-quality licorice extract.
Nr. 2 magic property is that licorice is a potent anti-inflammatory. Glabridin has also some soothing properties but the main active anti-inflammatory component is glycyrrhizin. It’s used to treat several skin diseases that are connected to inflammation including atopic dermatitis, rosacea or eczema.
Oh, and one more thing: glabridin seems to be also an antioxidant, which is just one more reason to be happy about licorice root extract on an ingredient list.
Bottom line: Licorice is a great skincare ingredient with significant depigmenting, anti-inflammatory and even some antioxidant properties. Be happy if it's on the ingredient list. :)
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.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
We don't have description for this ingredient yet.
It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version.
According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E.
A helper ingredient that helps to make the products stay nice longer, aka preservative. It works mainly against fungi.
It’s pH dependent and works best at acidic pH levels (3-5). It’s not strong enough to be used in itself so it’s always combined with something else, often with potassium sorbate.
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!).
Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating.
This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners).
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.
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | emulsifying|
|irritancy, com.||0, 1-2|
|what‑it‑does||skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling | emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing|
|irritancy, com.||1, 2|
|what‑it‑does||emollient | viscosity controlling|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2-3|
|what‑it‑does||sunscreen | colorant|
|what‑it‑does||antioxidant | emollient|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | emollient | moisturizer/humectant|
|what‑it‑does||soothing | skin brightening|
|irritancy, com.||0, 0|
|irritancy, com.||0, 2|
|what‑it‑does||chelating | viscosity controlling|