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Skin Care Ingredients

Skin Care Ingredients - A (short) Guide

Ingredients used in Skin Care Products

By no means an extensive guide, AND NOT TO BE USED AS A MEDICAL GUIDE but some notes on some of the ingredients which you may come across on the lables of skin care products. I also mention some of the preservation ingredients used in modern skincare. I will try to add to this as time permits. By the way, any compound or chemical taken or used wrongly is dangerous; many of the compound chemicals (or, indeed, single chemicals) if they are used too much in the wrong concentrations can cause all sorts of problems. Even Vitamins, if taken in too great a quantity or concentration, can be dangerous. So, whatever you use, read the instructions.


Marketed as "Argireline" has six amino acid peptides in a chain targeted to keep down the release of a neural signal protein (catecholamine) and thus prevent the muscle contraction involved in facial expression. It does this without paralysis, allowing natural expression and movement in the target area whilst relaxing the muscle which is causing the wrinkle.

ASC III (Dipalmitoyl Hydroxyproline)

An amino acid which increase Collagen III production and also assists in scavenging free radicals. The age-related decrease in the ration of CollagenIII/ Collagen I is normally dramatic and causes facial lines and wrinkles. Whereas retinoic acid and Vitamin C both increases production of Collagen I and Collagenase activity, ASC III Liposome selectively amplifies the biosynthesis of Collagen II in ageing human skin with practically no effect on collagenase production. (Collagenese is a natural enzyme in our bodies, which breaks down collagen) Additionally, ASC III Liposome produces an increased thickness of keratinocyte layers in the epidermis as well as beneficial thickening of the epidermal-dermal junction. This increases skin elasticity and smoothness and the reformation of collagen fibres in the dermis. Data suggests that it increases Collagen III synthesis in elderly fibroblasts by similar degrees as in newborn cells


This is present in every cell in our body and is an essential nutrient for strengthening and adding flexibility to the skin, vasculature and connective tissue. An anti-inflammatory and healing agent, it is used in treatments for burn victims and to reduce the potential for infection at a repair site. It accelerates tissue repair by stimulating glcosaminoglycans (GAG's) formation and the synthesis of collagen and elastin. This indicates copper is also a valuable skin-rebuilding ingredient in anti-ageing protocols.

DMAE COMPLEX (Dimethylaminoetanol)

This is a naturally produced chemical in the human brain; the precursor for the production of Acetylcholine. Helps with the tone, texture, flexibility and resiliency of the muscles. Works in conjunction with ALA to create a synergistic effect, enhancing antioxidant activity.


A potent antioxidant. Its fruit (Indian Gooseberry) is known for many of its medicinal properties and is a key ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also and extremely efficient skin-lightening agent that is known as a high safety ingredient for use in skincare products. It lightens the skin through inhibition of Peroxidase/ H2O2 which helps in the formation of Melanin and it is an excellent super-oxide "quencher". It also inhibits the alpha Melanocyte stimulating hormone which is responsible for the production of Melanin. It is also proven to increase skin hydration and lipid production, reduce inflammation, improve skin tone, increase glycosaminoglycans and decrease collagenase, making it useful in anti-ageing targeted products.


This is a non-comedogenic, natural skin emollient derived from the emu - the well known Australian bird. Highly pentrating oil has many healing properties and is an anti-inflamatory as well as being useful as a wound healer. Also contains a useful range of omega oils (3 and 6). Mainly oleic acid.


These work together to control hyper-pigmentation by inhibiting melanin damage in the skin. Kojic acid is derived from a fungus and has similar effects as hydroquinone. It also has lightening, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties, while licorice extract is an antioxidant that has ultra violet (UV) absorbing capabilities. Licorice also has strong tyrosinase-inhibition activity (skin lightening) and it is 25 times greater than Kojic acid and 75 times greater than Ascorbic acid in decreasing melanin production.


A natural substance found in all living organisms and the main component of connective tissue in the human body. HA can hold mositure 1,000 times its own molecular weight, which is more than any other natural substance. Coupled with its natural penetration properties and useful role as a noble humectant, it is a valuable skincare ingredient. (see Viscontour Serum). These hydrating properties result in increased smoothness and softening of the skin as well as decreased wrinkles.

MELANOSTATINE-5 (Aqua-Dextran-Nonapeptide-1)

A skin lightening peptide which works through antagonism of the alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone which, in turn, stops the synthesis of melanin.


A marine enzyme composed of fish cartilage extract. It inhibits enzymes that destroy the skin's collagen network (collagenase) and is water soluble. It mimics glycosaminoglycans, thus supporting the transdermal collagen matrix which increase depth of hydration, moisture retention and skin firmness. It also dramatically lightens dark circles, alleviates redness caused by damaged capillaries and reduces damage caused by UV rays.

MSM (Dimethly Sulfone)

A natural source of sulphur which is found mostly in our skin, hair, nails and even muscles. It is the 3rd most abundant mineral in the human body. This ingredient is not to be confused with sulphites or sulphates, which are drugs. An anti-inflammatory agent and a key ingredient in some acne products. It is also used in products for psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, dandruff, scabies, nappy rash and certain fungal infections.


The skin is composed of two distinct areas, epidermis and dermis. The epidermis consists of many layers of dead skin which are supported by the dermis. The dermis is a three dimensional network of collagen fibres and elastin, surrounded by a gel-like substance called the Ground substance. This determines the stability of the skin. We know that the ground substance is composed glycosaminoglycans (formerly called mucopolysaccharides), non-collagen proteins and water. Until recently, the importance of glycosaminoglycans in skin physiology has been largely overlooked when compared to topics such as pH, nucleic acid replacement, and protein composition. Pharmaceutical and biochemical research indicates that glycosaminoglycans promote the ability of collagen fibres to retain water and bind moisture into the stratum corneum of the epidermis.

Preservation Ingredients

BENZYL ALCOHOL - is one of the components of the fragrance or perfume industry and is now popular as a parabens-free preservative in cosmetic products

CAPRYLYL GLYCOL - is known a a biological stabiliser and now has been tested as a paraben-free preservative.

HEXYLENE GLYCOL - known as a fixative in the perfume business and is now being used in cobination with Benzyl and Caprylyl Glycol.

PHENOXYETHANOL - this is a popular parabens-free preservative and is very effective against yeast and moulds. Usually combined with any of the listed preservatives..

POTASSIUM SORBATE - well known as a food preservative. It is very mild but needs to be in combination with other parabens-free preservatives to get full spectrum coverage for anti-microbial activity.

Ingredients - "one liners"

Acetate: an acetic acid salt; the word that follows or precedes acetate on an ingredient list determines the function.
Acetone: solvent commonly used in fingernail polish removers and toners; can be drying and irritating depending on concentration.
Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol: An alcohol that is not drying. Helps soften skin; is highly comedogenic (causes blackheads and/or whiteheads).
Acrylates Copolymer: active ingredient in an oil-absorbing gel, such as Clinac O.C.
Acrylates/Octylpropenamide Copolymer: creates a water-repelling base/matrix for cosmetics claiming water-proof properties.
Alcohol SD-40: sometimes listed as SD Alcohol 40 and synomymous with alcohol SDA-40, it is a high grade purified cosmetic alcohol. Evaporates instantly, so it is used as a vehicle to transport important ingredients to the skin's surface and then leave them there; gentler to the skin than ethyl (rubbing) alcohol. May help kill bacteria.
Algae/Seaweed Extract: an emollient, restoring moisture content to skin; claims to have antioxidant properties.
Alginated Zinc: Triplex A combination of Hydrolyzed Algin (which is derived from Brown Seaweed) and Zinc Sulphate to reduce the conditions favourable to acne by helping to regulate sebum (oil) production, destroy acne bacteria and reduce skin inflammation.
Allantoin: a botanical thought to have skin calming properties; possibly reduces irritation.
Alpha Lipoic Acid: an antioxidant; is both water and fat soluble so it can protect many areas of a cell. Also, has anti-inflammatory properties.
Alum: usually in crystal or powder form; has strong astringent properties; used in stypic sticks, popular with men who often nick themselves shaving.
Ascorbic Acid: vitamin C; an antioxidant and stimulant of collagen synthesis by skin cells (fibroblasts). Can also have skin lightening effect in certain preparations. Only L-ascorbic acid (as opposed to D-ascorbic acid) is effective.
Ascorbyl Palmitate: fat-soluble vitamin C derivative. Good antioxidant but less effective than vitamin C for stimulating collagen synthesis.
Avobenzone: UV radiation protection. (Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane) is an oil-soluble ingredient used in sunscreen products to absorb the full spectrum of UVA rays. It is a dibenzoylmethane derivative.

Beeswax: waxy component in many skin care products; provides moisture as well as a barrier mechanism. Also, an emulsifier (helps oil and water blending). May be mildly comedogenic.
Bemotrizinol: (Tinosorb S) UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Benzalkonium Chloride: Preservative; may occasionally cause allergy or sensitivity with continuous use.
Benzethonium Chloride: Preservative against broad spectrum of micro-organisms (fungi, bacteria, algae). Typically used in concentrations under 0.5%.
Benzoic Acid: Preservative against growth of micro-organisms; effective against fungi but only marginally useful against bacteria. Typically used in concentrations from 0.05 to 0.1%. Sensitivity to Benzoic Acid is rare, but possible.

Benzophenone and Octyl Methoxycinnamate: Two ultra-violet sunscreens which absorb radiation in the erythemal range 290 to 315nm. Allows radiation in the tanning range of 315 to 400nm. Benzophenone is a soluble sunscreen agent and as such, is used in many emulsions and solutions.
Benzoyl Peroxide: An oxygen releasing chemical which causes drying, peeling and antibacterial action on the skin. Used for acne lesions, benzoyl peroxide is a popular acne medication. The release of oxygen is important to combat the anaerobic bacteria present in the acne-affected follicles. The peeling and drying effects peel the acne pustules and open up the comedones.
Benzyl Alcohol: Antibacterial preservative typically used in concentrations 1 to 3%. May cause skin irritation.
Beta Hydroxy Acid: a subclass of organic acids; the most common one is salicylic acid, a long term ingredient used for exfoliation of dry skin as well as for acne therapy.
BHT: Potent synthetic oil-soluble antioxidant often used as a preservative against rancidity.
Bisoctrizole (Tinosorb M): UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Boric Acid: an antiseptic used as a preservative to prevent yeast overgrowth. May be irritating.

Caffeine: used to alleviate puffiness under eyes.
Camphor: a cooling agent; may help alleviate the symptoms of itching and irritation.
Carbomers (934, 940, 941, 980, 981): stabilisers and thickeners common in skin care products.
Carmine: red pigment; found in many mascaras; can be irritating.
Cellulose: polymer from plant cell walls; used as a thickener and emulsifier.
Ceramides: epidermal hydrating agent; expensive due to scarcity.
Ceteareth: cetearyl and stearyl alcohols combined for use as a lubricant.
Cetyl Alcohol: lubricant and emulsifier. Non-irritating, non-drying, non-comedogenic.
Cocoa butter: Vegetable fat solid at room temperature but liquid at body temperature. Due to this property often used in lip balms and massage creams. Considered comedogenic and may also (rarely) cause allergy.
Collagen: the main supporting fibre located within the dermis, gives strength and provides structure. You cannot replace lost collagen by simply applying it to your skin due to its large molecule size. However, topical collagen can act as a moisturising agent.
Cyclic Acid: a new term for Hyaluronic Acid, an effective humectant/moisturising agent.
Cyclomethicone: form of silicone; gives products a smooth texture; non-comedogenic

DEA (diethanolamine): An organic alkali used in skin care formulas to neutralize acids (raise pH). Usually listed on labels preceding a compound it is neutralizing. FDA has released a warning regarding the association between DEA and cancer in laboratory animals.
Dimethicone: a form of silicone; skin protectant; moisture sealant; noncomedogenic; has been used in some scar therapies.
Elastin: a fiber within the dermis similar to collagen, gives support and "snap" to the skin. In topicals, it cannot penetrate the skin, but does have moisturising effect.
Ellagic Acid: naturally occurring ingredient; helps inhibit the formation of sun and age spots.
Ethyl Alcohol: aka rubbing alcohol or ethanol; has antibacterial activity; usually too strong for regular use in cosmetics; very drying at high concentrations; sometimes used in astringents and toners. Use moisturiser after using anything with ethanol.

Glycerin: hydrates and provides a skin barrier against loss of moisture; allows topical agents to go on very smoothly; may clog pores when present in high concentrations.
Glycine: amino acid vital to collagen synthesis; it is unclear if applying glycine topically affects collagen synthesis.
Glycogennatural sugar (glucose) based polymer somewhat similar to starch; acts as a conditioner.
Glycolic Acid: exfoliant, used in a wide range of exfoliating products, from exfoliating lotions to chemical peels. May improve fine lines. Overuse can cause skin irritation and other skin damage.
Glycol Stearate: thickening agent that helps give products a luminescent or opalescent appearance.
Grape Seed Extract: a botanical extract shown to be an effective antioxidant
Green Tea Extract: a botanical extract shown to be an effective antioxidant
Guar gum: Plant derived polysaccharide used as a thickening agent in skin care formulations. May also increase moisture retention due to coating action.
Homosalate: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Hyaluronic Acid: also referred to as a "cyclic acid"; an effective humectant/moisturising agent.
Hydroquinone: skin pigmentation lightening agent; a maximum of 2% is sold over the counter; higher concentrations available by prescription.
Isopropyl Alcohol: vehicle with antibacterial properites; drying to the skin especially in higher concentrations.
Isopropyl Isostearateemollient.
Isopropyl Palmitate: emollient usually derived from palm and/or coconut oil; may be comedogenic.
Isostearic Acid: fatty acid that forms a film on the skin; may be comedogenic.

Jojoba Oil: natural oil extracted from the seeds of the desert shrub Simondsia Chinesis. Is an effective emollient and lubricant. According to some claims also a delivery enhancer.

Kaolin (China Clay): used in oil-absorbing powders and masques; highly absorbent.

Lactic Acid: alpha hydroxy acid used in dermatology to hydrate and smooth dry, flaking skin. May occasionally be used in high concentrations as a chemical peel.
Lanolin: emollient and moisturizer; obtained from sheep; a sensitizer like other wool derivatives, in eczema-prone individuals
Lecithin: emollient and emulsifier.
Linoleic Acid: essential fatty acid, emollient and emulsifier.
Liposomes: active ingredient delivery system; hollow spheres made from phospholipids (such as lecithin) that are up to 300 times smaller than skin cells. Liposomes are filled with active agents which they carry into the skin and then gradually release.
Lysine Amino Acid: important for collagen synthesis; possibly ineffective topically for that purpose
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate: a vitamin C derivative; more stable than vitamin C; has comparable effectiveness as collagen synthesis booster.
Methyl Gluceth: a humectant/moisturizing agent.
Methylparaben/Propylparaben: Food grade preservative. One of the most commonly used preservative in cosmetics today; nonirritating, nonsensitizing and nontoxic. May be comedogenic in susceptible persons.
Mineral Oil: a liquid blend of petroleum hydrocarbons obtained. An effective solvent for removing oil, grease and makeup from the skin. Comedogenic. May be drying with prolonged use. Most companies no longer use mineral oil in products; vegetable oils have been found to be as effective and more skin friendly.
Mucopolysacchaildes: safe and effective humectants.
Myristyl Myristate: emollient; an ester of myristyl alcohol and myristic acid.
NaPCA: a humectant, Same as Sodium PCA.
Nanospheres: active ingredient delivery system; micro-reservoir particles of porous polymers that have a special structure permitting high absorption and timed release of the agents into the skin.

Octocrylene: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Octyl Methoxycinnamate: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Octyl Palmitate: nondrying, nongreasy solvent; often used in cleansers, astringents.
Octyl Salicylate: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Oxybenzone: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens

PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid): UVB blocker used in sunscreens during the 1970's; can cause contact dermatitis, therefore is now out of favour.
Panthenol: a B vitamin (B5), works as a humectant (holds water in the skin). May promote skin healing.
Parabens: One of the most commonly used group of preservatives in cosmetics today; non-irritating and non-sensitizing. Methyl paraben may degrade releasing methanol, a potentially toxic chemical. To what degree this actualy occurs in skin care products is unclear. Various forms exist, name ending in (e.g. methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, etc.).
Petrolatum: Heavy vehicle based on petroleum hydrocarbons, most commonly known for its use in Vaseline; good for sensitive skin but is occlusive and can cause or aggravate acne in susceptible individuals.
Polybutene: helps make liquids texturally viscous.
Poly Hydroxy Acid: PHA, derived from the buds of fruit trees; is claimed to be gentler yet as effective as AHAs; still debatable.
Proline: amino acid vital to the composition and production collagen; possibly ineffective in topical products.
Propylene Glycol: vehicle for cosmetic solutions; excellent for hydrating dry skin but can act as a contact dermatitis sensitizer in susceptible individuals.

Retinol: form of vitamin A; fat soluble; depending upon concentration, estimated to be approximately 10 times less effective than tretinoin; relatively unstable. May irritate skin in high concentrations.
Retinal: form of vitamin A; fat soluble; less effective than tretinoin; relatively unstable. May irritate skin in high concentrations.
Retinyl Palmitate: (also known as Vitamin A Palmitate); ester of retinol combined with palmitic acid, considered a more stable alternative to retinol or retinal for normalizing the skin's texture and helping smooth out fine lines. Less irritating than retinol.
Retinyl Palmitate Polypeptide: water soluble formulation of Vitamin A.
Rose Hips: botanical extract of rose petals found to have high concentrations of vitamin C.

Salicylic Acid: the most common BHA (beta hydroxy acid); medically used as an exfoliant and de-briding agent. Cosmetically used in some chemical peels and to reduce oiliness and acne.
Silica: highly oil absorbent.
Silcone: protects the skin and creates a sheen. Thought to be helpful in reducing the appearance of hypertrophic scars.
Silk Powder: incorporated into cosmetic powders to help absorb skin moisture and oils.
Silk Proteins: prevents dehydration; commonly found in eye rejuvenation creams.
Sodium Bicarbonate: neutralizes acid (raises pH), making products less irritating; commonly known as baking soda.
Sodium Borate: preservative; related to boric acid; potential irritant.
Sodium Hyaluronate: effective humectant related to Hyaluronic acid (salt form), works to moisturise the skin.
Sodium Laurel Sulphate: used in most cleansers and soaps; acts as a surfactant, offers good foaming qualities; a known skin irritant, but contrary to popular misconceptions, does not cause cancer.
Sorbic Acid: preservative; primarily protects products from yeast overgrowth.
Sorbitol: sugar-based ingredient; pulls water by osmosis from the largest source. Typically this is the air, so it helps hydrate skin. In arid conditions, however, water will be pulled out of the skin, resulting in dehydration.
Stearic Acid: fatty acid used in soap manufacturing; may cause irritation.
Sulphur: helps kill some species of bacteria on the skin improving acne, seborrhea and psoriasis. Typically found in soaps, shampoos and some topical acne medications.

Titanium Dioxide: UV radiation blocker used in sunscreens
Triclosan: commonly used as a preservative; believed to be hypoallergenic.
Tyrosine: amino acid that may potentiate the effect of vitamin C on collagen synthesis by fibroblasts; plays a role in melanin formation.

Unipertan: A suntan-accelerating product composed of tyrosine, riboflavin, and collagen. The original form of unipertan employs animal by-products. A number of derivatives and variations of the original unipertan exist, generally designated by letters or numbers. None of the unipertans protect from UV rays or make tanning safe.
Unipertan V-242: A totally vegetable form of unipertan, providing tyrosine (an amino acid essential to the tanning process) and adenosine triphosphate (a vegetable catalyst to the tanning process), in a vegetable collagen base.

Vitamin A: important for skin renewal; may improve skin texture and fine lines; may improve acne. Less effective and less irritating than tretinoin. Causes sun sensitivity and not to be used if pregnant or nursing.
Vitamin C: (L-ascorbic acid) boosts collagen synthesis by fibroblasts; vital water soluble antioxidant both systemically as and topically. Unstable in solution when exposed to air.
Vitamin D: regulates cell turn over; prescription derivatives of vitamin D are used to treat psoriasis.
Vitamin E: (Tocopherol) an oil soluble antioxidant widely used in skin care; also an emollient.

Water: (aka "aqua") Most frequently listed main ingredient in skin care products, used in its purest form, void of minerals and other chemicals, hence the various names like distilled, deionized, purified, etc.
Witch Hazel: botanical with astringent properties, helps remove excess surface skin oils.

Xanthan Gum: thickening agent.

Yeast Extract: extract from brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) containing a complex mixture of proteins, sugars, vitamins, amino acids, etc. According to some claims may enhance the rate of renewal (cell turnover) of the skin.

Zinc Oxide: A compound of zinc and oxygen, zinc oxide is a mild antiseptic and anti-irritant. When added to sunscreens, it physically prevents UV light from reaching the skin. It is also a key active ingredients in nappy rash creams