If you’re looking to convert to “safer” or “safe” skincare products, you need to know what these skincare ingredients actually do.
The skin is the largest human organ and should hold a top spot in our healthy lifestyle routine. Learning about the different skincare ingredients that are seeping through our skin is the first step.
Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly. All the skincare ingredients you need to know about as you begin your skincare journey!
A Skincare Ingredients
- Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA): A group of naturally occurring water-soluble acids found in sugary foods. AHAs loosen the bond between the dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin and are popularly used in exfoliants for this reason. This popular acid is often used for reducing minor hyperpigmentation, like age spots and scars, and evening out skin tone. AHAs also help with diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Aloe vera: A nutrient-rich gel extracted from the aloe plant leaf used in skincare products. Aloe vera is popular for its moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Also, aloe vera is used in anti-aging products designed to stimulate collagen growth, maintain skin elasticity, and diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Argan oil: A natural oil rich in fatty acids and vitamin E and packed with antioxidant properties. Argan oil is commonly used as a skincare ingredient in anti-aging products because it provides moisture to the skin.
B Skincare Ingredients
- Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA): A group of naturally occurring oil-soluble acids popular for their penetrative and exfoliating powers. BHAs are primarily used in skincare products to combat acne as they travel deep into the skin removing excess sebum and unclogging pores.
- Bentonite clay: A volcanic ash sediment consisting of aluminum and silica used as a skincare ingredient. Bentonite clay is often used to make face masks for purifying and detoxifying the skin. This self care-friendly anti-inflammatory skincare ingredient is also used in cosmetic products designed to soothe skin.
- Benzoyl peroxide: A common treatment for acne, benzoyl peroxide is a drying and antibiotic agent. BP penetrates deep into the pores of the skin to remove excess moisture and oils, and kill acne-causing bacteria.
- Butylene Glycol: An organic alcohol used as a solvent in gel-based skincare products. Butylene glycol helps reduce the viscosity and maintain the consistency of the product. This makes it easier to spread the product on the surface of the skin. Butylene glycol also acts as a humectant keeping the skin moisturized.
C Skincare Ingredients
- Ceramide: Ceramides are long-chain lipids naturally present in the skin’s topmost layer. Ceramides are popular for their moisture-retaining properties and help reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier.
- Charcoal: A natural substance obtained from burning carbon and a popular skincare ingredient due to its powerful detox abilities. This natural agent exfoliates the skin leaving bright, evenly-textured skin with tighter pores.
- Citric acid: A gentle member of the family of AHAs naturally present in citrus fruits. Citric acid is used as a skincare ingredient in cosmetic products designed to regulate pH levels and exfoliate the skin.
- Collagen: A naturally occurring protein-peptide found in our bodies- skin, cartilage, ligaments, tendons. Collagen helps the skin retain its elasticity and moisture. Again, collagen peptides make up about 80% of the skin’s dermis giving the highly coveted youthful glow and firmness.
- Caffeine: An enjoyable wake-up call but also a soothing skincare ingredient and powerful antioxidant. Caffeine calms the skin to reduce redness while also protecting the skin from UV damage.
- Coconut oil: Rich in fatty acids, vitamin E, and proteins, coconut oil is known for its moisturizing and antibacterial properties. Coconut oil also helps improve the skin barrier function, keeping the skin moisturized and healing dry irritated skin. This magical oil also contains antioxidants. However, coconut oil is best used on the body as it may block the pores due to its high-fat content.
E-G Skincare Ingredients
- Emollient: A substance used in moisturizers to soften or soothe the skin.
- Essential oils: These are liquids extracted from plant parts such as seeds, stems, roots, barks, leaves, etc. Essential oils are commonly used as a skincare ingredient due to their preservative properties.
- Ferulic acid: An antioxidant acid found in the cell walls of plants such as oats and rice. Ferulic acid penetrates the skin protecting it against damage from free radicals and correcting present damage. This acid performs wonders when combined with other antioxidants like vitamin C or E as it enhances their stability.
- Glycolic acid: A member of the family of AHA’s and a derivative of sugar cane. This exfoliating acid is the most active of the AHA’s and is more readily absorbable into the skin.
- Grape seed extract: An extract from the ground seeds of red grapes used as a skincare ingredient due to its antioxidant properties.
- Grape water: A liquid extract from red grapes used as a skincare ingredient in cosmetic products designed to hydrate and soothe skin. Also, grape water is popular for its ability to reduce redness and sensitivity in the skin.
- Glycerin: A naturally occurring humectant present in our skin. When combined with emollients, glycerin helps restore the normal skin barrier function and maintain skin hydration levels. According to the NCBI “…the skin barrier protects from external threats such as infectious agents, chemicals, systemic toxicity, and allergens.”
H-K Skincare Ingredients
- Humectant: A substance that is used in cosmetic products to reduce the loss of moisture from the skin.
- Hyaluronic acid: A natural sugar found in the body- skin and connective tissues. Hyaluronic acid is used in skincare ingredients due to its hydrating and moisture-retaining properties.
- Jojoba oil: This skincare ingredient is extracted from the jojoba plant seed and is a rich source of fatty acids. Jojoba oil helps promote skin repair and improve hydration.
L-O Skincare Ingredients
- Lactic acid: A water-soluble member of the AHA family naturally produced during the bacterial fermentation process of milk. Lactic acid is popularly used as a gentle chemical exfoliant in skincare products like peels and cleansers. This acid exfoliant pulls away dead skin cells from the skin leaving it with a healthier glow.
- Micellar water: A solution made up of micelles which are microscopic balls of cleansing oil molecules. These micro molecules strip away dirt and oil from the skin without affecting the skin’s protective barrier.
- Niacinamide: Also known as vitamin B3, this water-soluble nutrient is an essential skincare ingredient. Niacinamide promotes signal cell regeneration, repairs damage, and improves the skin’s protective barrier.
P Skincare Ingredients
- Peptides: A shorter amino acid commonly used as a skincare ingredient in anti-aging cosmetic products. When used in skincare products, peptides help to stimulate collagen production and promote skin cell renewal. Also, peptides are known as cell-communicating ingredients due to their ability to stimulate signal regeneration on the skin cell level.
- Phenoxyethanol: A synthetic preservative used as an anti-bacterial in skincare products like body lotions and washes. Phenoxyethanol may have adverse effects on the brain and central nervous system health. Long term exposure and high doses may be toxic to other major organs such as skin and lungs. The typical between 0.5% to 2% in organic products.
- Phthalate: Used as a lubricant or softener in skincare products like moisturizers. Studies have shown that phthalates are endocrine disruptors which adversely affect hormone levels in males and females alike.
- Polyethylene Glycols (PEG): A petroleum derivative used in skincare due to its ability to enhance penetration of other ingredients. However, PEG is not selective and also enhance the absorption of harmful ingredients which may irritate the skin. PEG also adversely affects the skin’s moisture barrier stripping away moisture easily from the skin.
- Parabens: Another skincare ingredient with such a bad rep that cosmetic brands highlight their absence on their product labels. Are parabens really harmful? YES. When used in larger quantities and with continuous exposure, parabens can upset your hormonal balance.
R Skincare Ingredients
- Retinol: A derivative of vitamin A and also part of the retinoid family. Retinol promotes cellular regeneration which helps improve skin tone and texture. Also, retinol is a popular anti-aging skincare ingredient due to its antioxidant properties protecting skin against damage from environmental pollutants.
- Retinoid: A group of compounds derived from vitamin A. Retinoid has a higher concentration of the active ingredient retinoic acid than retinol. Retinoids unclog pores which allow other ingredients to seep deeper into the dermis. Pregnant women are advised to avoid all forms of retinoic acids- retinoids, retinol, and tretinoin.
- Rice: An age-old nutrient-rich skincare ingredient containing antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, minerals, and vitamins. Rice is used in cosmetic products like exfoliants to remove dead skin cells leaving the skin with a healthy glow.
- Resveratrol: A potent natural skincare ingredient with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties found in red grapes. Reservatrol is commonly used in anti-aging products as it protects against skin-attacking agents like UV rays, free radicals, and bacteria.
- Rosehip seed oil: This oil is packed with all the skincare must-haves from nourishing vitamins A & C, antioxidants, and fatty acids, to the powerful anti-aging retinoid. Rosehip oil is known for its restorative and soothing properties as it helps the skin retain hydration and decrease inflammation.
S Skincare Ingredients
- Salicylic acid: A member of the family of BHAs, salicylic acid is a popular skincare ingredient in acne-fighting products. Salicylic acid combats acne by penetrating deep into the pores to removes oil, dirt, and bacteria.
- Seaweed: An algae found in seawater and a popular skincare ingredient due to its flurry of benefits. Seaweed contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps eliminate impurities and toxins from the skin. This fancy algae also contain humectants that seep down to epidermis to soften and hydrate the skin. Also, seaweed contains selenium (anti-aging metal) and amino acids which help promote collagen production.
- Silicone: A synthetic skincare ingredient derived from silicon, oxygen, and other elements. Silicone is popularly used to improve the texture of cosmetic products such as serums and moisturizers. When used in skincare products, silicone adds moisture and fills in wrinkles to create a smooth air-brushed appearance.
- Sorbitol: A naturally occurring sugar alcohol used as a thickening agent. Sorbitol is also used as a humectant in skincare products due to its ability to retain moisture in the skin. When used in really dry conditions, sorbitol like other humectants pulls moisture away from the lower layers of the skin leaving the skin looking dry.
- Squalene: An organic compound found in plants and animals, especially in human sebum. Squalene is a saturated oil full of fatty acids and antioxidants that help soothe and moisturize the skin. This skincare ingredient also increases the absorption of other ingredients improving their potency.
- Sulfate: A broad term used for sulfate-based compounds such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium Laureth sulfate. Sulfates are commonly used as cleansing agents in cosmetic products. This skincare ingredient has got a bad rep over the years and for good reason. Sulfates strip away moisture from the skin and disrupt the skin’s normal barrier function. Using sulfates as a skincare ingredient may require animal testing to ensure that safe levels are achieved.
T Skincare Ingredients
- Titanium dioxide: An inactive mineral used as thickening, whitening, and lubricating ingredient in cosmetics commonly used in sunscreen. However, titanium dioxide is an active ingredient in sunscreen for sensitive skin. It does not possess any known toxic effects according to the FDA.
- Tretinoin: A member of the retinoid family and a super anti-aging skincare ingredient. Tretinoin is the first FDA approved retinoid for anti-aging skincare treatment and excellent at smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles. Tretinoins are often used to treat UV-related skin damage and work on a cellular level to provide a youthful look.
- Tea tree oil: An essential oil obtained from tea tree leaves best known for its antibiotic and anti-fungal properties. Tea tree oil also boasts anti-inflammatory properties which help diminish skin redness and other skin conditions like rosacea and psoriasis.
V-Z Skincare Ingredients
- Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic acid): An important antioxidant molecule that protects the skin against free radicals in the environment. This well-loved vitamin also protects the skin against UV damage which causes the skin to age faster.
- Vitamin E: A major antioxidant used as a skincare ingredient due to its ability to protect the skin from free radical damage. Vitamin E oil can also help reduce the appearance of scars. Note that vitamin E is not the best for highly sensitive, oily, or acne-prone skin.
- Vitamin K: A fat-soluble vitamin often paired with other skincare ingredients in anti-aging products. Vitamin K helps to reduce the appearance of lines and dark eye circles when used in cosmetic products. Also, vitamin K is popular for its ability to help diminish inflammation and redness in the skin.
- Zinc oxide: Derived from natural minerals and used as the main ingredient in sunscreen. Zinc oxide creates a protective layer that reflects UV rays off the skin. It is also known to soothe skin and help with inflammation.