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ZO® SKIN HEALTH EXFOLIATING POLISH

EXFOLIATING POLISH

Magnesium crystals exfoliate dead skin cells to create a clear, smooth and even toned complexion.
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ZO® SKIN HEALTH EXFOLIATING POLISH
Ingredients explained

A smallish polymer molecule (created from repeated units of Polyethylene glycol, aka PEG) that's used as a solubilizer and viscosity control agent.

It is a clear, colorless liquid that is water-soluble and water-binding (aka humectant) and can help to solubilize sparingly-water soluble things (e.g. vanilla, perfumes) into water-based formulas. Thanks to its water-binding ability, it also prevents the drying out of formulas, especially when combined with the fellow hygroscopic agent, sorbitol

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: solvent, moisturizer/humectant, perfuming | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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.

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • 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
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

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

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. 

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A hydrogenated castor oil derivative that is used as an oil gelling agent. It can thicken up both oils as well as silicones. 

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

A very common water-loving surfactant and emulsifier that helps to keep water and oil mixed nicely together. 

It's often paired with glyceryl stearate - the two together form a super effective emulsifier duo that's salt and acid tolerant and works over a wide pH range. It also gives a "pleasing product aesthetics", so no wonder it's popular.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-2

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.

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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".

What-it-does: surfactant/cleansing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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 than fragrance is not your best friend - no way to know what’s really in it.  

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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: 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.

Also-called: Tea Tree Oil, TTO | What-it-does: soothing, anti-acne, antimicrobial/antibacterial, antioxidant, perfuming

The famous tea tree oil. One of the best known essential oils which comes from Australia where it has been used for almost 100 years for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions. Legend has it that the medicinal benefits of the oil were considered so important that Australian soldiers were supplied with some tea tree oil in their World War II military kit.

Similar to other essential oils, tea tree oil is a very complex chemical mixture consisting of about 100 components, the major ones being terpinen-4-ol (40%), γ-Terpinene (23%) and α-Terpinene (10%). Terpinen-4-ol is considered to be the main active component but as a great article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews states "while some TTO components may be considered less active, none can be considered inactive" and most components contribute to TTO's strong antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects

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Regarding skincare and tea tree oil, its most well-known effect is probably being a well established anti-acne ingredient. Multiple studies confirm that TTO is effective against the evil acne-causing bacteria called P. acnes and the effectiveness of 5% TTO gel is comparable to the gold standard anti-acne treatment, 5% Benzoyl Peroxide lotion. You need to be a bit more patient with TTO, though, as its effects come slower but also with fewer side effects.

Regarding TTO and sensitive skin, we say that you should be careful. Even if your skin is not sensitive you should never put undiluted TTO on your skin. Luckily, it contains only very small amounts of the common allergens (such as limonene), but irritant and allergic reactions still happen, especially by oxidation products that occur in older or not properly stored oil.  So if you have some pure TTO at home, know that storage matters, keep it in a cool, dry, dark place and use it up in a reasonable amount of time.

Overall, we do not often give a goodie status to essential oils, but we feel that TTO's unique antibacterial and anti-acne properties with its minimal allergen content warrant an exception. If your skin is acne-prone, TTO is something to experiment with.

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

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. 

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C, Ascorbyl Isotetrapalmitate, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, ATIP | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate is a stable, oil-soluble form of skincare big shot Vitamin C. If you do not know, why Vitamin C is such a big deal in skincare, click here and read all about it. We are massive vitamin C fans and have written about it in excruciating detail.

So now, you know that Vitamin C is great and all, but it's really unstable and gives cosmetics companies many headaches. To solve this problem they came up with vitamin C derivatives, and one of them is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (let's call it ATIP in short).

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It's a really promising candidate (see below), but while reading all the goodness about it in a minute, do not forget that derivatives not only have to be absorbed into the skin but also have to be converted to pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid or AA) and the efficacy of the conversion is often unknown. In addition, vitamin C's three magic properties (antioxidant, collagen booster, skin brightener) are all properly proven in-vivo (on real people), but for the derivatives, it's mostly in-vitro studies or in the case of ATIP, it's in-vitro and done by an ingredient supplier.

With this context in mind let's see what ATIP might be able to do. First, it is stable (if pH < 5), easy to formulate and a joy to work with for a cosmetic chemist.

Second, because it's oil-soluble, its skin penetration abilities seem to be great. So great in fact, that it surpasses the penetration of pure vitamin C threefold at the same concentration and it penetrates successfully into the deeper layers of the skin (that is usually important to do some anti-aging work). There is also in-vitro data showing that it converts to AA in the skin. 

Third, ATIP seems to have all three magic abilities of pure vitamin C: it gives antioxidant protection from both UVB and UVA rays, it increases collagen synthesis (even more than AA) and it has a skin brightening effect by reducing melanogenesis by more than 80% in human melanoma cell cultures.

So this all sounds really great, but these are only in-vitro results at this point. We could find Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate mentioned only in one published in-vivo study that examined the anti-aging properties of a silicone formula containing 10% AA and 7% ATIP. The authors theorized that the 10% AA is released slowly from the silicon delivery system and probably stays in the upper layer of the skin to give antioxidant benefits, while ATIP penetrates more rapidly and deeply and gives some wrinkle-reducing benefits. The study was a small (10 patients), double-blind experiment, and the formula did show some measurable anti-aging results. However, it is hard to know how much pure vitamin C or ATIP can be thanked.

Bottom line: a really promising, but not well-proven vitamin C derivative that can be worth a try especially if you like experimenting (but if you like the tried and true, pure vitamin C will be your best bet).

What-it-does: soothing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient | Irritancy: 1-3 | Comedogenicity: 1-3

It's an ester form of vitamin A (retinol + palmitic acid) that belongs to the "retinoid family". The retinoid family is pretty much the royal family of skincare, with the queen being the FDA-approved anti-aging ingredient tretinoin. Retinol is also a very famous member of the family, but it's like Prince William, two steps away from the throne. Retinyl palmitate will be then little Prince George, quite far (3 steps) away from the throne. 

By steps, we mean metabolic steps. Tretinoin, aka retinoic acid, is the active ingredient our skin cells can understand and retinyl palmitate (RP) has to be converted by our metabolic machinery to actually do something. The conversion is a 3 step one and looks like this:

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retinyl palmitate --> retinol -- > retinaldehyde --> all-trans-retinoic acid

As we wrote in our lengthy retinol description the problem is that the conversion is not terribly effective. The evidence that RP is still an effective anti-aging ingredient is not very strong, in fact, it's weak. Dr. Leslie Baumann in her fantastic Cosmetic Dermatology book writes that RP is topically ineffective

What's more, the anti-aging effectiveness is not the only questionable thing about RP. It also exibits questionable behaviour in the presence of UV light and was the center of a debate between the non-profit group, EWG (whose intentions are no doubt good, but its credibility is often questioned by scientists) and a group of scientists and dermatologists lead by Steven Q. Wang, MD,  director of dermatologic surgery at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. 

Dr. Leslie Baumann wrote a great review of the debate and summarized the research available about retinyl palmitate here.  It seems that there is a study showing RP being photo protective against UVB rays but there is also a study showing RP causing DNA damage and cytotoxicity in association with UVA. 

We think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and we agree with Dr. Baumann's conclusion: "sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between RP and skin cancer has not been produced. Nor, I’m afraid, are there any good reasons to recommend the use of RP". We would add especially during the day!

Bottom line: If you wanna get serious about retinoids, RP is not your ingredient (retinol or tretinoin is!). However, if you use a product that you like and it also contains RP, there is no reason to throw it away. If possible use it at night, just to be on the safe side.

Also-called: Form of Vitamin C | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2

A form of skincare superstar, vitamin C. Even though we are massive vitamin C fans,  Ascorbyl Palmitate  (AP) is our least favorite. (Btw, if you do not know what the big deal with vitamin C is then you are missing out. You must go and read our geeky details about it.) 

So, AP is one of the attempts by the cosmetics industry to solve the stability issues with vitamin C while preserving its benefits,  but it seems to fall short on several things.

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What's the problem?

Firstly, it's stability is only similar to that of pure ascorbic acid (AA), which means it is not really stable. A great study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology compared a bunch of vitamin C derivatives and this derivative was the only one where the study said in terms of stability that it's "similar to AA". Not really that good.

Second, a study that examined the skin absorption of vitamin C found that ascorbyl palmitate did not increase the skin levels of AA. This does not mean that ascorbyl palmitate cannot penetrate the skin (because it can, it's oil soluble and the skin likes to absorb oil soluble things) but this means that it's questionable if ascorbyl palmitate can be converted into pure Vit C in the skin. Even if it can be converted, the palmitate part of the molecule is more than the half of it, so the efficacy will not be good and we have never seen a serum that contains a decent (and proudly disclosed) amount of AP.  We are highly skeptical what effect a tiny amount of AP has in a formula.

Third, another study that wanted to examine the antioxidant properties of AP was surprised to find that even though AP does have nice antioxidant properties; following UVB radiation (the same one that comes from the sun) it also promotes lipid peroxidation and cytotoxicity. It was only an in-vitro study meaning that it was done on cell cultures and not on real people, but still, this also does not support the use of AP too much. 

The only good thing we can write about Ascorbyl Palmitate is that there is an in-vitro (made in the lab, not on real people) study showing that it might be able to boost collagen production.

Regarding the skin-brightening properties of pure vitamin C, this is another magic property AP does not have, or at least there is no data, not even in-vitro, about it.

Overall, Ascorbyl Palmitate is our least favorite vitamin C derivative. It is there in lots of products in tiny amounts (honestly, we do not really understand why), however, we do not know about any vitamin C serum featuring AP in high amounts. That is probably no coincidence. If you are into vitamin C, you can take a look at more promising derivatives here

What-it-does: emollient

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. 

Also-called: Mineral Oil | What-it-does: emollient, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

The famous or maybe rather infamous mineral oil. The clear oily liquid that is the "cheap by-product" of refining crude oil and the one that gets a lot of heat for its poor provenance. It is a very controversial ingredient with pros and cons and plenty of myths around it. So let us see them:  

The pros of mineral oil
Trust us, if something is used for more than 100 years in cosmetic products, it has advantages. Chemically speaking, cosmetic grade mineral oil is a complex mixture of highly refined saturated hydrocarbons with C15-50 chain length. It is not merely a "by-product" but rather a specifically isolated part of petroleum that is very pure and inert.

It is a great emollient and moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. Occlusivity is one of the basic mechanisms of how moisturizers work and it means that mineral oil sits on top of the skin and hinders so-called trans-epidermal water loss, i.e water evaporating out of your skin. When compared to heavy-duty plant oil, extra virgin coconut oil, the two of them were equally efficient and safe as moisturizers in treating xerosis, a skin condition connected to very dry skin.

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The other thing that mineral oil is really good at is being non-irritating to the skin. The chemical composition of plant oils is more complex with many more possible allergens or irritating components, while mineral oil is simple, pure and sensitivity to it is extremely rare. If you check out the classic French pharmacy brands and their moisturizers for the most sensitive, allergy prone skin, they usually contain mineral oil. This is no coincidence. 

The cons of mineral oil
The pros of mineral oil can be interpreted as cons if we look at them from another perspective. Not penetrating the skin but mostly just sitting on top of it and not containing biologically active components, like nice fatty acids and vitamins mean that mineral oil does not "nourish" the skin in the way plant oils do. Mineral oil does not give the skin any extra goodness, it is simply a non-irritating moisturizer working mainly by occlusivity. 

The myths around mineral oil
Badmouthing mineral oil is a favorite sport of many, it is a cheap material and being connected to petrolatum makes it fairly easy to demonize. 

While it is true that industrial grade mineral oil contains carcinogenic components (so-called polycyclic compounds), these are completely removed from cosmetic and food grade mineral oil and there is no scientific data showing that the pure, cosmetic grade version is carcinogenic.

What is more, in terms of the general health effects of mineral oils used in cosmetics, a 2017 study reviewed the data on their skin penetration and concluded that "the cosmetic use of mineral oils and waxes does not present a risk to consumers due to a lack of systemic exposure."  

Another super common myth surrounding mineral oil is that it is comedogenic. A 2005 study titled "Is mineral oil comedogenic?" examined this very question and guess what happened? The study concluded that  "based on the animal and human data reported, along with the AAD recommendation, it would appear reasonable to conclude that mineral oil is noncomedogenic in humans.

Overall, we feel that the scaremongering around mineral oil is not justified. For dry and super-sensitive skin types it is a great option. However, if you do not like its origin or its heavy feeling or anything else about it, avoiding it has never been easier. Mineral oil has such a bad reputation nowadays that cosmetic companies hardly dare to use it anymore. 

Phospholipids - goodie

A type of lipid that's the major (about 75%) component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient.

It has a water-loving head with two water-hating tails and this structure gives the molecule emulsifying properties. It is also often used to create liposomes, small spheres surrounded by phospholipid bi-layer designed to carry some active ingredient and help its absorption.

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, surfactant/cleansing

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. 

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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: Soybean Sterols | What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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

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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 - 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.

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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

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.

What-it-does: perfuming

It’s a common fragrance ingredient that is one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” on the label) because of allergen potential. Best to avoid if your skin is sensitive.

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%). 

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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: colorant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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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 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 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
It’s a common fragrance ingredient that is one of the “EU 26 fragrances” that has to be labelled separately (and cannot be simply included in the term “fragrance/perfume” [more]
what‑it‑does perfuming
A common fragrance ingredient with a nice rose-like smell. [more]
what‑it‑does colorant