As we are becoming more conscious about what we are putting on our skin it can be overwhelming trying to decipher the ingredients in our skincare. What do all those strange words mean? We have enlisted the help of beauty expert, Allison Browning to explain some of the more common product ingredients:
What is Water?
Water makes up a lot of what we are and is the elixir of life so it only makes sense that we drink it and replenish the water lost from our skin. Most skincare products will contain sterile water to hydrate our skin, keeping it supple. We all know that tight and crepy feeling our skin gets when it’s dehydrated. Even oily skins feel this way. It’s about a lack of water so it’s only logical we get this into our bodies by sipping on it and allowing our skins to drink a little up from our skin care products too!
What is Benzyl Alcohol?
This ingredient is used as a preservative and a solvent in cosmetic ingredients. It also happens to be used in some foods and oral hygiene products. It is found naturally and is also produced synthetically. It’s considered safe but in large quantities it is known to be irritating. When looking at this ingredient you’d want to see it at the end of a list of cosmetic ingredients, which means there’s not a lot of it in the product. In low dosages it’s not considered irritating or problematic.
What is Vitamin E?
You’ll often see vitamin E listed at ‘tocopherol’ in an ingredients list. It’s a wonderful antioxidant and works synergistically with vitamin c when they’re combined (so each of their capabilities is maximized). The most common forms of vitamin e in cosmetics are: d-alpha-tocopherol, d-alpha-tocopherol acetate, dl-alpha tocopherol, and dl-alpha tocopherol acetate. The ‘d’ in front of the ‘alpha’ means that the ingredient is derived from a natural source like wheat germ. The ‘dI’ indicates that the vitamin has been created from a synthetic source. Naturally derived forms of Vitamin E are known to be more potent. Vitamin E prevents water loss in the skin, it’s soothing and restoring and it works well on dry and sensitized skin types. It’s not always ideal in large doses on an aceneic skin though.
(Image: Allison Browning)
What is Glycerin?
Glycerin is used as a solvent, humectant and an emollient in cosmetics (and it’s also used in food). It’s a substance that is found naturally in the skin and it helps to keep moisture in skin creams (and in the skin). It also helps products to spread easily. Glycerin attracts water to itself, which is how it helps to prevent water loss and therefore dryness in the skin. In its pure form it’s not terribly helpful as it can be too potent, attracting too much water from the lower layers of the skin to the surface. So balance is the key. When it’s used in cosmetics, Glycerin will be balanced with other ingredients so it’s a positive one to have in there!
What is Panthenol?
Panthenol is derived from vitamin B5 and it’s a kind little ingredient on the skin. It acts as a lubricant on the skin’s surface, keeping it smooth and soft. It also works well to soothe the skin.
What is Alcohol?
This ingredient creates a bit of controversy depending on what form it is and how much of it is in a product. Alcohol comes in many forms and that’s important to know because they are vastly different in what they do. There are alcohols that do have humectant properties (glycols like ethylene glycol and propylene glycol) and they can help to deliver important active ingredients into the skin more effectively. There are also fatty alcohols that help to cleanse the skin. The alcohols that can be problematic and can cause dryness in high doses are: ethanol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, methanol, benzyl alcohol, isopropyl, and SD alcohol. You need to worry about these when they are listed at the top of an ingredients list; it means that they’re present in larger quantities.
What are Parabens?
Parabens are commonly used in cosmetics as preservatives and help to kill bacteria and fungus so they keep cosmetics organism-free. The most common Parabens are: methylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben. They’re used in all kinds of cosmetics but have been known to irritate some skin types, causing contact dermatitis. There have been questions raised about parabens and their relationship to cancer. Tests thus far have not confirmed any risk or relationship, though now many consumers prefer to avoid parabens altogether. Nowadays many companies are offering paraben-free options for those who feel cautious.
What is Isopropyl Palmtiate?
Isopropyl Palmtiate is commonly used to bind ingredients and it’s also used an emollient in cosmetics. In large amounts it can potentially clog pores but aside from this it’s a safe ingredient.
What is Parfum?
This is just the European name for fragrance or perfume. Fragrance can be natural (essential oils) but more often than not if it’s listed as ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ it will be artificial. Parfum makes products smell nice but it’s not always ideal for sensitive skin types as it can cause irritations. Many companies these days are artificial fragrance-free to prevent reactions. Fragrance doesn’t contribute anything to your skincare other than a ‘smell’.
What is Tocopheryl Acetate?
This is just an ester of vitamin E, which means it’s been converted and stabilized.
What is Aloe?
Is Aloe Vera and is widely known for its hydrating and soothing properties. It’s over 90% water; therefore, it’s used to soothe and calm and to deliver moisture to the skin. The great thing about aloe is that it’s not occlusive on the skin so it doesn’t keep heat in. This is a very kind ingredient in cosmetics indeed!
What is Salicylic Acid?
Are the bee’s knees for clogged skin! Willow bark is where salicylic acid is naturally derived from. It has antiseptic and fungicidal properties but it’s used frequently to treat acne and can also be found in products for uneven skin tone and age prevention. It works to exfoliate the skin and because it’s oil soluble (unlike AHAs) it can unplug oily blockages from pores. In cosmetics it’s used in low dosages and it’s still potent. In salon and medical skin treatments it’s used in stronger dosages in skin peel treatments.
What are Ceramides?
These are naturally found in our skin – they’re part of our protective ‘fatty layer’ on top of our skin, which has a barrier function. Ceramides prevent water loss and adding them to cosmetics can help to restore our skin’s barrier function.
What are Fatty Acids?
These are used in cosmetics mainly as emollients, thickening agents, and, when mixed with glycerin they become cleansing agents and create ‘soapiness’. Fatty acids are found naturally in the skin and are part of the protective barrier layer on top of the skin, which prevents water loss and infection.
What are Humectants?
Humectants help to keep moisture in the skin and they help to maintain moisture in cosmetics. Humectants attract moisture from the atmosphere and draw it in. Common humectants are glycerin, sorbitol, propylene and glycol.
What is Lanolin?
This comes from sheep’s wool fat. It’s a thick substance commonly used as an emulsifier and for its emollience – it holds water in the skin. Because of its fatty texture, it’s not ideal for oily and problem skin types.
What is Dimethicone?
Dimethicone is a silicone oil, derived from silica. It’s commonly used in cosmetics as an emollient. It feels silky and holds water in the skin. This ingredient has had a fair bit of myth around it with some saying that it ‘suffocates’ the skin but silicones have been used in burn units for years due to of their healing and protective properties and their ability to ‘breathe’.
What is Shea Butter?
She Butter is the natural fat from the fruit of the karate tree. It’s a really widely used ingredient for its nourishing properties and antioxidants. It has always been considered a very safe ingredient.
What is Sodium Laureth Sulfate?
This is widely used for its ‘cleansing’ properties and is often found in cleansers and shampoos. It is a milder cleansing agent than sodium lauryl sulfate (they are definitely not the same), though Sodium Laureth Sulfate has still been known to cause some skin irritations and this tends to be the case when it’s in a concentrated form. Many companies are now Sodium Laureth Sulfate-free because of the tendency for some skins to react.
A little bit about our guest expert Allison Browning…
Allison has worked in the health and beauty industry for over fifteen years, in Australia and internationally. Working extensively with problem skins, Allison’s approach combines scientific and holistic philosophies to treat both skin concerns and the causes behind them.
Allison has been acclaimed for her skin recommendations, professional skin and body treatments and her famous eyebrow shaping. Allison attracts clients Australia wide. She offers expert advice at Adore Beauty and treats clients in her own Melbourne-based practice.
Beauty and Lace is an online magazine for women. We hope you enjoyed this article!