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GOOD SKIN Blog

Every Term You’ve Ever Googled: The Big, Badass Skincare Glossary

Here at Versed, we’re all about simplifying skincare and helping you understand your skin. Today, we’re doing our part by providing you with a big, badass skincare glossary that contains just about every oil, extract, and technique you could ever Google…except now you don’t have to, because we’ve gathered them (and explained them) all in one place. Keep scrolling to see a glossary of important skincare definitions for your easy reference.

A

AGING SKIN

Aging is natural. Signs of aging skin include sagginess, fine lines and wrinkles, and dark spots or uneven tone. You start producing less collagen around your mid-to-late 20s, which basically means your skin starts to lose its ability to bounce back. And your skin also naturally produces less and less oil as you mature, which makes lines more visible. Unprotected exposure to the sun, environmental damage, and lifestyle factors can all worsen the signs of aging. Eyes often show signs of aging first because of the delicate thin skin there.

ALOE LEAF JUICE (ALOE VERA)

Derived from the leaf of the aloe plant, aloe leaf juice is a super anti-inflammatory ingredient containing antioxidants, enzymes, and vitamins that soothes and hydrates the skin. It often creates a cooling and refreshing effect, making it a hero for sunburns, problem skin, and dry skin.

ALCOHOL

There are two types of alcohol in skincare: the good and the bad. The good kind of alcohol, stearyl alcohol, is used as a fatty acid to benefit skin. The bad kind, denatured alcohol, is used to make the creams thinner but often dries and irritates skin. See below for more.

ALPHA HYDROXY ACID (AHA)

A powerful ingredient (both naturally occurring and synthetic) used in anti-aging and brightening products, AHA has the ability of loosening what binds the surface skin cells together, whisking the dead skin cells away. It’s great for unclogging pores, rejuvenating your complexion, and improving skin texture and tone. The common AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid.

AMINO ACIDS

Amino acids are building blocks that help facilitate collagen production (more on that below). Essentially they support your skin’s structure (the bounce, shape, etc.) They’re also responsible for maintaining skin’s hydration, texture, and elasticity. Sun damage, aging, and environmental pollutants can all contribute to reducing the amino acids in your skin.

ANTIOXIDANT

You can find sources of antioxidants pretty much anywhere in nature—berries, grapes, nuts, plants, and more. When used in skincare, antioxidants protect your skin by preventing or slowing cellular damage. They also combat free-radicals (more on those below), which damage your skin which leads to hyperpigmentation, loss of elasticity, and premature aging.

AVOBENZONE

A type of chemical used in sunscreen that absorbs UVA rays. In some cases, avobenzone can cause allergic reactions especially to those with sensitive skin. Recently, all chemical sunscreens have been banned in Hawaii because of the damage they cause to the coral reefs.

AVOCADO OIL

Packed with vitamin A, D, and E, essential fatty acids, and potassium, avocado oil is a great source of nutrients in your diet and your skincare. In skincare, it is known for its moisturizing and nourishing properties.

 

B

BENTONITE

Bentonite is an absorbent clay, often formed from weathering of volcanic ash, that is commonly used in cleansers and masks. It pulls out impurities in your skin, like oil and bacteria; unclogging pores and removing dead skin cells.

BETA HYDROXY ACID (BHA)

Similar to AHAs, BHAs are chemical exfoliating agents. Unlike AHAs, BHAs go deeply into your pores to dissolve and clear out the sebum (oil), dead skin cells, and bacteria. One of the most popular BHA acids include salicylic acid that is commonly used to combat blemishes.

BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA)

Unlike the other BHA, this BHA is a synthetic antioxidant that is used as a preservative and defoaming agent in foods. When butylated hydroxyanisole is used in beauty products, it is associated with hormone disruption, organ system and reproductive toxicity, and even cancer in severe situations.

BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT)

Another synthetic preservative that can end up in beauty products, BHT stabilizes fats and is used to retain food smell, color, and flavor. Just like BHA above, it could cause hormone disruption, organ system and reproductive toxicity, and even cancer in severe cases.

BLACKHEAD

These tiny dark bumps form when dead skin cells on the surface of your skin blocks the oil in your pores. Since the trapped oil is exposed to air, it darkens to form that black color, and becomes annoyingly visible to the world. They are best removed when extracted by skin professional.

 

C

CAFFEINE

In both natural (from plant leaves and seeds) or synthetic, caffeine is a stimulant known to perk people up and in skincare it’s powerful ingredient for depuffing and reducing redness. That’s why caffeine is often a hero ingredient in eye care products.

CALENDULA FLOWER EXTRACT

Coming from the bright orange calendula flower, it has the power of healing redness, acne, and sunburns. When it’s used in skincare, calendula extract stimulates collagen production and keeps your skin hydrated. Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties also makes it suitable for sensitive skin and people with eczema.  

CAMELLIA OIL

Originating in Japan and a longtime beauty secret of geishas, camellia oil (which comes from the camellia flower) is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and omegas. Its non-greasy texture helps keep skin and hair moisturized.

CELL TURNOVER

Cell turnover is the process by which our bodies produce new skin cells and they travel up from the deep layers of the skin to the surface. The skin cells you remove with exfoliation are the oldest (and deadest) cells. Our cell turnover rate slows with age, but powerful anti-aging ingredients like vitamin A (retinol) can help increase that rate.

CERAMIDES

These are lipids, or fatty acids, that occur naturally in the skin. Adding ceramides to skincare products allows the skin to retain moisture, which means that the skin stays plump and hydrated over time.

CITRIC ACID

Found in many different citrus fruits (like lemons), citric acid acts as a natural preservative and exfoliant under the family of AHA. It has the ability to whisk away the superficial layer of your skin and promote the regrowth of new skin cells.

COMBINATION SKIN

This skin type, just like how it sounds, is a mix of oily and dry skin. Typically, the T-zone and the chin are more prone to oil, and cheeks tend to be drier. However, people with combination skin usually lean toward either side, making them combination-dry, or combination-oily.

COLLAGEN

It is the most abundant protein in your body, and it’s what gives your skin firmness and bounce. While it plays such a big part in the elasticity of your skin (more on elastin below), unfortunately collagen does break down naturally as you age, leading to sagging. Collagen production can be stimulated by anti-aging products (like retinol). Collagen only comes from animal sources, but there are some vegan alternatives to be used in skincare.

CUCUMBER JUICE

When ingested, cucumbers are a refreshing snack; in skincare, cucumber juice extracted from the cucumbers also have many benefits. In addition to its highly hydrating content that keeps the skin moisturized while reducing puffiness (which is why you see people putting slices of cucumber directly onto their eyes), it is also a good choice for inflamed or irritated skin, too.

CYSTIC ACNE

Pimples form when pores get clogged with either dead skin cells or oil, and when bacteria joins the party, the area gets red and inflamed. Cystic acne occurs when the infection gets deep below skin’s surface, often causing pain. Cysts are usually firm, swollen, and red, and you often feel like they are growing under your skin since there is no pop of a “head” on the surface. Don’t try to pop this type of breakout as you’ll likely push the infection deeper into the skin. Avoid drying treatments as well as you’ll simply dry out the surface layer of your skin.


D

DARK SPOTS

Dark spots, brown spots, sun spots, whatever you call themit’s hyperpigmentation, often caused by sun damage, scarring from inflammation (like acne), or natural aging. Dark Spots are essentially an overproduction of melanin, which is what gives your skin and hair their color. To help with that, look for brightening and exfoliating products.

DARK CIRCLES

The stubborn, lingering darkness under your eyes. Much of what you’re actually seeing is blood pooled up due to low circulation. It’s visible because the skin under your eyes is so thin. The number one cause of dark circles is genetics, but lack of sleep and diet also play a role. In addition to using brightening ingredients, work on stimulating circulation through facial massage or using a stone roller or massager.

DEHYDRATED SKIN

This is a skin concern (not a skin type) signaling that your skin is lacking and having trouble retaining water. Even people with oily skin can experience dehydration since hydration levels are not tied to oil production.

DENATURED ALCOHOL (SD ALCOHOL)

The “bad” alcohol in skincare. Denatured contains an additional denaturant ingredient that makes the alcohol undrinkable and makes your skincare products last longer. It is typically in face creams to make them feels lighter. Ultimately, it’s a very raw and harsh form of alcohol that can cause irritation, dryness, and in some cases breakouts.

DERMAPLANING

A technique of using a sterile single-edge blade to scrape off the superficial, outer layer of your skin where the dead skin cells live. It is a form of physical exfoliation that softens and brightening skin and is suitable for all skin types. Most often it’s performed by a skin professional but there are at-home tools as well.

DERMIS

The inner layer of skin beneath the epidermis (the outermost layer) and above the hypodermis (the third layer of skin that is made of fat and connective tissue right above your muscles; skincare doesn’t reach this layer). It’s the middle-man that contains connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands.

DOUBLE CLEANSE

A two-step cleansing process developed and made famous by Korean beauty to ensure your skin is totally clean and prepped to absorb your products. The first step uses oil-based cleansers, like oils or balms, to remove makeup and wash away impurities. The second step usually involves a gel, cream, foaming, or treatment cleanser to remove any leftover dirt and bacteria you missed the first time.

DULLNESS

Dullness refers to skin that doesn’t look as bright and radiant as you want it to—it’s uneven and may have dark spots. Dullness can be impacted by lifestyle, environmental pollutants, and diet, and can be improved with antioxidants, exfoliation, and brightening ingredients.

DRYNESS

Dryness is a skin concern, resulting in tight, itchy, even flaky skin, that can affect all skin types, even oily skin. But most often it’s a concern for people with dry skin and dehydrated skin. Dryness can be exacerbated by dry climate, heavy air conditioning or heating, and harsh, stripping ingredients in skincare products, like SD Alcohol.
DRY SKIN

Dry skin, not to be confused with dehydrated skin, is a skin type that lacks oil or isn’t producing enough oil on its own. Dry skin will always need help in replenishing moisture in the skin; use rich, emollient products like creams and oils to give it the moisture it craves.


E

ELASTIN
Elastin is a protein in your skin that allows your skin to bounce back to its original shape after you touch it. Collagen and elastin are essentially the building blocks of healthy, plump skin. When the elastin starts to decrease as you mature, it results in thinner skin and signs of aging like sagginess. Elastin production can be stimulated by anti-aging products (like retinol).

EPIDERMIS

The outermost layer of skin that provides a waterproof barrier to your body. It is consists of 5 layers called the stratum corneum, stratum lucidum, stratum granulosum, stratum spinosum, and stratum basale.  

EUCALYPTUS OIL

Coming from eucalyptus trees, eucalyptus oil not only does it smell good, but has powerful anti-bacterial properties that makes it the perfect ingredient for cleansing and purifying. And it won’t clog pores.  

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

These are the fatty acids that your body isn’t able to produce on its own. They’re often found in food sources and can be ingested or supplied through skincare. Omega 3s and 6s are essential fatty acids that support your overall health and keep your skin hydrated, plump, and youthful looking.

EXFOLIATION

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from your skin. It can be both physical or manual (using a scrub or tool to slough off dead skin cells) and chemical (with acids or enzymes that dissolve dead skin cells).


F

FACIAL MASSAGE

This is a technique commonly used to de-puff and awaken dull, tired skin. Start by applying a frictionless skincare product, such as a moisturizer or facial oil, and begin to gently massage the skin in circular motions, moving up and out from the center of your face. It stimulates lymphatic drainage (in other words, it will drain stagnant fluid that may be collecting underneath the skin). This encourages a bright, refreshed, and naturally contoured complexion to appear.

FACIAL ROLLER

A facial roller (sometimes referred to as a stone roller) is a tool that’s made from a firm material, such as jade or rose quartz, for the purpose of facial massage. Roll one gently over the skin to reap the de-puffing and awakening benefits of facial massage. Pro tip: place one in your fridge for a cool and refreshing effect.

FRAGRANCE

The ingredients that make up “fragrance” on an ingredient list can be anything since brands don’t have to disclose this information. There could be hundreds or even thousands of ingredients making up that ingredient of “fragrance.” The mystery blend of alcohol, natural or synthetic oils, and other chemicals can often cause skin irritations. According to Environment Working Group, fragrance is the number one cause of allergic reactions in skincare products.

FREE RADICALS

This is a term you’ve likely heard in relation to aging and pollution. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules produced inside the body by things such as sunlight, cigarette smoke, and environmental pollution. They latch onto and damage cells, resulting in roughness, sagging, wrinkling, and other signs of aging. Antioxidants work to neutralize them.

FORMALDEHYDE

A colorless, strong-smelling gas that’s used in different industries and products including building materials, walls, cabinets, furniture, and personal care products as a type of preservative. It has been banned or restricted in Japan, Sweden, the European Union, and Canada because of its link to cancer, and yet it is still not banned in the United States.


G

GINSENG ROOT EXTRACT

Coming from the ginseng root (the best part of ginseng plant), it is often referred to as the super-herb in Eastern culture. This anti-aging and skin brightening antioxidant has a long list of benefits including boosting blood circulation, firming skin, protecting your skin from environmental pollutants, and more.

GLYCERIN

Glycerin is a humectant, which means it pulls moisture from the atmosphere to hydrate the skin. It’s commonly found in moisturizers and hydrating products. It’s an effective and inexpensive skincare ingredient, which explains why it’s so pervasive.

GLYCOLIC ACID

This is a powerful exfoliating acid that belongs to the aforementioned AHA category. It’s derived from sugarcane, and it’s included in skincare products for the purpose of removing dead skin and any other pore-clogging impurities. As such, it leads to smooth texture and an even and bright complexion. It works particularly well on fine lines, wrinkles, and other forms of sun damage.

GREEN TEA EXTRACT

This is a popular ingredient in skincare, which is extracted from (you guessed it) green tea leaves. It’s a potent antioxidant that fights free radicals and quells inflammation and redness. As such, it’s typically found in face creams and lotions and is great for sensitive, acne-prone, and aging skin.


H

HYALURONIC ACID

This is another popular skincare ingredient that’s found naturally in the skin. It’s technically a sugar molecule that increases the skin’s moisture content and actively prevents water loss, which makes it a great ingredient for people who struggle with dry and dehydrated skin. In fact, it can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water.

HUMECTANTS

This term doesn’t refer to a specific ingredient so much as it refers to a category or class of moisturizing ingredients. These moisturizing ingredients pull water into the skin from the atmosphere, keeping it plump and hydrated.

HYDROQUINONE

You can find this ingredient in many bleaching creams as a pigment lightening agent. Unlike the other brightening ingredients like vitamin C, it’s a much harsher and aggressive ingredient that can potentially lead to allergic reaction, organ system toxicity, and even cancer. It’s particularly unsafe for darker skin tones, which can adverse reactions to it like burns.

HYPERPIGMENTATION

This is essentially another name for what we call “uneven skin tone.” It refers to an apparent darkening of skin tone triggered by such things as sun exposure (use your SPF, people!), a wound, an illness, hormonal changes, or even certain prescription medications. Hyperpigmentation rears its ugly head in a variety of ways. It might make itself known through a uniform tan, an isolated acne scar, or melasma (which are uneven patches of discoloration).

 

I

INFLAMMATION 

Inflammation is another way of saying your skin is irritated, and it could be from the external environmental factors or your own body. The symptoms include itchiness, pain, or redness like when you first get a pimple or a rash. Some forms of information are eczema and acne, and they can be affected by the things you eat to your hormone levels. According to how acute or severe your inflammation is, you can treat it with anti-inflammatory treatments containing calming ingredients or with oral medication.

 

J

JOJOBA OIL

This is a lightweight and naturally fragrance-free plant oil used for treating dry skin. Because it’s so lightweight and fast-absorbing, it won’t leave behind the greasy sheen of other plant oils, such as argan or coconut oil. And it’s non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores.


K

KAOLIN CLAY

Kaolin clay, which is also sometimes called China clay, is a type of clay mineral that absorbs excess oil and stamps down shine when applied to the surface of the skin. Like most clays, it also has some mild exfoliating properties. It’s considered to be a mild type of clay and, as such, it’s recommended for use on delicate skin, such as mature or sensitive skin.

KOJIC ACID

This is an exfoliating acid that’s popular in Japan. It’s derived from fungi and commonly used as a skin lightener, due to its efficacy at blocking melanin production. Like most acids, it can cause irritation when used in high concentrations, so be wary.


L

LACTIC ACID

This AHA is derived from milk, however there are synthetic forms as well. It gently exfoliates the surface of the skin, while providing a natural moisturizing effect as well. The key word is ‘gentle,’ as lactic acid is even safe for use on people with rosacea or other forms of sensitivity.

LICORICE ROOT EXTRACT

Coming from the licorice plant originating in southern Asia, this extract is a natural skin-brightening hero. Its powerful antioxidants help reduce the appearance of the stubborn under-eye circles, discoloration, and dark spots. It works to even out your skin tone and diminish pigmentation caused by sun damage, scars or just natural, human, aging.


M

MELANIN

The pigment that gives hair and skin their color. Hyperpigmentation and dark spots are a result of patches of excess melanin; it can be caused by age, sun damage, and more.

MINERAL OIL

This odorless and colorless oil, creates a protective layer on your skin, trapping in your natural oils and moisture, but also clogging your pores. As a byproduct of petroleum, mineral oil has been linked to organ system toxicity and even cancer.

MINT

You probably know mint to be cooling and refreshing. It also has antibacterial properties that help soothe and prevent blemishes.

MICRONEEDLE ROLLING

At home microneedling, also referred to as dermarolling, uses a roller tool spiked with teeny tiny needles less than 0.5mm that create microscopic punctures. These little micro-injuries trigger to your body to send collagen to those “injured” cells. It helps your products absorb better (some have linked it to aerating the grass), improves skin texture and tone, and boosts collagen production to help your skin look plump and smooth.


N

NIACINAMIDE

Niacinamide, aka vitamin B3, is a hero ingredient. It’s well known for brightening and so much more, like minimizing the appearance of pores, improving uneven skin tone, boosting elasticity, and strengthening your skin’s overall surface. It’s also very calming and anti-inflammatory, which is why it’s often used in anti-breakout products.  

NONYLPHENOL ETHOXYLATE (NPE) 

NPE a surfactant that was widely used in detergent and pesticide formulations and as an emulsifier. In some studies, NPE has been associated with hormone disruption, extreme aquatic toxicity, irritation, reproductive harm, and birth defects. Although it is restricted in the European Union, it is not regulated in the United States.

 

O

OLIVE OIL

Derived from olives, olive oil not only helps keep the moisture in your skin, but also helps prevent signs of photo-aging and sun damage making it great for hydrating and anti-aging.

OIL PRODUCTION

Everyone’s skin produces oil, it’s the body’s way of moisturizing. An overproduction of oil can result in shiny, oily skin, clogged pores, and acne without proper care. As we age, oil production slows, which leads to drier skin and skin aging.

OILY SKIN

Oily skin over produces oil. Oil production is natural and essential to healthy skin, but people with this skin type often find their skin getting shiny throughout the day.

OXYBENZONE

Oxybenzone is a chemical sunscreen ingredient that absorbs UV rays. Because it can possibly cause biochemical or cellular level changes, hormone disruption, and skin allergies, it needs FDA approval before entering the market. Oxybenzone is banned in Hawaii due to the damage it causes to the coral reefs.

 

P

PARABENS

Parabens are commonly used as preservatives protect cosmetics from bacteria and fungi. Although not restricted by FDA, they are known to disrupt hormone function, mimic estrogen, and possibly increase the risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. To spot parabens in an ingredient list, look for prefixes like methyl, ethyl, propyl or butyl.

PEEL

Facial peels are a type of chemical exfoliation using acids (those AHAs and BHAs) that breaks down dead skin cells, dissolves excess sebum trapped underneath, and allows other products to better and deeply penetrate your skin to do their job. Turn to peels to boost cell turnover and brighten your complexion. They come in all different forms (leave-on lotions, wash off gels, peel pads) and common ingredients in facial peels include lactic acid and glycolic acid.

PETROLEUM

Petroleum is used to soften and smooth the skin by forming a film on the outer layer, which prevents moisture loss. However it can also clog pores, cause allergic reactions and acne, and has been linked to cancer and pulmonary arterial hypertension (aka high blood pressure in the lungs).

PEPTIDES

Peptides are strings of amino acids that make up proteins, like collagen in your skin. Peptides are the foundation for what gives your skin its structure and bounce, which is why they are an important ingredient in firming and texture-smoothing products.

PHTHALATES

Phthalates are essentially a group of diverse materials that make plastics more flexible; commonly used in a wide variety of beauty products including skincare to moisturize and soften the skin, and sometimes dissolve other ingredients, too. Why is it bad? Phthalates have a reputation of hormone disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity. It has been banned in the EU, yet the FDA still rejects taking any regulatory action against it in cosmetics.

PORE

The little, tiny openings or holes on the surface of your skin that act as a tunnel for oil and sweat to come through. When your pores are clogged with access oil or bacteria, acne can form and your pores are then enlarged to make room for the extra stuff in the tunnel.

PH

PH refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity of your skin or ingredient. Normally, your skin is slightly acidic ranging from a pH of 4.4 to 6.7. Although the pH in skincare can tip off your natural level with harsh ingredients, you can also restore it with certain products.

PROBLEM SKIN

A skin type that is prone to breakouts. Whether it’s on your forehead, nose, chin or your cheeks, your pores are easily clogged at least in part due to overproduction of oil. Breakout-prone skin is also characterized by inflammation. Essentially, it’s acting up, sp focus on calming and balancing products and stick to the basics to avoid exacerbating problem spots.   

PROVITAMIN B5

As a hardworking member of the B-complex vitamin family, this skin-conditioning antioxidant is best know for its ability to effectively moisturize and soothe dryness.


R

RED ALGAE EXTRACT

Extracted from red algae, you can think of this ingredient as skin’s moisture guard. It helps to enhance your skin’s barrier layer that locks in the moisture. It also helps replenish skin’s natural moisture to keep it hydrated from the inside out.

RESVERATROL

An antioxidant often found in grapes. Resveratrol is great for fighting free radicals from the environment and the sun. It essentially serves as a guardian for you skin and can brighten up your complexion, too.  

RETINOL

A form of Vitamin A that is known for stimulating the process of cell turnover in your skin (which is good news for all skin concerns, especially problem skin) and increasing collagen production. Retinol is also great for fading hyperpigmentation in your skin, too. It’s the gold standard in anti-aging skincare. It can be irritating to some skin types when used at high concentration, so always ease into a new retinol productstart with once a week and work your way up.  

ROSEWATER

Anti-inflammatory agent rich in antioxidants that helps control excess oil in your skin, reduce redness, calm irritated skin, soothe wrinkles, and clean your pores.

ROSEMARY OIL

Extracted from rosemary herb, rosemary oil is packed with nutrients. It’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatorygreat for calming inflammation and breakouts and keeping pores clear. It also protects skin from free radicals and sun damage and acts as an antioxidant.

ROSEHIP SEED OIL

Rosehip seed oil comes from the fruit of the rose plant. Besides keeping your skin soft and supple, this oil also contains vitamin A that helps even out skin tone and promote cell regeneration, leaving your skin looking brighter and more luminous.


S

SALICYLIC ACID

Unlike lactic and glycolic acid, this exfoliating acid is a BHA. It removes excess oil and shine, while also sloughing away dead skin and other pore-clogging impurities. Due to the fact that it penetrates deeper into pores than other acids, it’s particularly effect at treating (and preventing) acne.

SEBUM

Aka oil in your skin, sebum is a light yellow oily substance that is produced by your oil glands. It consists of some of the things you may have heard of before that your body produces naturally, such as squalene, wax esters, fatty acids, and more. Sebum is not a bad thing, but it can get trapped in your pores and become pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads.

SENSITIVE SKIN

This is a skin type that you are born with and encompassing a range of skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. Often signs of sensitive skin are inflammation, redness, itchiness, and discomfort. People often self-diagnose themselves as having sensitive skin when their skin reacts to a product or ingredient poorly, but what they’re really experiencing is sensitized skin.

SENSITIZED SKIN

Although sensitized skin shares the same signs as sensitive skin, it is caused by outside stimuli. Air pollution (usually in metropolitan areas), lifestyle, or harsh cosmetic ingredients are common contributors to this skin concern. Anyone can develop sensitized skin.

SILICONE

Silicone is known for providing a prettier look to formulas, preventing moisture from evaporating, and creating a blurring or smoothing effect on the skin. It’s the ingredient responsible for the ‘slip’ in complexion products, most often found in personal care products such as serums, primers, foundation, and moisturizers. Dimethicone, an oil-free silicone, is one of the most common. Silicones are not necessarily a bad thing, but not all skin types sit well with them. Some studies have also shown that silicone can worsen problem skin concerns, trap bacteria in pores, and interfere with cell renewal.

SODIUM HYALURONATE

Remember how we said hyaluronic acid is technically a sugar? Well, sodium hyaluronate is its salt counterpart. It’s essentially another form of hyaluronic acid, the two often used interchangeably. Some consider it to be even more effective than hyaluronic acid, since it’s able to absorb more easily into the skin.

SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS)

A souplike detergent agent that lathers easily. It’s a type of sulfate very commonly used in cleaning products, but it can irritate skin and cause damage to the outer layer of skin where the skin proteins live. See Sulfates for more.

SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES)

A modified form of SLS, this sulfate possesses the same characteristics and side effects as SLS, though SLES is known to be slightly more gentle. See Sulfate for more.

SPF

A.k.a. Sun Protection Factor. The number that follows “SPF” indicates how long you can stay under the sun before burning with the sunscreen on, versus your unprotected skin—it’s a measure how long not how strong. SPF can be chemical (with actives like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate) or physical/mineral (using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), or a combination of both. Physical/mineral tends to be more widely tolerated for sensitive skin. Most dermatologists recommend wearing SPF 30 or higher every day (yes, even when it’s cloudy the sun’s rays are still going strong).

STEARYL ALCOHOL

This is the “good” alcohol that is essentially a fat that holds other ingredients together in skincare to give them a silky and soft texture. Part of the fatty alcohol family, stearyl alcohol along with cetyl and cetearyl alcohol are non-irritating and have a smoothing effect on skin.

SQUALANE

Squalene is part of our skin’s natural moisture, but it decreases as we age. Squalane comes from plants and works as effectively as the squalene in our bodies. It instantly hydrates and locks in moisture, replenishing what your skin naturally once had.

SQUALENE

Here’s another effective moisturizing ingredient. Squalene is actually a moisturizer that’s made naturally in the skin. It’s rich in fatty acids and antioxidants, which means it hydrates and fights free radicals simultaneously. Squalene production drops off with age, which is why it’s helpful to use squalane in your skincare products.

SULFATES

A category of strong cleansing agents that can be found in shampoos, cleansers, and body washes. It’s regarded as one of the most aggressive ingredients in personal care. Sulfates can cause irritation, dryness, and also strip your skin and hair of their natural oils. Although it has had associations with cancer, there haven’t been enough studies to prove that correlation yet.

SULFUR

This natural element has been used as a skin treatment for centuries. It kills bacteria, soothes inflammation, and breaks down dead skin cells, which makes it an all-star acne-fighting ingredient.

SURFACTANTS

These are most commonly used as detergents and foaming agents in cleansing products (in other words, they give products that fluffy foamy effect and skin that squeaky clean feel). That might sound like a good thing, but they’re very harsh on the skin, and end up stripping it of moisture and throwing its pH levels off balance.


T

TALC

Talc is a powder commonly used to soften and add a sliding effect to ormulas such as baby powder, eyeshadows, setting powders. Talc can also be used to absorb moisture and add opacity. The FDA has an ongoing research on talc because of its possible link to cancer and organ system toxicity.

TEA TREE OIL

Comes from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil is commonly added to acne treatments to calm redness and reduce swelling and inflammation. It’s a potent essential oil that helps control excess oil, soothe redness, fight bacteria, and prevent blemishes from forming. It’s also helpful in healing acne scars. Plus, its cooling effect and natural refreshing scent create a calming aroma every time it is used.

TITANIUM DIOXIDE

Titanium dioxide is a mineral ingredient used in physical sunscreens that shields the skin from UVA and UVB rays. Since this ingredient reflects the UVA and UVB rays away (basically the ray bounce off it instead of being absorbed into your skin), it is known to be gentle and even safe to use even around the eyes, great for those with sensitive skin.

TRICLOSAN

Triclosan is added to many products such as anti-acne cleansers to reduce and prevent bacterial and fungal contamination. Although it may be effective as acne treatments, high exposure to Triclosan can decrease the levels of some thyroid hormones. More bad news? Triclosan can also contribute to environment toxicity.

TRICLOCARBAN

Triclocarban is an antimicrobial and antibacterial agent that has been used in formulating bath products, cleansing products, and powders. However, this ingredient has had associations with hormone disruption and environment toxicity, and the FDA has ruled that companies will not use it without premarket review due to its safety concerns.

TURMERIC

A longtime favorite ingredient used in ancient Ayurveda and known as the most powerful spice for brightening skin. Because of the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits, turmeric can help reduce redness from acne and calm skin irritations. It also has antiseptic properties that are known to prevent bacteria from spreading, which makes it great for combating blemishes.


U

UVA

The ultraviolet rays from the sun that penetrate deep into the dermis, the second and also thickest layer of your skin. UVA rays cause premature aging and are the culprit for wrinkles caused by sun damage. Wear sunscreen to protect yourself from UVA and UVB rays.

UVB

These ultraviolet rays usually burn the surface layer of your skin, which is what makes you tan. However, protection from UVB rays is crucial because UVB plays a key role in skin cancer. Wear sunscreen to protect yourself from UVA and UVB rays.


V

VITAMIN A

This vitamin promotes growth and repairs body tissues (including skin tissue). That, plus the fact that it stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, makes it an effective anti-aging ingredient. In fact, retinol and retinoic acid are derivatives of Vitamin A, and we all know how powerful these ingredients can be for treating wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of aging.

VITAMIN C

A potent and praised antioxidant that fights free radicals, encourages collagen synthesis (collagen keeps skin looking plump and youthful), and brightens skin. It gently lightens hyperpigmentation (dark spots)—by inhibiting an enzyme that produces pigment in our skin—for a more even and radiant complexion. It helps stimulate production of collagen—one of the building blocks of healthy, youthful skin and something we naturally produce less of as we age—for firmer, smoother skin. And, as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it defends against one of the leading causes of premature skin aging: free radical damage from the sun and pollution.

VITAMIN E

Vitamin E, which is also goes by the name Tocopherol or Tocopherol Acetate, is another powerful antioxidant. It’s essential for protecting the skin from free radicals. It also conditions the surface of the skin, making it feel soft and smooth to the touch.


W

WHITEHEAD

Whiteheads are a form of acne that, like the name says, appear white on your skin. They sit right below the surface of the skin and occur when pores are clogged with dead skin cells or bacteria. Since the trapped sebum isn’t directly open to the skin’s surface, meaning it is not exposed to air, the infection doesn’t oxidize (like with blackheads) and the whitehead remains stays white.

WHITE CHARCOAL

Mineral-rich white charcoal is extremely effective at absorbing impurities, including dirt, bacteria, and other pore-clogging debris, thanks to an extremely porous texture.

WILLOW BARK

Derived from the bark of the willow tree (as the name suggests), this ingredient has been for centuries to soothe irritation and inflammation. Willow bark is a natural BHA, meaning it gently exfoliates, helping to clear pores and it minimizes excess oil and shine. It rebalances oily and breakout-prone skin without over-drying or irritating it.

WITCH HAZEL

Witch hazel, which comes from the leaves and bark of a North American shrub, is a natural astringent commonly reported to have soothing and anti-redness benefits. It tightens the skin, minimizes the look of visible pores, and reduces excess shine.

 

Y

YLANG YLANG OIL

This plant oil is naturally hydrating and conditioning, which means it helps the skin retain moisture and feel soft and smooth. It’s also thought to soothe inflammation and irritation.

 

Z

ZINC

Zinc is a natural element (yes, like the ones you learned about in science class) that’s used in skincare products to heal skin, soothe inflammation, and regulate oil glands. Because acne is essentially inflammation caused in part by pore-clogging oil, zinc is an effective yet gentle (i.e. no drying side effects) acne-fighting ingredient.

ZINC OXIDE

Zinc oxide is a mineral that scatters and reflects UVA and UVB rays, working as a physical sunscreen to shield your skin from the sun’s rays. Zinc oxide is widely accepted as a safe, non-irritating, and effective sun protectant.