Skincare Ingredients Glossary

May 12, 2021

We’ve compiled a list of the most popular ingredients in skincare as well as the top trendy ingredients you are probably already using but have no clue what they actually do. Knowledge is power, so start getting to know your labels.

Alcohol: This is a group of organic compounds that come in both good and bad forms. The bad ones that you should look out for are ethanol or ethyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol. These forms of low-molecular weight alcohols may be drying, or damaging to the skin's moisture barrier.

Aloe Vera: A very common plant extract that soothes and hydrates the skin. Although this ingredient is not always as miraculous as the industry may make it out to be, Aloe Vera provides antioxidant benefits as well as refreshing effects for sunburnt skin.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acid (AHA): These are exfoliating ingredients that are either synthetic or derived from milk and fruit sugars. The most common ones being lactic acid and glycolic acid. These AHAs break down dead skin cells and help you achieve brighter skin.

Antioxidants: A group of synthetic or natural ingredients that protect the skin from free radicals and other stressors. Most used antioxidants are niacinamide, vitamins E and C, green tea and lycopene.

Benzoyl Peroxide: Popular over-the-counter antibacterial agent that is very effective in killing bacteria and healing acne symptoms.

Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA): This oil-soluble ingredient is very beneficial to help clear acne and blackheads by deeply penetrating and exfoliating the pores. Salicylic acid is the most popular BHA used in skincare products.

Botanicals: This is a general term used to reference “natural” or plant-derived ingredients. These are not always organic or fully beneficial to your skin.

Caffeine: This is an antioxidant-containing stimulant mostly included in certain skincare products to help reduce cellulite or puffy eyes. When applied topically it may feel soothing and reduce redness on the skin. Certain skin types may find it has irritating effects. 

Collagen: A fibrous protein derived from animals that keeps moisture locked into the skin. When applied topically, it can help the body to produce more of its own natural collagen, and when ingested, it can increase the skin’s elasticity.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): Our bodies produce this naturally, however this fat-soluble ingredient has soothing antioxidant effects when applied on the skin.

Clay: This is a widely-used ingredient that derives from a variety of natural sources and helps to absorb any excess oils in the skin and cleans out pores. One of the most popular is bentonite clay, which comes from volcanic ash sediments.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA): An ingredient derived from sugar that is found in most self-tanners. It reacts to the skin’s amino acids and affects the skin’s top layers, turning them into a darker shade of brown.

Elastin: A natural component that helps the skin retain moisture and gives it flexibility.

Emollient: An ingredient that is both hydrating and thickening, which helps the skin hold onto moisture for a prolonged period of time. Natural emollients include plant oils, mineral oil, cocoa butters, shea, and fatty acids. There are other emollients that provide products with their creamy texture, like petrolatum, lecithin, triglycerides, benzoates, myristates and palmitates.

Glycerin: A humectant found naturally which helps maintain moisturized and soft healthy skin.

Glycolic Acid: This exfoliating ingredient is widely used to treat blackheads. It minimizes pore size, regulates oil productions and brightens the skin.

Green Tea: This popular ingredient is often used to soothe and improve the appearance of skin damaged by the sun. This antioxidant-containing ingredient also provides anti-aging benefits.

Humectant: A substance to help skin retain moisture from products. These can be natural or synthetic, such as aloe, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, silicone and propylene glycol.

Hyaluronic acid (HA): This component is naturally created in skin tissue which is re-created synthetically to aid in restoring, hydrating and protecting the skin from the environment.

Jojoba Oil: A fragrance-free plant oil that is very effective at treating dry skin. It is much lighter than other oils such as argan and coconut.

Micellar Water: This skin tonic is a French beauty staple and has been found in many skincare products since 2020. It can act as a makeup remover, cleanser and toner.

Mineral Oil: A byproduct of petroleum that is odorless and colorless, and is mostly used in moisturizers for its ability to soothe and hydrate the skin. Mineral oil can clog pores for some people, but it isn’t as harmful as it is sometimes made up to be.

Mupirocin: An antibiotic used to treat skin infections such as impetigo. Used topically, it helps to slow the growth of certain bacteria.

Niacinamide: Also known as Vitamin B3, helps to brighten the skin, has anti-aging properties and helps to repair damaged skin barriers.

Panthenol: Also known as Vitamin B5, this ingredient is known for its deeply moisturizing properties and also helps with healing wounds.  It also has anti-inflammatory benefits.

Phthalate: A salt of phthalic acid that is mostly used in hair sprays and nail polishes. These have been used in common products for decades, but due to recent health concerns, most brands have made new phthalate-free formulas.

Retinol: Over-the-counter vitamin A derivatives, this exfoliant is often used to reduce wrinkles and scars, clear skin and smooth out skin texture. It has anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-acne properties.

Silicone: A substance derived from silica that provides a silky, slippery texture and can help smooth out the look of pores. Silicone is not a dangerous ingredient and does not suffocate the skin. Some typical types found in skincare products are cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone and phenyl trimethicone.

Sodium Hyaluronate: A salt derived from hyaluronic acid. It is considered a great moisturizing ingredient and is highly absorbent.

Sulfate: A group of cleansing agents used in many face washes. Most popular sulfates include sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate, which can cause dryness when left on the skin for too long or used too often. 

Tretinoin: This ingredient derives from Vitamin A and is usually used to treat and prevent chronic acne. It can also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and sun damage.

Triamcinolone Acetonide: It is a corticosteroid used to treat skin conditions like eczema, allergies, dermatitis and rashes. It can reduce swelling, redness and itching caused by these skin conditions.

Vitamin E: An antioxidant that protects the skin against antioxidant damage. Both the natural and synthetic versions of this ingredient are both highly effective.

Titanium Oxide: A mineral derived from the earth used in natural sunscreens and does not irritate sensitive skin. 

Zinc Oxide: Often used alongside titanium dioxide, this is mostly used as another natural sunscreen ingredient for sensitive skin.