Ingredient Glossary

A glossary of ingredients that I have researched for my reviews. I’m maintaining my list mostly for my own sake, so that I don’t have to go back out and relocate all my sources every time I want to talk about an ingredient in a product! As always, take the information you see here with a grain of salt — I am not a chemist, a dermatologist, a cosmetic chemist, or anything even remotely resembling an expert. If you see something here that ought to be corrected please contact me and let me know!

Another note: It’s definitely possible I miss something during my research, so please let me know if these ingredients have any pros and cons I might have missed!

  • Allantoin – For some odd reason I had a lot of trouble finding good sources for this, but allantoin is known to be a safe skin-soothing and conditioning ingredient. It may be derived from certain plants — I’ve seen it associated with comfrey in particular — and it is effective even at low concentrations.
  • Aminobutyric Acid – Supposedly this is the ingredient that puts the “scream” in the “scream serum” nickname, thus why I’m covering it here despite the fact that it appears fairly low in the list of ingredients. It’s an amino acid that may soothe skin and help it retain water.
  • Aspalathus Linearis Extract – You might recognize this plant as the source of the popular rooibos tea. Data on the efficacy of rooibos extract is currently limited but research is interesting so far. A mixture of tea (Camellia sinensis) and rooibos was found to help reduce wrinkles according to a 28 day study (source). Two other studies on mice seem to indicate that topical application of rooibos may help prevent skin cancer (sourcesource). It is the only known source of aspalathin, a potent flavonoid and antioxidant, but according to my research aspalathin is not known to penetrate the skin well.
  • Aspergillus/Rice Ferment Filtrate – Research on fermented ingredients is still in its early stages near as I can tell, but based on my research it seems that fermented rice is a potent source of flavonoids such as kaempferol, which can reduce tyrosinase activity and help with depigmentation. It also features polyphenolic compounds. Studies indicate that fermenting these ingredients increases the amount of antioxidant activity and phenolic acid content available. (sourcesourcesourcesource)
  • Astaxanthin – An antioxidant derived from plants and fish. (source)
  • Bifida Ferment Filtrate/Lysate – I had difficulty finding journals that dealt with bifida ferment filtrate, specifically, but I was able to find information about bifida ferment lysate. Lysate is a fluid containing lysed cells — cells that have undergone a process where their membrane has been broken down. I am uncertain if “filtrate” is different from “lysate” and I suspect they are one and the same. Bifida ferment lysate is derived from Bifidobacterium, some species of which are used as a probiotic. Unfortunately there still isn’t much research available to provide evidence for its benefits for skin. One double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with sixty-six female volunteers did find that those who used a cream with the bifida lysate had a “significant decrease in skin sensitivity at the end of the treatment.” It was also found to enhance skin barrier function and improve skin dryness. A study was conducted roughly six months ago to further investigate the effects of bifidobacteria on the skin, if you’d enjoy some more light reading!
  • Bisabolol – Otherwise known as alpha bisabolol or α-(-)-bisabolol, this ingredient has anti-inflammatory, brightening, and soothing properties. It’s considered a very safe ingredient, although reports of contact dermatitis after exposure to it have cropped up once in a while. (sourcesource)
  • Caffeoyl Tripeptide-1 – A CIR Review notes that this ingredient has anti-acne and antioxidant benefits.
  • Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride – A mixture of fatty acids that are derived from coconut oil and glycerin, valued for its emollient and replenishing properties. Considered a mild and effective ingredient. (source)
  • Centella Asiatica Extract – Centella has been traditionally used a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It has noted antioxidant and wound healing properties, with one of its useful components (and it does have several!) — asiaticoside — working to increase collagen synthesis and decrease inflammation. (source, source) Its effect on collagen formation also make centella a useful anti-photoaging ingredient. (source)
  • Ceramide 1 – Ceramides are lipids that make up a fair portion of the outer layers of our skin — roughly 50%, in fact — and help the skin retain water (source, source). There are a variety of different ceramides, but ceramide 1 “[appears] to be crucial for proper lipid phase behavior…” (source)
  • Cetearyl Alcohol – The word “alcohol” might cause alarm for some of you out there, but this is a fatty alcohol composed of a combination of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. Unlike ingredients like SD alcohol or ethanol, cetearyl alcohol cannot cause any skin sensitivity. It’s an effective emollient that also improves the texture of a formula. (source, sorry this was the best one I could find!)
  • Chamomile Flower Extract – Rich with phenolic compounds, chamomile has considerable anti-inflammatory effects as well as being a good antioxidant. (source)
  • Chlorophyllin-copper Complex  – A mixture of sodium copper salts derived from chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants appear green. It may help treat photodamaged skin, and in one study showed potential to increase the level of hyaluronic acid in the skin. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which I assume contribute to its acne-fighting capabilities. (sourcesourcesource)
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine – Another surfactant, and one with a reputation for being very mild and gentle. It’s generally considered to be nonsensitizing, although issues can occur when impurities result during the manufacturing process.  Apparently it’s a molecule called a “zwitterion” — this means absolutely nothing to me, but that is a fantastic word.
  • Cucumber Fruit Extract – A skin-conditioner and emollient, Cucumis sativus fruit extract also functions as an antioxidant. A CIR review of the safety of cucumber-derived ingredients found almost no issues with irritation and sensitivity, including when they tested it in a facial cleanser containing .00055% cucumber fruit extract. (source)
  • Ergothioneine – A powerful and efficient antioxidant, ergothioneine (EGT) may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-photoaging properties. (sourcesourcesource, source)
  • Ficus Carica (Fig) Fruit Extract – Figs are a fantastic source of phenolic acids, which have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may help reduce the effects of hyperpigmentation (sourcesource).  However, due to the presence of psoralens, this ingredient may cause photosensitive reactions in some (source). Perhaps also best avoided if you have a latex allergy due to its natural presence in figs.
  • Ginkgo Biloba Nut Extract – Although I had difficulties finding studies relating to ginkgo biloba nut extract in particular, extracts made from the leaves show evidence of anti-inflammatory activity (source); ginkgo is also believed to help moisturize and smooth the skin (source).
  • Gluconolactone – The second of the PHAs to appear in the toner, gluconolactone may help protect against UV radiation (source) in addition to the other benefits PHAs offer. It was demonstrated to have a significant effect in improving acne in this study. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties according to this study conducted on patients with atopic dermatitis. Gluconolactone is also a humectant with considerable antiaging benefits. (source)
  • Glycolic Acid – Probably the most commonly used AHA molecule out there, glycolic acid is used as a water-binding ingredient and exfoliant. It’s been proven effective at combating sun damage in our skin, as well as improving overall skin texture and acne. (source, sourcesource) Some people find that their skin is sensitive to glycolic acid, even at lower concentrations — be sure to always patch test before adding any acid exfoliator to your routine. Sunscreen application is a MUST when using products with AHA, as they increase photosensitivity. (source)
  • Green Tea Leaf Extract – Green tea, or Cameillia sinesis, is one of the most beneficial ingredients for skin that I’m aware of. It’s loaded with polyphenols, chemical compounds which improve skin elasticity and provide photoprotection from UV radiation. Green tea has noted anti-inflammatory properties and functions as a powerful antioxidant. (source, sourcesource)
  • Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil – Contains high levels of vitamins A, D, and K (source). Sunflower seed oil is a rich source of linoleic acid, and has been demonstrated to help improve the overall health of the skin barrier (source). It’s highly soothing and well-recognized for its emollient properties. You really can’t go wrong with this stuff short of having an allergy to sunflowers.
  • Human Oligopeptide-1 – Otherwise known as “epidermal growth factor” or EGF, this is a somewhat controversial ingredient. Originally used clinically to treat wounds due to its ability to stimulate skin growth, further research indicates that EGF may also promote collagenase secretion (sourcesource). In theory this translates to anti-aging benefits, but wound care is a very different beast than treating and preventing wrinkles. In one study elevated levels of EGF were found in the plaque scales of patients with psoriasis (source) and one lawsuit brought against a skincare company alleges that human growth factors — such as EGF — can “alter the production of cells, including the ability to initiate cell division, which could stimulate growth of cancerous tumor cells.” (source) I take these complaints with as massive a grain of salt as I do the supposed benefits of EGF.
  • Hyaluronic Acid – Naturally present in the tissue of our bodies, hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrates the skin, helping to keep it bouncy and elastic. (source) This molecule has an incredible ability to trap massive amounts of moisture; supposedly, a molecule of HA can hold up to 1000 times it weight in water. HA has demonstrated a potential to improve wound healing in clinical trials and may be an effective treatment for wrinkles. (source) Sodium hyaluronate is a salt derived from hyaluronic acid.
  • Hydrogenated Palm Oil – You’ll find palm oil in practically every packaged product here in the US, and it certainly has some major benefits for skin: palm oil has tons of vitamin A and and is a plentiful source of the uncommon toctrienols, a powerful form of vitamin E that serves as a skin-soother and an antioxidant. It has considerable anti-aging and moisturizing properties which make it an appealing ingredient to be sure, but the palm oil industry is highly disruptive and damaging to the environment (source). If you are currently boycotting palm oil, this product is best avoided.
  • Isopentyldiol – This one was a right nightmare to find information about. Near as I can tell it’s a solvent with moisturizing and emollient properties that is considered safe for use. (sourcesource)
  • Lactic Acid – An AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that was originally derived from milk, although from what I understand most sources are synthetic these days. AHAs are typically used for their anti-aging benefits. It is an effective exfoliant at concentrations between 5% to 12% so long as the formula sits at a pH between 3 and 4. At lower concentrations it helps water bind to the skin. (source)
  • Lactobacillus/Soybean Ferment Extract – Cursory research shows that this ingredient may help with depigmentation (source) and two derivatives from a Korean fermented soybean paste demonstrated a further capacity for depigmentation (source).
  • Lactobionic Acid – The first of the PHAs (polyhydroxy acid) present in the toner. PHAs are considered the “new generation” of exfoliatng acids. They’ve been found to be less irritating than AHAs, such as glycolic acid, and they also possess humectant, antioxidant, and moisturizing properties. (source) PHAs may also help our stratum corneum, the outer layer of our epidermis, function more effectively, strengthening our skin’s barrier. (source)
  • Licorice Root Extract – Often classified under its latin name Glycyrrhiza glabra, licorice has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties thanks mostly to the presence of glabridin, an isoflavane. (source) Glabridin may also be an effective treatment against hyperpigmentation as it is believed to inhibit tyrosinase activity, leading to an inhibitory effect on melanin synthesis. (source)
  • Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil – Meadowfoam seed oil is mostly composed of long chain fatty acids; it’s considered very safe, and is also non-greasy and quick to absorb. It gives products a smooth or silky feel. (source)
  • Magnolia Kobus Bark Extract – Like most of these obscure plant extracts, there isn’t a whole lot of research available on this ingredient. One study indicates that a methanol extract taken from the bark of the plant may have an anti-inflammatory effect. (source) Magnolia bark also has antibacterial properties. (source)
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone – These two ingredients have something of a negative reputation. While they are effective preservatives, they’re also known to be quite sensitizing, even when present in very small amounts. (sourcesource) It helps that they’re listed last and that this is a product you rinse off, at least.
  • Micrococcus Lysate  – An extract harvested from bacteria that live in the ocean which is capable of penetrating deep into the skin. I’ve seen it referred to as a “DNA repair enzyme”, which is an enzyme that works to repair damage in our DNA caused by exposure to UV radiation. A lysate is a liquid containing lysed cells. Lysis is the process of breaking down the membrane of a cell, allowing for things like DNA extraction and protein purification. Again, this all gets a bit too “science” for me, so I’m afraid that is the best explanation on this ingredient that I can provide at this point. (sourcesource, source)
  • Milk Extract – Had a difficult time finding hard evidence for this one, but milk has been rumored to have remarkable benefits for skin since time immemorial. It’s believed to have soothing and hydrating properties, and milk is a natural source of lactic acid.
  • Moringa Oleifera Leaf Extract – Known as the drumstick tree, or more simply as just moringa. One study demonstrated that an ointment prepared with moringa leaf extract promoted wound healing activity in rats, and another study indicates it may have antibacterial properties.
  • Morus Alba Fruit Extract – White mulberry is an anti-oxidant, but often more well-regarded for its skin brightening properties. It is believed that mulberry inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, which causes hyperpigmentation and melasma (source). Mulberry may also possess antibacterial and antifungal qualities (source). Mulberry extract oil proved effective at treating melasma in this study and showed potential as a treatment for atopic dermatitis in mice according to this study.
  • Niacinamide – A multi-tasking ingredient with an impressive arsenal of practical uses, niacinamide (otherwise known as Vitamin B3, niacin, or nicotininc acid) improves uneven tone, overall dullness, the appearance of pores and wrinkles, and just generally does amazing things to your face. It can even help minimize transepidermal water loss and improve acne inflammation. It’s like the wunderkind of skincare. I LOVE seeing this ingredient featured high on a list. (sourcesourcesource)
  • Nicotinoyl Tripeptide-1 – According to the CIR Review published about various oligopeptides, this is primarily a chelating agent which may also have antioxidant and skin protecting functions.
  • Oat Kernel Extract – Oats and oatmeal have long been used to treat various skin conditions, namely those associated with itching and inflammation. Everyone knows you take an oatmeal bath to soothe your skin after you stumble through a patch of poison ivy! This is because oats contain avenanthramides, a phenolic compound with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Oatmeal is also an excellent moisturizer, and it may also have antiviral, antifungal, and photoprotective functions. (sourcesource)
  • Panthenol – A humectant which adds pleasant skin feel to a formulation, panthenol is derived from pantothenic acid, a form of vitamin B. (source)
  • Punica Granatum Fruit Extract – Better known as the pomegranate, this fruit has some impressive merits when it comes to skincare. On a study performed on mice, topical application of pomegranate fruit extract “significantly reduced incidence of skin tumors” (source) and it is believed to have a photoprotective effects due to the polyphenols present in the fruit (source).  Pomegranate extract may also improve wound healing (as demonstrated in this study on mice) and is known to be an anti-inflammatory.
  • Salicylic Acid – Otherwise known as BHA (beta hydroxy acid), this is a potent acne-fighting ingredient that exfoliates dead skin cells. It also helps to dislodge the oil trapped in our pores, further preventing and treating acne. This is because BHA is oil soluble and able to exfoliate within the pore itself. Particularly well-suited for those with oily and acneic skin, salicylic acid may also be calming and hydrating. (source)
  • sh-Octapeptide-4 – I think this is actually supposed to be “Caffeoyl sh-Octapeptide-4” but I’m hardly a cosmetic chemist, so who knows? I was able to find a little information about that ingredient, however, that indicates it has anti-inflammatory and anti-irritation properties. (source)
  • Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate – This is a cleansing agent but due to the presence of gamma sultones it may be sensitizing or irritating to some, particularly those with damaged skin. It may also irritate the eyes more easily than other surfactants. (source)
  • Squalane – Squalene is an oil derived from plants (amaranth, olives) or animals (shark liver) with highly emollient functions that is also present in our sebum. Squalane, more specifically, is the hydrogenated form of squalene. A brief diversion (and please remember that my understanding is VERY limited!): hydrogenating is a process where hydrogen is added to a heated organic compound in the presence of a catalyst, typically a metal (source). The hydrogen breaks up the existing double bonds of the compound and saturates it; at this point things get a little too “science” for me and I glaze over a bit, but ultimately this process increases the shelf life of the ingredient, among other things. (source) Squalane, like squalene, is a hydrating ingredient that also functions as an emollient. (source)
  • Stearic Acid – A fatty acid (not an exfoliating acid!) that helps maintain the integrity of our skin barrier; in particular, it helps restore and replenish our barrier after cleansing. (source) In one study, a stearic acid cream “consistently exhibit[ed] burn-healing properties with up to… 57% reductions in mean lesion scores from phenol-induced wounds”, which indicates it may have burn healing properties. (source) It also functions as an emulsifier, an emollient, and a lubricant. (source)
  • Tissue cultured Wild Ginseng Extract – How can something be wild when it’s been derived from a culture, presumably in a lab? The world will never know. Ginseng has wound healing properties and it may stimulate collagen production (source).
  • Tocopheryl Acetate – A form of vitamin E which has a variety of properties: it may help protect against oxidative damage from UV rays, provides antioxidant benefits to the skin, and vitamin E oil may help soften rough or dry skin. (source, source) Despite what you might have heard, there is no cosmetic benefit to applying vitamin E to scars, and in fact it may make their appearance worse. (source)
  • Ubiquinone – Sometimes listed under the name coenzyme Q10, ubiquinone exists naturally within our body. It has a multitude of benefits: a potent antioxidant, it helps protect from inflammation and the effects of sun exposure, namely photoaging. (sourcesource) It may also help combat signs of aging at the cellular level, enhancing mitochondrial function when tested in vivo. (source)
  • Witch Hazel Water – Derived from the Hamamelis virginiana shrub, witch hazel may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The tannins found within the plant, specifically hamamelitannins, are antioxidants that may also cause skin sensitivity with repeated use. However, based on what I’ve read, most tannins are lost in the distillation process. Witch hazel also has known astringent effects, meaning it causes the tissues in the skin to contract — this may be key to its soothing benefits.  (sourcesourcesourcesource)

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