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Zo skin health Ossential® Brightalive Non-Retinol Skin Brightener

Ossential® Brightalive Non-Retinol Skin Brightener

A revolutionary skin brightener that uses technologically advanced, multi-action complexes to treat hyperpigmentation and sun damage without the use of retinol and hydroquinone.
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Highlights

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Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Water (Aqua) solvent
Cyclopentasiloxane emollient, solvent
Caprylyl Methicone emollient
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant, perfuming, solvent, viscosity controlling 0, 0 superstar
C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate emollient, antimicrobial/​antibacterial
Butylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling 0, 1
Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil emollient 0, 1-3 goodie
Peg-100 Stearate surfactant/​cleansing, emulsifying 0, 0
Glyceryl Stearate emollient, emulsifying 0, 1-2
Acrylamide/Ammonium Acrylate Copolymer
Cetyl Alcohol emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, surfactant/​cleansing 2, 2
Peg-12 Dimethicone/Ppg-20 Crosspolymer
Phenoxyethanol preservative
Polyisobutene viscosity controlling
Acetyl Glucosamine skin-identical ingredient, skin brightening goodie
Polymethyl Methacrylate
Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil emollient 0, 0 goodie
Maltodextrin
Caprylyl Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, emollient
Fragrance (Parfum) perfuming icky
Chlorphenesin preservative, antimicrobial/​antibacterial
Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract soothing, skin brightening superstar
Hexylresorcinol skin brightening, antimicrobial/​antibacterial goodie
Dimethylmethoxy Chromanyl Palmitate skin brightening
Ascorbyl Palmitate antioxidant 0, 2 icky
Disodium Edta chelating, viscosity controlling
Alcohol antimicrobial/​antibacterial, solvent, viscosity controlling icky
Acetyl Tyrosine
Diglucosyl Gallic Acid skin brightening goodie
Polysorbate 20 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing 0, 0
Polysorbate 80 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing 0, 0
Papain 0, 0
Tocopheryl Acetate antioxidant 0, 0
Proline skin-identical ingredient goodie
Stachys Officinalis Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract
Gluconolactone exfoliant, chelating superstar
Ubiquinone antioxidant goodie
Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Extract antioxidant, soothing, antimicrobial/​antibacterial goodie
Phospholipids skin-identical ingredient, emollient goodie
1,2-Hexanediol solvent
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Adenosine Triphosphate
Carbomer viscosity controlling 0, 1
Sodium Benzoate preservative
Pentylene Glycol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Retinyl Palmitate cell-communicating ingredient 1-3, 1-3
Ascorbic Acid antioxidant, skin brightening, buffering superstar
Algin viscosity controlling 4, 4
Potassium Sorbate preservative
Peg-35 Castor Oil emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Peg-12 Glyceryl Laurate emulsifying
Beta-Glucan soothing, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Soy Isoflavones antioxidant goodie
Pvp viscosity controlling 0, 0
Tocopherol antioxidant 0-3, 0-3 goodie
Sodium Oleate surfactant/​cleansing, emulsifying, viscosity controlling
Oligopeptide-68 skin brightening goodie
Hydrogenated Lecithin emollient, emulsifying goodie
Glycine Soja Extract
Nonapeptide-1
Dextran viscosity controlling

Zo skin health Ossential® Brightalive Non-Retinol Skin Brightener
Ingredients explained

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: emollient, solvent

A super commonly used 5 unit long, cyclic structured silicone that is water-thin and does not stay on the skin but evaporates from it (called volatile silicone). Similar to other silicones, it gives skin and hair a silky, smooth feel

It's often combined with the non-volatile (i.e. stays on the skin) dimethicone as the two together form a water-resistant, breathable protective barrier on the skin without a negative tacky feel.

What-it-does: emollient

A clear, colorless, low viscosity, volatile (does not absorb into the skin but rather evaporates from it) silicone fluid that has excellent spreadability and leaves a light, silky and smooth feel on the skin.

According to manufacturer info, its big advantage is that it's compatible both with other silicones and with natural plant oils, so it's a great ingredient to formulate products with good-sounding, consumer-pleasing vegetable oils but still maintain a cosmetically elegant, non-greasy and non-tacky feel.

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant, perfuming, solvent, viscosity controlling | 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 >>

An often used emollient with a light and silky feel. It's very mild to both skin and eyes and spreads nicely and easily. It's often used in sunscreens as it's also an excellent solvent for sunscreen agents. 

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: Sweet Almond Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1-3

The emollient plant oil that comes from almonds. Similar to other plant oils, it is loaded with skin-nourishing fatty acids (oleic acid - 55-86% and linoleic acid 7-35%) and contains several other skin goodies such as antioxidant vitamin E and vitamin B versions. 

It's a nice, basic oil that is often used due to its great smoothing, softening and moisturizing properties. It's also particularly good at treating dry brittle nails (source).

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".

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying, viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising, surfactant/cleansing | 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.

A high-molecular weight silicone elastomer gel (a rubber-like elastic material) that is usually combined with a silicone carrier fluid like Caprylyl Methicone. The blend has a viscous gel texture, gives smooth, powdery, nongreasy skin feel, and great spreadability.

It's also more compatible with natural vegetable oils than other silicone elastomer gels and works as a delivery aid both for oil-loving (e.g. sunscreens) and water-loving (vitamin C, Aloe Vera, Caffeine) materials. 

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.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

A polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that's used as a gloss improver for lipsticks and lipglosses. Its stickiness also helps lip products to stay on longer. 

Combined with polyacrylate-13 and polysorbate 20, it forms a very effective tickener-emulsifier trio.

An amino acid sugar that can be found in the skin and does there good and important things. One of them is that it's a precursor for the biosynthesis of superstar moisturizer, hyaluronic acid. So acetyl glucosamine itself is also an important skin-identical ingredient and natural moisturizing factor.

But that is not all, acetyl glucosamine has two other great properties proved by double-blind clinical trials. First, it's a promising ingredient against wrinkles:  2% can improve wrinkles, particularly in the eye area.

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Second, the same amount can also fade - always stubborn - brown spots. (Do not expect magic, though - the photos from the study show the difference after 8 weeks of daily use. The difference is visible, but not that big. It's always good to have realistic expectations. :))  Combined with skincare superstar niacinamide the duo is synergistic and is more effective at improving hyperpigmentation, so if you are after the skin-lightening benefit look out for products that contain both. 

A so-called polymer microsphere, i.e. little spherical shaped particles from repeated subunits. Similar to other microsphere powders, it can scatter the light to give products a soft focus or blurring effect. It also works as a texture enhancer giving formulas an exceptional smoothness and a velvet touch. 

Also-called: Sunflower Oil | What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Sunflower does not need a big intro as you probably use it in the kitchen as cooking oil, or you munch on the seeds as a healthy snack or you adore its big, beautiful yellow flower during the summer - or you do all of these and probably even more. And by even more  we mean putting it all over your face as sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used plant oils in skincare.

It’s a real oldie: expressed directly from the seeds, the oil is used not for hundreds but thousands of years. According to The National Sunflower Association, there is evidence that both the plant and its oil were used by American Indians in the area of Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Do the math: it's more than 5000 years – definitely an oldie.

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Our intro did get pretty big after all (sorry for that), so let's get to the point finally: sunflower oil - similar to other plant oils - is a great emollient that makes the skin smooth and nice and helps to keep it hydrated. It also protects the surface of the skin and enhances the damaged or irritated skin barrier. Leslie Bauman notes in Cosmetic Dermatology that one application of sunflower oil significantly speeds up the recovery of the skin barrier within an hour and sustains the results 5 hours after using it.

It's also loaded with fatty acids (mostly linoleic (50-74%)  and oleic (14-35%)). The unrefined version (be sure to use that on your skin!) is especially high in linoleic acid that is great even for acne-prone skin. Its comedogen index is 0, meaning that it's pretty much an all skin-type oil

Truth be told, there are many great plant oils and sunflower oil is definitely one of them.

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

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

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!). 

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.

Also-called: Licorice Root;Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract | What-it-does: soothing, skin brightening

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.

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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. :)

molecule that is naturally present in the bran of rye and other cereals. It has been used for a long time in the food industry as an "anti-browning agent" for fresh-cut fruits or shrimps. 

It turns out that Hexylresorcinol works as an "anti-browning agent" also in cosmetic products. It is a pretty well-researched molecule with significant tyrosinase (the famous enzyme needed to produce melanin) inhibiting abilities. The clinical study of the manufacturer showed that 0.5% Hexylresorcinol has a comparable skin-lightening effect to gold-standard, 2% Hydroquinone.

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Even better, a 12-weeks, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 65 volunteers confirmed the effectiveness of our skin-lightening molecule and it measured an average of 88% skin-lightening improvement. The study also included before and after photos (always a good sign!) and the skin-lightening was indeed visible and significant (though the pigmentation spots did not completely disappear, just so you have realistic expectations).

Also-called: Chromabright | What-it-does: skin brightening

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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

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.

Alcohol - icky
Also-called: Ethanol | What-it-does: antimicrobial/antibacterial, solvent, viscosity controlling, astringent

Simply alcohol refers to ethanol and it's a pretty controversial ingredient. It has many instant benefits: it's a great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial. No wonder it's popular in toners and oily skin formulas. 

The downside is that it can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list. 

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Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion. If you wanna know more, we wrote a more detailed explanation about what's the deal with alcohol in skincare products at alcohol denat. (it's also alcohol, but with some additives to make sure no one drinks it).

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Brightenyl, Tri Hydroxy Benzoic acid alpha-Glucosides, THBG | What-it-does: skin brightening

A biotechnologically created molecule that is activated by the skin's microbiome (the massive amount of microorganisms living in symbiosis with the skin) to act as a skin-brightening, anti-inflammatory, and photo protectant ingredient

Once applied on skin, THBG is partially converted by the skin microbiome into THBA (Tri Hydroxy Benzoic Acid – a natural inhibitor of the melanin-producing enzyme, tyrosinase), and the two molecule act in synergy to control the skin color. The duo are claimed to work on 7 (!) levels, from acting as antioxidants (inhibit ROS production and preventing UV induced DNA damage), through to being anti-inflammatory (decrease vasodilation and redness, reduce inflammation), to blocking the melanin creating process in multiple ways (control MITF gene, hinder melanin transfer to top skin layers, and block melanin synthesis even under UV conditions). 

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As for proof, the manufacturer published a pretty well-designed, double-blind, 12-week long study using 2% Brightenyl on 20 Korean women. They concluded that "THBG controls skin tone via the inhibition of melanin synthesis as well as the modulation of skin brightness, yellowness, and redness." They also included nice before and after photos which show visible skin tone improvement and spot fading (but do not expect magic, pigmentation did not disappear, only faded somewhat). 

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. 

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

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

The number at the end refers to the oil-loving part and the bigger the number  the more emulsifying power it has. 20 is a weak emulsifier, rather called solubilizer used commonly in toners while 60 and 80 are more common in serums and creams.

Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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. 

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

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Gluconolactone - superstar
What-it-does: exfoliant, chelating
  • It’s a polyhydroxy acid (PHA), that is often referred to as next generation AHA
  • It gently lifts off dead skin cells form the skin surface making skin smooth and even
  • In the long term it provides anti-aging benefits, like increased skin thickness and decreased wrinkles (though a tad less than even more proven superstar AHAs)
  • It’s a great moisturizer and even helps to repair impaired skin barrier
  • It’s antioxidant, and does not make your skin more sensitive to the sun
  • It can be used even if your skin is very sensitive, rosacea prone or if you are post cosmetic procedure
Read all the geeky details about Gluconolactone here >>

Ubiquinone - goodie
Also-called: Coenzyme Q10 | What-it-does: antioxidant

Thanks to Nivea, Q10 is a pretty well-known ingredient and the fame and Beiersdorf's (the parent company of Nivea) obsession with it are not for no reason. It's an antioxidant found naturally in human cells where it plays a big role in energy production.

In fact, it's so important for energy production that if taken as an oral supplement it has a caffeine-like effect and if taken at night you will probably not sleep very well (so you should take it in the morning). Q10 supplementation is not a bad idea: it not only gives you energy but research also shows that oral Q10 increases the Q10 level of the skin (of course, it decreases with age like pretty much every good thing in the skin) and may help to reduce wrinkles. If you are not for supplements, dietary sources include fish, spinach, and nuts.

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As for skincare, Q10 comes in the form of a yellow, oil-soluble powder that's shown to absorb into the upper layer of the skin and act there like an awesome antioxidant. It not only has preventative effects but might also be able to reduce the depth of wrinkles, though 0.3% Q10 was used in the study that counts as really high (products containing that much should be very yellow!). 

Also-called: Rosemary Leaf Extract | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, antimicrobial/antibacterial

The extract coming from the lovely herb, rosemary. It contains lots of chemicals, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and diterpenes. Its main active is rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It has also anti-bacterial, astringent and toning properties. 

The leaves contain a small amount of essential oil (1-2%) with fragrant components, so if you are allergic to fragrance, it might be better to avoid it. 

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.

What-it-does: solvent

A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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.

What-it-does: preservative

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.

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. 

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.

Ascorbic Acid - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening, buffering
  • Works best between a concentration of 5-20%
  • Boosts the skin’s own collagen production
  • Fades pigmentation and brown spots
  • If used under sunscreen it boosts its UV protection
  • Extremely unstable and oxidizes very easily in presence of light or air
  • Stable in solutions with water only if pH is less than 3.5 or in waterless formulations
  • Vit E + C work in synergy and provide superb photoprotection
  • Ferulic acid doubles the photoprotection effect of Vit C+E and helps to stabilize Vit C
  • Potent Vit. C serums might cause a slight tingling on sensitive skin
Read all the geeky details about Ascorbic Acid here >>

Also-called: Sodium Alginate | What-it-does: viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 4 | Comedogenicity: 4

A large sugar molecule (aka polysaccharide) that's used as a gelling agent and comes from brown seaweed. 

Combined with calcium salts, it forms a rigid gel used in "rubber masks". 

What-it-does: preservative

It's one of those things that help your cosmetics not to go wrong too soon, aka a preservative. It’s not a strong one and doesn’t really work against bacteria, but more against mold and yeast. To do that it has to break down to its active form, sorbic acid. For that to happen, there has to be water in the product and the right pH value (pH 3-4). 

But even if everything is right, it’s not enough on its own. If you see potassium sorbate you should see some other preservative next to it too.

Expand to read more

BTW, it’s also a food preservative and even has an E number, E202.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: emulsifying

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Beta-Glucan - goodie

Beta-Glucan is a nice big molecule composed of many smaller sugar molecules (called polysaccharide). It’s in the cell walls of yeast, some mushrooms, seaweeds, and cereals.

It’s a real goodie no matter if you eat it or put it on your face. Eating it is anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and even lowers the blood cholesterol. 

Expand to read more

Putting it on your face it also does a bunch of good things: it ‘s shown to have wound healing properties, it’s a mild antioxidant,  it’s a great skin soother and moisturizer, and it even shows promising anti-aging benefits

The manufacturer of the ingredient did a published study with 27 people and examined the effect of 0.5% beta-glucan. They found that despite the large molecular size beta-glucan does penetrate into the skin, even into the dermis (the middle layer of the skin where wrinkles form). After 8 weeks there was a significant reduction of wrinkle depth and height and skin roughness has also improved greatly. 

Bottom line: Beta-glucan is a great ingredient, especially for sensitive skin. It soothes, moisturizes and even shows some anti-aging magic properties. 

What-it-does: antioxidant

The biologically active, phytoestrogenic parts of the soybean. The most well-known one is genistein, a potent antioxidant that is proven to inhibit UV-induced redness in human skin. 

Soy isoflavones are also thought to be useful for situations when natural estrogen levels are low, such as during and after menopause. Low estrogen levels can cause skin thinning and collagen loss and soy isoflavones might be able to help with that. 

Also-called: Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone;PVP | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

These three letters stand for Poly Vinyl Pyrollidone, a big molecule created from repeated units of Vinyl Pyrrolidone, aka VP. Its main thing is being an important film former. It was the first synthetic polymer introduced as a hair fixative in the 1950s instead of insect-derived Shellac. 

So PVP likes to attach itself to surfaces such as the hair and the skin and forms a nice, thin, even film there. The film is useful for holding a hairstyle or extending the wear of color cosmetics and sunscreens. The disadvantage of PVP is that the film is a bit brittle and that PVP loves water (hygroscopic) that tends to destroy the film. This is the reason why hair styled with a PVP based product loses its style in high humidity. To fix this problem, there are now several versions of VP containing film formers that are less sensitive to humidity, for example, the molecule called VP/VA Copolymer

Tocopherol - goodie
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 >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: ß-White | What-it-does: skin brightening

A skin-brightening peptide that is claimed to have a unique mechanism of action on lightening both constitutive (our default skin color) and facultative (such as tanning) pigmentation. It works by inhibiting the MITF gene that plays an important role in controlling melanin producing skin cells called melanocytes.

In the in-vivo (made on real people) test of the manufacturer, 23 Asian volunteers used a 5% ß-White formula for 56 days twice a day and 87% reported a more uniform skin tone and 91% felt that their skin was brighter than before.

Expand to read more

As for research, we found one study from 2016 that combined Oligopeptide-68 with sunscreen and another skin-lightening active called Diacetyl Boldine (DAB). The conclusion was that "combination of DAB serum at night and DAB/TGF-β1 biomimetic oligopeptide-68/sunscreen cream in the morning and at noon was effective and safe for facial melasma. They were superior to HQ in pigment reduction."  HQ refers to the famous Hydroquinone that's the gold-standard skin-lightening ingredient, so having comparable or superior results is a very promising outcome. 

Overall, if you are into skin-lightening or fading pigmentation spots, Oligopeptide-68 might be something to try.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize other ingredients. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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