Today’s consumers are pretty savvy when it comes to skin care ingredients and many want to know what’s in their products and why. Not only does a comprehensive knowledge of ingredients help you to recommend products with confidence, it also ensures the best outcome for your customers and improves your reputation as an expert. Plus with skin care scientists on a constant quest for the latest and greatest ingredients it pays to keep on top of the trends. We have put together an A-Z glossary of the key players in the skin care industry.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
Derived from plant sugars, alpha hydroxy acids act as an exfoliant, by ‘ungluing’ the cells of the epidermis so that dead skin cells easily slough off. This allows room for the regrowth of new skin cells and may even help to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.
Argireline (acetyl hexapeptide-3) is a topical chemical compound that helps to prevent expression wrinkles by inhibiting muscle movement, which is why it’s sometimes called Botox in a jar. It actually works nothing like Botox, but in fact destabilises the three proteins, called the SNARE complex, which allow muscles to move. An independent study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science says that a 10 percent concentration of Argireline reduced wrinkles by 30 percent over 30 days.
Ascorbic acid – also known as L-ascorbic acid – is a potent antioxidant used to even out the skin tone, particularly when mixed with other antioxidants, or when used alone in higher concentrations, such as 15 percent or greater. However, the ingredient is unstable when exposed to UV light and air, so it’s crucial that packaging protect it from the elements, or its effectiveness will be reduced until it no longer works at all. Avoid any vitamin C (ascorbic acid) products packaged in jars.
Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
A derivative of Aspirin, also known as Salicylic acid, BHA exfoliates skin, unclogs pores and can improve the texture and colour of the skin as well as help with acne. Only a very low concentration is required for it to be effective, so this ingredient is used in a variety of cosmetic products including moisturiser, cleanser, astringent/toner, shampoo/conditioner, acne cream, facial scrub and mouthwash.
Benzoyl peroxide is the most effective over-the-counter topical antibacterial agent used for the treatment of acne. It is able to penetrate into the hair follicle to reach acne-causing bacteria and kill it. Not only is there a low risk of skin sensitivity, unlike some prescription topical antibacterial ingredients, there’s no risk of bacterial resistance.
Bioflavonoids are a group of naturally occurring plant metabolites that are responsible for the vibrant colour of many fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Quercetin, hesperidin, and rutin are three commonly used bioflavenoids that have been proven to prevent and reverse wrinkles, reduce the appearance of age spots, and even fight spider veins and varicose veins.
Collagen is composed of the individual amino acids Glycine, Proline, Hydroxyproline and Arginine and provides firmness and elasticity to the skin, cartilage and connective tissue. Maximising collagen levels through a healthy diet or supplementation is believed to help keep skin supple and improve the synthesis of new collagen fibres.
Vitamin C is considered an anti-ageing superstar as it stimulates new collagen, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, protects the skin from environmental pollutants, helps to even the skin tone and provides enhanced protection against UV exposure. Look for products containing pure L-ascorbic acid, the most bioavailable form of vitamin C, in higher percentages, such as 15-20 percent.
Ceramides are usually plant derived and are used in skin care for their water-retention capacity, thus they help to provide replenishing and restoring benefits. These ceramides include: ceramide AP, ceramide EOP, ceramide NG, ceramide NP, ceramide NS, phytosphingosine, and sphingosine.
Copper peptides have been used in skin care for the past 20 years and are proven wound healers and potent skin regeneration actives. Not only do these antioxidants promote collagen and elastin production, but clinical studies have found they also remove damaged collagen and elastin from the skin and scar tissue by activating the skin’s system responsible for those functions.
Caffeic acid is a potent antioxidant that is found in most plants. In addition to its antioxidant activity, this ingredient increases collagen production, reduces puffiness and has demonstrated antimicrobial activity and may also be promising in the treatment of dermal diseases.
Although it’s derived from natural silicon, dimethicone is considered a synthetic ingredient. However, as it is so gentle and effective it has become one of the most frequently used emollient ingredients in moisturisers. Once applied to skin, dimethicone forms a permeable barrier that gives skin care a silky texture and helps to prevent moisture loss.
Dimethylaminoethanol, better known as DMAE, is an antioxidant that can be applied topically or taken orally and is used to firm, smooth and brighten skin. It enhances the effects of other antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid and vitamin C ester, so it is best used in combination with other nutrients and an antioxidant base.
D-Alpha-Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E)
Vitamin E is found in a variety of natural sources such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains. Listed as ‘tocopherol’ in skin care, vitamin E is used to protect skin against pollutants, prevent moisture loss and encourage wound, burn and scar healing.
Ellagic acid is a potent antioxidant found in fruits: raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry, strawberry, cranberry and nuts such as walnuts and pecans. Long known for its health benefits, researchers are exploring whether the same antioxidant benefits can translate into topical skin care formulations. Early results indicate that ellagic acid may help to protect the collagen in skin tissue and reduce inflammation.
Evening Primrose Oil
This non-fragrant plant oil is rich in fatty acids that have significant skin-soothing and emollient benefits. Evening primrose oil can also help other ingredients absorb more readily into skin.
Ferulic acid is found in the seeds of apples and oranges, as well as some vegetables, nuts, grains and rice bran oil. It is a potent antioxidant that helps to fight the free-radical damage that contributes to skin ageing, while also enhancing the stability of topical applications of antioxidant vitamins C and E by preventing oxidation.
Flavonoids are a diverse group of plant pigments with antioxidant properties. More than 4,000 flavonoids have been characterised and classified, but to date only a few have been researched. There are two classes of flavonoids that appear to be especially beneficial for the skin: proanthocyanins (found in grapes and pine bark) and polyphenols (found in green tea). Both of these antioxidants strengthen blood vessels and stabilise the skin’s elastin and collagen.
Also called glycerol or glycerine, glycerin is present in all natural lipids (fats), whether animal or vegetable. It can be derived from natural substances by hydrolysis of fats and by fermentation of sugars or it can be synthetically manufactured. Glycerin is found naturally in the skin and helps to defend against dryness. Applied topically in skin care it has the same effect.
Glycolic acid is one of the most effective and well-researched forms of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can act as both a water-binding agent and an exfoliant. As an exfoliant, it can help shed dead skin cells from the skin’s surface to visibly soften the signs of ageing, particularly those associated with sun damage.
Grape Seed Oil
Used as a carrier oil, grape seed oil is widely used in commercially available lotions and creams as it is easily absorbed into the skin. It acts as a moisturiser, skin lightener, skin tightener and can treat dry skin, dark circles, acne and many other skin problems.
Hyaluronic acid is one of the most beneficial ingredients for all skin types as it helps to keep every aspect of the skin stable and protected, but it is best known for its incredible capacity to attract and hold huge amounts of moisture. It makes skin soft, smooth, plump and hydrated, with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles improved instantly and over time.
The chemical make-up of idebenone is almost identical to the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). The ingredient is now used in a number of anti-ageing skin care products for its protective antioxidant properties due to the fact that wrinkles, fine lines, and even age spots are common signs of premature ageing caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV).
Remarkably similar to skin’s natural sebum, jojoba esters are a mixture of esters from jojoba oil and hydrogenated jojoba oil. The ingredient is as a light and silky skin moisturiser, which penetrates quickly to benefit dry, ageing or sensitive skin. It contains vitamin E, B complex vitamins, and the minerals silicon, chromium, copper, and zinc – all important to keep the skin healthy.
A natural ingredient found in plants, kinetin is considered a retinoid alternative due to its ability to help speed up cell division, repair DNA and provide antioxidant benefits. Its true efficacy is hard to know due to a lack of clinical research, however it may be an alternative to retinoids for those with very sensitive skin or who are pregnant or nursing.
A by-product of the rice fermentation process used in the manufacture of sake (Japanese rice wine), kojic acid is used in skin lightening products thanks to its ability to brighten an uneven skin tone. It also assists in the exfoliation of dead skin cells and removes oil, dirt, and organisms that might be thriving on the skin’s surface.
Kukui Nut Oil
Kukui nut oil has been used by Hawaiians for years as massage oil, as well as to treat dry skin, sunburn, eczema, and even psoriasis. The silky oil penetrates the skin easily and contains vitamins A, C, and E to help prevent free-radical damage to the skin cells. As the oil also has antimicrobial properties it can be used to ward off infection and speeding healing time.
This alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is a milk extract, although it is mostly found in skin care in its synthetic form, which is easier to formulate with and stabilise. In a pH-correct formula (pH between 3 and 4) and in concentrations between 5 and 12 percent, lactic acid exfoliates the skin by breaking down the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together. It also has hydrating properties and helps to brighten an uneven skin tone.
L-Ascorbic Acid (see Vitamin C)
L-Ascorbic Acid is the purest form of vitamin C. This unstable, water-soluble antioxidant seems to be the key to benefiting from the nutrient’s skin-rejuvenating powers. It is usually found in concentrations of 5 – 25 percent, though it is arguable what concentration is best for absorption.
This plant extract is renowned for its skin-soothing properties as it contains glabridin, a potent antioxidant that can calm and settle sensitive, reddened skin. In addition, liquorice root may help to improve an uneven skin tone.
Matrixyl 3000 is a relatively new skin care ingredient, which combines palmitoyl oligopeptide and palmitoyl tetrapeptide – peptides that work together to mimic the appearance of broken down collagen, causing your skin to react by producing more collagen, as well as elastin.
Also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid, niacinamide is a very effective ingredient that works to visibly improve the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines and dullness. Niacinamide can also mitigate the damage environmental attacks can cause, and is stable in the presence of heat and light.
This sunscreen agent protects the skin from UVB rays, and some, but not all, UVA rays. The ingredient is not only used for sun protection but also for its ability to act as a photostabiliser, which means it helps to prevent products from degrading in sunlight.
Panthenol is the alcohol form of the B vitamin pantothenic acid. Its ability to attract and hold moisture makes it a great humectant, which means it infuses water into the cells to retain moisture deep within the skin’s tissues. Sometimes called pro-vitamin B5, panthenol mixes readily with many different types of ingredients. It improves the look and feel of skin and clinical research has found that it has an anti-inflammatory effect when regularly used over a period of four weeks or more, effectively relieving itching and soothing dry skin.
Parabens are the most common synthetic preservatives in skin care as they prevent fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing. They are listed as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Over the past few years, there has been a debate over their safety, however the FDA has found them to be safe for use in skin care and most cosmetic scientists agree that there is no cause for concern.
Peptides are made up of amino acids and when combined in certain formations they create specific peptides and when peptides are formed in a certain way, they make specific proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of healthy skin and research has shown that peptides can help to revitalise those proteins.
A flavonoid substance found in apples, phloretin’s antioxidant benefits can improve an uneven skin tone. When properly formulated in skin care it also acts as a penetration enhancer, helping other beneficial ingredients to go beyond the superficial layers of skin.
Most pomegranate fruit parts possess potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and free-radical scavenging abilities, which protect skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays, help to regenerate the skin, control hyperpigmentation and improve collagen production. Taken internally or applied topically, pomegranate extract (ellagic acid) enhances the topical effectiveness of sunscreens and may help to prevent skin cancer.
A member of the flavenoid family, Quercetin can be found in red wine, tea, onions, kale, tomatoes, berries and many other fruits and vegetables. It provides antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenging benefits and is effective at treating eczema, rashes and promoting wound healing.
A skin care powerhouse backed by over 40 years of research, retinol (the technical name for vitamin A) is an extremely effective skin-transforming ingredient that can increase skin’s firmness, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, smooth and refine the skin’s surface and reduce pore size. Side effects can include redness, dryness and irritation, so users must start slowly and build up to stronger products and more frequent use.
An antimicrobial substance produced by plants in response to stress, infection and UV radiation, this antioxidant is abundant in the skin of red grapes. Studies indicate that topical application of resveratrol provides greater antioxidant protection than vitamin C and E as well as idebenone. There is increasing evidence to indicate that application of resveratrol can slow skin ageing by protecting the skin’s surface from negative environmental influences such as pollution.
Also called beta hydroxy acid (BHA), this ingredient is commonly used as an exfoliant. It can penetrate into the pore lining and exfoliate inside the pore as well as on the surface of skin, making it effective for reducing breakouts, blackheads and whiteheads. Soothing properties also help to calm aggravated skin, while hydrating abilities can result in smoother skin.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) functions primarily as a surfactant, but can also be used as a skin-conditioning agent, emulsifier, and solvent. It is one of the most sensitising cleansing agents used in skincare products and is considered a standard comparison substance for measuring the skin sensitisation of other ingredients.
Safflower Seed Oil
Derived from the safflower plant, safflower seed oil contains beneficial fatty acids, primarily linolenic acid, an omega-6 oil that is packed with essential vitamins. It is extremely nourishing and hydrating, making it a great ingredient for dry skin types, along with skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. It also removes dirt and oil, which makes it useful in the treatment for acne.
An inert earth mineral used as a thickening, whitening and sunscreen ingredient, titanium dioxide protects skin from UVA and UVB radiation and is considered to have no risk of skin sensitivity. It is an excellent sunscreen active for use on sensitive, redness-prone skin and is unlikely to cause stinging when used around the eyes.
Also known as coenzyme Q10, ubiquinone is naturally produced by the body and plays a key part in cell function. When applied to skin, it penetrates easily to provide antioxidant benefits, as well as assist the skin in building collagen and elastin, therefore helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Vitis Vinifera (grape seed extract) is an antioxidant that has also been traditionally used in skin care as a wound healer and anti-inflammatory. It also offers anti-fungal, antimicrobial and UV absorbing abilities.
White Tea Leaf Extract
Extracted from the minimally processed buds and leaves of green tea, white tea is a potent antioxidant that helps to repair skin damage as a result of over-exposure to UV radiation from the sun. It also helps to strengthen elastin and collagen tissues.
Xanthophyll (also known as lutein)
Derived from the pigment of yellow petal flowers, this naturally occurring carotenoid alcohol is used in skin care as a conditioning ingredient. It is an effective antioxidant, which can help to protect the skin from environmental damage.
Yerba Mate Extract
Better known as a tea, yerba mate comes from the leaves of the native South American Ilex paraguariensis tree and is starting to appear in skin care products due to its skin-soothing and antioxidant properties, which help to prevent skin cell degradation.
An inert earth mineral used primarily as a sunscreen active to protect against UVA and UVB rays. It is considered to have no risk of skin sensitisation and plays a key part in mineral makeup where it gives opacity to powder-based foundation.
Zinc helps to repair damaged tissues and heal wounds. It also acts as an astringent and may help in the treatment of acne.