Your Skin Care Ingredient Glossary

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.

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.

Essential oil: A highly concentrated oil that is made through a distillation process of a single special plant with therapeutic benefits. In skin care, most essential oils need to be diluted with a carrier oil before using.

Esters: These fatty substances found in essential oils that are created when an organic acid combines with alcohol. Esters smooth the skin’s texture and don’t feel oily on the skin like other emollients. Esters can be very fragrant and some have anti-microbial and antibacterial properties.

Fragrance: The term “fragrance” may be an undisclosed mixture of various scent ingredients (synthetic chemicals or natural), as companies are not required to list individual fragrance ingredients on labels. Look for beauty products that plainly state what is creating the scent—fragrance should be followed by a list of actual ingredients in parentheses. Or choose products that use essential oils for scent instead of the term “fragrance (parfum).” It’s important to note that skin care lines may not list the ingredients that make up their fragrance blends simply because they are proprietary. So while full transparency is ideal, if a product lists “fragrance” on the label, it does not necessarily mean that the fragrance is synthetic.

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.

Gotu kola (Pennywort): An herb native to Asian wetlands, it boosts collagen production in skin and decreases inflammation. It’s also rich in compounds (triternene saponins) that make skin tighter and firmer, and is a good source of flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that protect skin from free radical damage. Gotu kola improves blood circulation, thus speeding up the skin’s healing process and helping to treat varicose veins and broken capillaries.

Glycerin: A natural humectant, excellent for smoothing and moisturizing the skin, that helps to prevent moisture loss and skin dehydration.

Grapeseed (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.

Hyaluronic acid (HA): A substance found naturally in our skin, connective tissue and eyes. HA molecules hold a thousand times their weight in water, so they are very effective at retaining moisture and preventing it from evaporating. HA is a humectant, drawing moisture into the skin to plump it up so skin looks and feels softer and smoother, and fine lines and wrinkles are less noticeable.

Jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis): Derived from jojoba seed, this highly moisturizing oil is naturally rich in proteins, minerals, vitamin E and myristic acid, all 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.

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.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): The dried roots of this herb contain the compounds glabridin, a potent antioxidant that protects the skin from UV damage, and licochalcone, which calms sensitive or irritated skin and balances oil production. These compounds can help minimize dark circles under the eye, brighten skin and lighten age spots.

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.

Marula oil: This antioxidant-rich oil is obtained from the kernels of the fruits of the African Marula tree. It’s rich in essential fatty acids that mimic those that exist naturally in the outer layer of the skin, so it absorbs quickly, doesn’t feel oily and won’t clog pores. It contains antioxidants to protect the skin, and is ideal for soothing dry or chapped skin.

Mongongo oil: Produced from the seeds of the African mongongo or manketti tree, this oil has a high concentration of linoleic acid, a fatty acid that protects skin by acting as a barrier to prevent moisture from escaping. It smooths the skin surface and diminishes fine lines and wrinkles. It’s also rich in eleosteric acid, which reacts with UV rays to create a natural protective barrier against potential sun damage.

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. They improve just about any chemical reaction you want to catalyze on your skin. Also known as: dipeptides, tetrapeptides, peptapeptides, etc.

Plant extracts: Made from plant parts that are cold pressed or soaked in a liquid in order to extract, or isolate, a certain flavor or quality of the plant. Extracts are far less concentrated than essential oils and are usually used as fragrances or in cooking.

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 benefits while rebalancing dryness.

Rose oil (Rosa damascena): Petals of this plant are steam distilled to produce an essential oil. It’s often used as a fragrance and its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it a good choice for treating acne or irritated skin.

Rosehip oil (Rosa canina): Cold-pressed from the fruits of the wild rose plant, it’s packed with powerful antioxidants vitamin E, C and beta carotene, along with vitamin A and essential fatty acids. It is effective at soothing dry, itchy or inflamed skin, and it can help brighten and lighten dark spots.

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.

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.

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, retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid (prescription strength).

Vitamin B3 (niacinamide): A vitamin used in water-based serums that works to prevent water loss and retain skin’s moisture content. It increases keratin to smooth out skin texture and reduce the look of wrinkles, evens out skin tone and improves the appearance of enlarged pores.

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, such as ascorbyl palmitate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate.

Wild carrot seed oil (Daucus carota): This cold-pressed oil is derived from seeds of the wild carrot plant (commonly known as Queen Anne’s lace). It is a powerful antioxidant that prevents skin damage from environmental stressors and contains high concentrations of carotol, a compound that revitalizes tired skin and helps restore skin elasticity for a firmer appearance. The oil is good for all skin types, especially sensitive or sun-damaged skin.

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