Ever wonder exactly what a peptide is? Or what's so great about argan oil? Here, we demystify a few of the most common skin care ingredients that promise to smooth, firm and plump. (And check back soon-we'll continue to update our skin care ingredient glossary as we learn about new exciting ingredients.)
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis): Aloe is a succulent perennial of the lily family that is native to Africa and commercially grown in warm and tropical climates around the world. The gel is rich in beneficial polysaccharides and amino acids and has been used to soothe the skin for more than 2,500 years. It is used externally to rebalance dryness and calm delicate skin.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids: This family of acids smooth and soften skin, even skin tone and stimulate the growth of connective fibers. Ultimately they can improve overall moisture, as well as the appearance of wrinkles. Also known as glycolic or lactic acid.
Argan oil: Extracted from the kernels of the Moroccan argan tree. The resulting oil has long been valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties. Incredibly rich in vitamin E, essential fatty acids and proteins, argan oil helps fight lines, repair imperfections, minimize scars and stretch marks, restore texture, elasticity and tone, and reduce inflammation.
Ascorbic Acid: A potent antioxidant that helps scavenge free radicals that can cause aging. A form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid plays an important role in the skin's natural restorative process.
Avocado Oil (Persea gratissima): A rich oil that contains beneficial fatty acids to nurture the skin and protect it from moisture loss and dehydration. It helps to rebalance dryness and comforts delicate skin.
Beeswax (Cera alba): A natural wax used as an emulsifier and thickener that is sourced from the honeycomb of bees.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Known for its bright yellow and orange flowers, calendula has soothing properties and has been used to rebalance sensitivity on the skin and throughout the body.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): Chamomile is known to have hydrating and calming properties. It rebalances dryness and helps restore the skin's radiance and freshness.
Ginkgo Biloba: The ginkgo is the oldest living tree species, and geological records indicate that it has been growing on earth for 150-200 million years. Ginkgo has powerful antioxidant properties and helps to reduce the visible signs of aging by protecting and firming the skin.
Glycerin: A natural humectant, excellent for smoothing and moisturizing the skin, that helps to prevent moisture loss and skin dehydration.
Grape Seed (Vitis vinifera): Rich in natural plant antioxidants that are beneficial to the skin and help to reduce visible signs of aging. It helps maintain a smooth, balanced and enlivened complexion by protecting the skin from free radical damage.
Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia chinensis): Derived from jojoba seed, this highly moisturizing oil is naturally rich in proteins, minerals, vitamin E and myristic acid, essential nutrients for healthy skin.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): A hydrating and calming ingredient that's used in aromatherapy and cosmetic preparations. It is used to rebalance dryness on the skin leaving it feeling refreshed and hydrated. (Read more)
Lactic Acid: A natural acid derived from the fermentation of vegetable starch. It is generally used as a pH acidity/alkalinity-adjusting agent and skin smoother.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis): Marshmallow root contains a high percentage of natural mucilage, giving extracts of marshmallow root a thick, syrup-like consistency. This humectant quality gives marshmallow its intensive hydrating and softening properties that help to rebalance dryness on the skin.
Peptides: These molecules are formed when collagen breaks down. Because it's a protein, collagen is made of long chains of amino acids, and when small segments break off, they form peptides, which in turn signal your skin to create new collagen. According to Ben Fuchs, they improve just about any chemical reaction you want to catalyze on your skin. Also known as: dipeptides, tetrapeptides, peptapeptides, etc.
Plant Stem Cells: Much like the stem cells in the human body, plant stem cells have the potential to develop into various types of cells, and can repair and replace damaged cells by dividing almost limitlessly. In the basal layer of the epidermis (the deepest layer of the outer surface of the skin), stem cells divide and replace lost or dying cells. They also repair the skin when it suffers injury. The epidermis is in a constant state of renewal, sloughing cells every single day, so it requires non-stop cell replacement.
Researchers have found a number of plant-based sources from which stem cells can be harvested (including Edelweiss, Gotu Kola and a rare Swiss apple called Uttwiler Spätlaube) and used to mimic the body's own replenishing stem cells.
Pumpkin Enzyme: When pumpkin seeds mature, pumpkin's proteolytic enzymes begin to degrade the plant in order to create a fertile environment for the seeds to develop. In skin care products, these enzymes are used for exfoliating skin, leaving it healthy-looking and refreshed.
Retinyl Palmitate: This oil-soluble form of vitamin A is readily absorbed into the skin to provide antioxidant benefit while rebalancing dryness.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Rosemary contains potent antioxidants and a natural compound called ursolic acid that has skin-restorative properties. Rosemary invigorates, restores and enlivens the skin and scalp, rebalancing oiliness. Its essential oil also has a reputation for enhancing focus and memory during stressful times. (Read more)
Shea Butter (Butyrospermum parkii): A natural, waxy plant extract used as an emollient to help moisturize, soften and smooth the skin, keeping it supple.
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia): A narrow-leafed paper bark, tea tree is a member of an extensive botanical family that releases powerful essential oils. It's taken from a bush that's native to the northeast coast of Australia, and has long been used by Australian aborigines for its healing properties. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and a cleansing agent that rebalances oiliness on the skin. (Read more)
Vitamin A: Skin cells divide rapidly, and vitamin A helps them grow at the right pace. It's also an important vitamin for stimulating collagen production. Also known as retinol or retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid (prescription strength).
Vitamin C: This one has powerful antioxidant properties, and turns on production of the skin's own moisture factors. "The most powerful, effective forms are the stable, fatty forms," says Fuchs, such as ascorbyl palmitate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate.