The ultimate list of skincare jargon and how to cut through the BS.
Ever read the label on the back of your skin care products and wondered, “What the hell am I really putting on my face?” and “Is this stuff actually good for my skin?” Here’s a list of some of the most common (and famous) ingredients that go into your skin care products and what they actually do.
Hyaluronic acid is a super powerful humectant.
This means it is able to absorb insane amounts of moisture. In fact, just 1 gram of Hyaluronic acid can absorb 1000 ml of water – making it the most coveted ingredient for dry, dull, dehydrated skin.
Hyaluronic acid is naturally present in your skin, where it provides moisture, plumpness, firmness and suppleness to the skin. When you are young, your body makes high amounts of Hyaluronic acid. But as you age, your body produces less and less.
You can apply it directly onto your skin to reap its moisture-binding, skin plumping benefits. However, the molecule is too large to fully penetrate the outer layers of your skin to fill wrinkles. But when injected into your skin, it works as a plumper, filling wrinkles and fine lines.
AHAs are derived from fruit and milk.
They include glycolic acid (found in sugar cane), lactic acid (found in sour milk), citric acid (found in citrus fruits), malic acid (apples and pears), and tartaric acid (found in grapes), among others.
The most effective and well-researched AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid.
AHAs help remove the dead skin cells that build up on top of your skin. They can also increase the thickness of deeper layers of your skin, making it firmer. By getting rid of the built up skin cells, AHAs unclog pores, reduce breakouts, smooth wrinkles, and even brighten dry and dull skin!
Also goes by the name: Glycolic Acid, Lactic acid, Citric acid, Malic acid, Tartaric acid.
BHA is also known as Salicylic Acid – an excellent exfoliant.
It literally dissolves and exfoliates dead skin cells, and therefore, prevents clogged pores.
But best of all, it comes from the same family as Asprin — making it a fabulous anti-inflammatory, which reduces swelling and redness. That is why it is one of the most popular ingredients used to treat everything from blackheads to large inflamed red pimples.
Also goes by the name: Salicylic Acid.
Salicylic Acid is an amazing exfoliant.
It literally melts and sloughs off dead skin cells, preventing your pores from clogging up.
And since it is a close cousin of Asprin —it is also a fabulous anti-inflammatory that reduces swelling and redness. That is why it is one of the most popular ingredients used to treat everything from blackheads to large inflamed red pimples.
Also goes by the name: Beta-hydroxy acid (BHA)
Glycolic acid is a fruit acid that’s derived from sugar cane.
It exfoliates and re-texturizes your skin very gently, corrects hyper-pigmentation and skin discoloration, reverses sun damage, decreases the appearance of fine lines & wrinkles and shrink pores. Whew!!!
And the best part? (As if the ones above aren’t good enough.)
It suits all skin types. So whether you have sensitive, dry, oily, acne-prone skin, you will benefit from using it.
Glycolic acid can be found in many toners, serums and moisturizers. You may actually even be using one without realizing it.
Benzoyl Peroxide is the ultimate acne-fighting champion. It is one of the most successful acne treatments ever discovered.
Benzoyl Peroxide has a dual strategy when is comes to eliminating acne:
- It ruthlessly kills (and that’s exactly what you want!) P. acnes, the bacteria that is responsible for acne in the first place.
- It is a fabulous exfoliant, so it peels the top layer of your skin and sloughs off the dead skin and sebum that’s clogging your pore.
Retinol is derived from vitamin A and has gained lots of fame over the years.
That’s because it can:
- Firm up your skin
- Reverse sun damage
- Treat acne
- Reduce dark spots and dark circles
- Reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Retinol is basically a fabulous exfoliant that makes your skin shed its dead and problematic layers and turn over younger, healthier cells.
It also increases the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen in your skin, making it more supple and smooth.
That is why it is found in so many anti-aging and acne products.
Also called Vitamin B3, this superstar ingredient that does virtually everything you want for your skin.
What all it can do:
- It firms up your skin and controls aging.
- It moisturizes your skin by preventing water loss.
- It makes your skin more bouncy and plump.
- It removes dark spots, acne scars, pigmentation and evens out your skin tone.
Also goes by the name: Vitamin B3, Nicotinic Acid.
Commonly known as Vitamin C, it is one of the best anti-oxidants for your skin.
It is famous for:
- Increasing collagen production.
- Reducing dark spots and pigmentation.
- Improving your skin’s natural repair process.
- Reducing redness and swelling.
- Making your skin more resistant to the sun.
It’s a wonderful ingredient to keep your skin firm, smooth, clear and bright. Goodbye wrinkles and hyper-pigmentation!
Also goes by the name: Vitamin C.
Ceramides are the ‘glue’ that hold your skin cells together, forming a protective layer. They also hold on to moisture and keep your skin plump and firm. But they decrease as we get older (no shit!) making your skin less firm, thinner and more dry.
Skin care products that contain ceramides help rebuild your skin’s protective moisture barrier. Which is why Ceramides are a great choice for people with dry skin, eczema and aging skin.
Peptides are cell-communicating ingredients. They ‘tell’ cells how to behave. They may command your cells to produce elastin (that makes your skin plump up) or instruct your skin to heal itself after a wound.
The peptides used in anti-aging products enter your skin cells and order them to do certain things like produce collagen, reduce redness or fight wrinkles.
Hydroquinone is a skin lightener. It reduces the production of melanin (pigment in your skin that gives it a colour).
Hydroquinone is used in many whitening creams and treatments for fading hyper-pigmentation, acne marks, sun spots, dark spots, freckles and other skin discolourations.
In the last few years, Hydroquinone has gained a bad rep as it may have cancer causing properties – though this is debatable. Certain countries have even banned hydroquinone, though it is still used in most others.
Kojic acid is derived from mushrooms that are native to Japan. It is a fine, white powdery substance made up of tiny crystals — the by-product of the fermentation process for sake (rice wine).
Kojic acid is used as a skin lightener and treats hyper-pigmentation, age spots and other skin discolourations. It is an effective, safer alternative to hydroquinone.
Sulfates are synthetic detergents that create a thick lather, and are found in most products that produce foam – likes shampoo, cleansers, toothpastes, etc. It is the stuff that makes you feel like the product is ‘working’.
Soaps and skin cleansers with sulfates strip away the moisture barrier that protects your skin. They upset the moisture balance of the skin and unnecessarily dry it out.
Shampoos with sulfates strip away not just dirt, but also natural essential oils that your hair needs to stay healthy. The absence of these oils can cause dry and itchy scalp, dandruff and frizzy hair.
The false sense of “clean” they give you really due to the fact that they are stripping the protective layers from your skin and hair.
They reason they are still used widely is because people have grown used to high-lather products and feel that the product is working due to the amount of lather.
Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetics.
They stop fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing in your favourite creams and shampoos – especially in the damp, warm environment in your bathroom.
They are inexpensive and very effective in keeping ingredients fresher for longer. They dramatically increase the shelf-life of many beauty products.
But lately, Parabens have been touted as ‘dangerous’. They have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues. Studies have shown that parabens have the ability to imitate estrogen, which is a cause for concern as estrogen is said to play a part in the formation of breast cancer.
Also goes by the name: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.
Pronounced THAL-ates, these chemicals were used as plasticizers in products such as nail polishes to reduce cracking by making them less brittle, in hairsprays to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair, in fragrances as a solvent and fixative.
But today, they have been linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer. They have been banned in some countries, but are still prevalent in many others.