Glossary of Skincare Ingredients & Terms
Your glossary of skincare-related terms and ingredients to help better decode all the ingredients listed on the back of beauty products and understand their uses.
The root of all acne is a pore clogged with dirt, dead skin cells, and sebum. Beyond that, there are many ways acne may manifest, such as whiteheads (also called closed comedones), blackheads (also called open comedones), and cystic acne (occurring deeper in the skin). If the acne is inflamed—red, painful, swollen—that’s a sign that bacteria are also involved.
In general, an active ingredient is the ingredient in a skin-care product that’s doing the thing you want the product to do. In an acne cleanser, the active ingredient may be something like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. But, depending on the way the claims are worded on the packaging, the ingredient may or may not be called out in a drug facts box and the product may or may not be considered a drug rather than a cosmetic.
ALCOHOL (SD ALCOHOL)
Undrinkable ethyl alcohol has many uses in skin care. It delivers other ingredients into the skin and drives them deeper down. In toners and acne products, it can help dissolve oil and temporarily tighten pores. When added to certain moisturizers, like gel-based lotions, it makes them less tacky and helps them dry down faster on the face.
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS (AHAS)
These chemicals loosen the fluid that binds surface skin cells together, allowing dead ones to be whisked away. This “glue” becomes denser as we age, slowing down the natural cell-turnover process that reveals younger skin — making AHAs a particularly useful ingredient in fine line-fighting creams and cleansers.
ALPHA LIPOIC ACID
This fatty acid found in all cells in the body contributes to skin’s smoothness. It dissolves in both fat and water, enabling it to penetrate well into all parts of skin cells.
The building blocks of the proteins that make up collagen and elastin — substances that give the skin its structural support. Aging and a combination of external factors (including UV light and environmental toxins) reduce the level of amino acids in the body; creams containing amino acids may help restore them.
Ingredients that can help neutralize free radicals (highly reactive molecules in the environment). When the balance of free radicals and antioxidants in the skin is out of whack, free radicals can cause damage, possibly resulting in premature aging of the skin.
Extracted from the bearberry plant, this complexion-brightening antioxidant is known as a natural (and milder) alternative to skin-bleaching hydroquinone. Arbutin works by directly inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase enzymes central to the production of melanin.
This fast-absorbing, vitamin E-rich extract has become a darling of the beauty aisle for its ability to moisturize without clogging pores, reduce the appearance of fine lines, smooth hair, and strengthen nails.
This peptide is marketed as “Botox in a cream” because of its apparent ability to temporarily prevent tensing of facial muscles.
ARNICA (ARNICA MONTANA)
A medicinal herb with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, its inherent flavonoids can help strengthen blood vessels to reduce leakage. Applied topically (as a gel or ointment) or taken orally (in low-dose homeopathic tablet form), it’s been shown to help reduce the bruising and swelling associated with certain surgeries and cosmetic injections.
Also known as l-ascorbic acid, this topical form of antioxidant vitamin C brightens the skin, increases collagen production, and stems free-radical damage, making it a popular ingredient.
A chemical found in sunscreens, it absorbs UVA rays to reduce their penetration into the skin, but does not protect against UVB rays.
It’s a natural component of wheat, barley, rye, and the yeast normally living on human skin. Used in topical rosacea and acne treatments, synthetic versions help kill bacteria living in pores while reducing inflammation. It’s also used to lighten melasma patches and other hyperpigmented areas.
The “BB” in “BB Cream” stands for “Beauty Balm” or “Blemish Balm”, a concept originally created by dermatologists from Germany and Korea to address the needs of delicate and post-procedural skin. These 5-in-1 perfectors contain treatment ingredients to address various skin concerns, moisturize dry and dehydrated skin, camouflage uneven skin tones, redness, and blemishes, prime the skin by filling in uneven texture and pores, and provide SPF sun protection.
An acne medicine that kills pimple-causing bacteria and exfoliates pores. It can be found in concentrations up to 10 percent in over-the-counter products.
A red-orange pigment found in certain fruits and vegetables, it’s a precursor to vitamin A (retinol); upon ingestion, the body converts beta carotene into antioxidant vitamin A, which helps maintain skin and eye health. It’s essential for normal cell growth and turnover, and may help improve the skin’s tone and texture.
Long-chain sugar molecules found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and grains, such as oats and barley. Powerful humectants and soothers, they can strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier and stave off bad germs.
BETA HYDROXY ACID (BHA)
These chemical exfoliants can smooth fine lines, even pigmentation, and penetrate deeply into pores, dissolving sticky plugs of sebum and dead skin. One of the most common BHAs, salicylic acid, is found in many acne washes, creams, and peels.
The trademark name for one of the forms of botulinum toxin used in injections targeting facial wrinkles. Botox paralyzes facial muscles, such as those that cause frown lines, in order to soften wrinkles.
A term for sunscreens proven to defend against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) radiation. Passing the FDA’s broad-spectrum test shows that a product provides UVA protection that is proportional to its UVB protection.
A form of alcohol that draws water from the air, making it a lightweight moisturizing agent. The ingredient is commonly found in makeup removers as a solvent — as well as in makeup, where it thins formulas, helping them glide on more easily.
Produced in the leaves and seeds of various plants, it can also be made in a lab. Commonly used in cellulite creams and eye creams, it constricts blood vessels, reducing redness and puffiness.
One of over 80 compounds called cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis sativa plant. The oil is used in beauty products mainly for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and moisturizing properties. It cannot produce a high.
Ceramides are lipids (fats) that represent about 50% of the skin’s outer structure, which is in place to provide a barrier between you and the environment. Ceramides are used in skincare to help the skin to retain water, and to improve the barrier function of the skin. The healthy barrier function ceramides create also minimizes visible fine lines and keeps the skin supple and firm.
There are different types of alcohol used in cosmetics for different reasons. SD Alcohol stands for ‘specially denatured’ alcohol, which is designed especially for cosmetics use to evaporate quickly, leaving the active ingredients on the skin’s surface. Fatty alcohols are made from fatty acids and can be used as emollients, thickeners, or carrying agents for other ingredients. They attract water to keep moisture in the skin, and can repel water to form a protective skin barrier. They also create a creamy texture.
Chemical exfoliants are the gentler cousins of physical exfoliants. Where physical exfoliants manually scrub or brush off dead skin cells, chemical exfoliants (ingredients like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid) break the bonds between those dead skin cells so that they are easily washed away.
One of the three main lipids (or fat molecules) comprising the skin barrier, it helps prevent water loss to keep skin moisturized and functioning properly.
Found in many fruits, the antioxidant alpha hydroxy acid acts as a natural preservative. When used in peels, masks, and washes, it brightens and exfoliates the upper layers of the skin, encouraging new collagen formation.
COENZYME Q10 (UBIQUINONE)
Levels of this antioxidant in the skin decline with age and UV exposure. CoQ10 is added to fine line-fighting products to preserve skin-cell function and improve skin texture.
This protein makes up 80 percent of the skin, and its fibers give skin its firmness and strength. Collagen naturally breaks down over time, but certain ingredients, such as retinol and peptides (including Matrixyl), can stimulate new collagen production. The most abundant protein in the human body, it makes skin thick, strong, and smooth. Laser treatments and retinoids build it up; UV rays and free radicals tear it down.
A condition that causes stinging, redness, burning, flaking, or scaling after coming into contact with something, often a makeup or skin-care product. The reaction can be related to either an irritant or an allergy.
Found in many fine line-fighting formulas, these amino acids help to heal wounds, protect collagen from free-radical injury, soothe inflammation, and promote new collagen formation.
A slippery form of silicone that hydrates and protects the skin; often found in oil-free moisturizers.
Shorthand for dimethylaminoethanol, it’s produced by the human brain and found in sardines and other small fish. While the research is mixed, oral and topical forms claim to protect skin-cell membranes from free-radical damage, while firming, smoothing and brightening the complexion.
The Korean ritual of using a cleansing oil in tandem with a water-based face wash to thoroughly dissolve and remove oil-based makeup, sunscreen, and pollutants.
Like Botox, another injectable form of botulinum toxin that combats wrinkles by paralyzing underlying muscles.
The most common form of this chronic, noncontagious skin disorder is atopic dermatitis, which is characterized by itchy, red, scaly patches that often show up on the inner elbows, behind the knees, and around the neck and eyes. May flare up with exposure to harsh soaps, fragrances, and foods that provoke an allergic response.
Stretchy structural proteins that allow skin to snap back into place, elastin is particularly vulnerable to sun damage.
Any ingredient that increases water levels in the epidermis. Synonym: moisturizer.
Chemicals such as cetyl alcohol that bind together ingredients in skin-care products.
A Korean skin-care staple, these concentrated formulas with a water- or serum-like consistency are splashed on post-cleansing to boost hydration and prepare the skin to absorb subsequent products.
Fermentation helps purify, refine and enhance bio-availability of the ingredients, so products are more readily accepted and absorbed by the skin. This allows the product to work with the skin and not against it, improving the skin’s natural functions to make it brighter, stronger, and more resilient. Fermented ingredients are a growing trend in food and are thought to improve digestion and allow the body to better soak up food nutrients.
This plant-derived antioxidant reduces sun damage and helps stabilize vitamins C and E in skin-care products.
Plentiful in connective tissue throughout the body, including the dermis, these cells produce the collagen and elastin responsible for keeping skin pliant and springy. Topical retinoids ramp up collagen production in fibroblasts.
Injectable dermal fillers, made from FDA-approved hyaluronic acid or a biostimulatory (collagen-growing) materials, restore fullness to the face. They can be used to plump lips, minimize wrinkles and scars, smooth under-eye hollows, and contour cheeks, temples, noses, and jaw lines.
The generic term for natural and/or synthetic compounds used to scent products. Blends are typically considered trade secrets and can contain numerous ingredients (mainly oils and alcohols), none of which have to be revealed on the label. Fragrance is the number-one cause of allergic reactions to skin-care products.
Highly unstable molecules created in the body by sunlight, cigarette smoke, and pollution that latch onto and damage cells in ways that can lead to roughness, sagging, and wrinkling.
Typically sourced from papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin, they break down the keratin proteins comprising dead skin cells, offering a mild form of exfoliation.
Found throughout the human body, the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory ingredient has long been used as an oral supplement to relieve arthritis. Research shows that topical application may reduce hyperpigmentation and boost hyaluronic acid production, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.
This age-accelerating process occurs when sugar molecules in the bloodstream bind to protein tissue throughout the body, creating advanced glycation end products (AGEs), free-radical damage, and inflammation. Among the tissues affected are the collagen and elastin fibers responsible for keeping skin smooth, plump, and flexible, which is why scientists now link a chronically high-glycemic diet to premature wrinkling and sagging.
Used in skincare as an emollient, slip agent, and humectant that absorbs moisture from the air and draws it into the skin. It is also enhances the spreadability of cosmetic products. It has been studied and used extensively in skincare for its compatibility with other ingredients.
An alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugarcane, it dissolves the gluelike substance between skin cells, aiding in exfoliation and improving skin texture. It’s commonly used in high-end products, such as cleansers, creams, and peels.
Derived from a small fruit native to Asia, it’s rich in zinc, fatty acid, and antioxidants. Taken orally or applied topically, the ingredient claims to slow the signs of aging and fend off environmental damage to skin, though there have been no large clinical studies on humans.
Boasting antioxidant levels that are far more powerful than vitamins E and C, topical and oral formulations of the ingredient are used to protect the skin against UV damage and other environmental assaults.
This hydrating ingredient’s high fatty acid and antioxidant content makes it a popular addition to moisturizers, wrinkle creams, and hair-care products.
Extracted directly from green-tea leaves, this potent antioxidant fights free radicals and quells inflammation. It’s typically used in face creams and lotions.
Produced by stem cells throughout the body, these large proteins relay messages crucial to cellular growth and division. The human-derived growth factors used by cosmetic companies like SkinMedica and Regenica have been shown to help rejuvenate skin by stimulating collagen and elastin synthesis while improving radiance, moisturization, and pigmentation.
A sugar molecule found naturally in the skin, it increases skin’s moisture content and prevents water loss. It can hold 1,000 times its weight in water and is typically found in expensive creams and serums.
A wrinkle-fighting form of vitamin A shown to be less irritating and more stable than traditional retinol.
This class of moisturizing ingredients pulls water from the atmosphere into the top layer of the skin.
Available without a prescription in strengths up to 2 percent (4 percent in prescription formulas), it inhibits pigment production to lighten dark spots.
Often triggered by UV light exposure, a wound, illness, hormonal changes, or certain drugs, this darkening of the skin might appear as a uniform tan, melasma (patches of discoloration), or an isolated acne scar.
This synthetic antioxidant compound reduces inflammation and UV damage to skin cells that can cause wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. (It’s only found in Prevage products by Elizabeth Arden at a 0.5 percent concentration and in Prevage MD, available in dermatologists’ offices, at a 1 percent concentration.)
A medium-depth chemical peel administered by dermatologists and plastic surgeons, the solution combines three peeling agents — resorcinol, lactic acid, and salicylic acid — to remove the outermost layer of dead skin cells, thereby minimizing signs of sun damage, and helping to improve acne and melasma.
Similar in structure to skin’s natural oil, it penetrates skin to hydrate without clogging pores.
The trademarked name of a gel made from hyaluronic acid that’s injected into wrinkles and lips to restore lost volume.
A category of skin-care products (essences, sheet masks, cushion compacts), rituals (à la double-cleansing and multi-step routines), and trends hailing from South Korea that emphasizes healthy, hydrated, glowy, no-makeup skin.
This skin lightener, especially popular in Japan, has been proven to be effective at blocking the production of new melanin in the skin, but it can also cause skin irritation when used in higher concentrations.
Derived from fermented milk, this alpha hydroxy acid exfoliates dead skin cells and is gentle enough for people with sensitive skin or rosacea. Since it’s part of our natural moisturizing factor, it’s especially compatible with human skin.
Intense, concentrated beams of a various colors of light used to treat a variety of skin problems, including dark spots, spider veins, wrinkles, and unwanted hair or tattoos.
Light-emitting diode devices give off a narrow range of a specific wavelength of light. (Different wavelengths target different skin issues; for example, blue light kills the bacteria known to cause acne.) Much less intense than lasers or IPL, many LED devices are safe enough for hand-held use at home.
Derived from bitter almonds, this oil-soluble alpha hydroxy acid dives deep to clear pores; its large molecular size keeps it from penetrating too quickly and causing irritation.
Made from the fruit of the African marula tree, this fast-absorbing oil boasts natural essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and flavonoids.
A patented peptide complex shown to stimulate collagen production and reduce the look of fine lines when used consistently over time.
The pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes their color; patches of excess melanin can cause dark spots.
The deadliest of all skin cancers, it develops in pigment-producing cells, most commonly on the upper back, trunk, head, neck, and lower legs. While the cure rate is high when caught early, unchecked cases can spread to internal organs. Malignant moles tend to have asymmetrical or irregular borders, uneven color, a diameter greater than six millimeters, and/or a rapidly changing appearance. While genetics and immune disorders increase risk, a history of sun- or tanning-bed exposure is the most preventable cause.
A chronic skin disorder characterized by brown patches of pigment usually on the forehead, cheeks, and chin. It tends to occur more in women — those with ethnic skin types, in particular — and can be triggered by hormonal changes, UV rays, and heat.
Originally derived from mint plants, this cooling agent is found in some lip balms, toners, and shave gels, mainly in synthetic form. It’s also used topically to relieve minor aches, stings, and itch.
A mix of purified water, hydrators (like glycerin), and low doses of mild surfactants, these no-rinse liquid cleansers attract makeup, oil, and dirt when swiped over skin with a cotton pad. They’re mild enough for sensitive and acne-prone complexions.
Performed by dermatologists and facialists, this treatment exfoliates the top layer of dead skin cells with a wand that sprays on and then vacuums off extremely fine aluminum-oxide crystals. A newer form of the technology uses a vibrating diamond tip in place of the crystals.
A cosmetic procedure during which a device studded with tiny needles pierces the skin to incite the body’s natural healing response, resulting in increased cell turnover and collagen production to improve skin’s tone and texture. At-home tools have shorter pins, which work superficially; professional devices with longer needles drive deeper for more significant improvements in wrinkles and scars (along with greater downtime).
Nanotechnology in skincare formulations improves delivery, stability, and enhances efficacy of key ingredients. The most common types of nanoparticles used in skincare are the physical sunscreen ingredients Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Nanotechnology enhances sun protection formulas and gives these sunscreen formulas a more elegant feel and undetectable look on skin.
A form of vitamin B3, it strengthens the skin’s outer layers, improves elasticity, and curbs redness and irritation.
A skin-care ingredient that’s comedogenic means that it can clog pores. So, if you have acne-prone skin, it’s important to seek out products that are non-comedogenic.
Octinoxate (also known as Octyl Methoxycinnamate) is the most widely used UVB sunscreen ingredient. It is often combined with Zinc Oxide for UVA/ UVB Broad-Spectrum protection.
Thick moisturizing ingredients, such as petrolatum, that slow the evaporation of water from the skin’s surface.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Abundant in herring, mackerel, wild salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and olive oil, these essential fatty acids maintain the function of cell membranes throughout the body, preserving cells’ ability to take in nutrients, dispose of waste, and hold onto water. In the epidermis, this can translate to smoother, more supple, hydrated skin.
Also known as benzophenone-3, this chemical sunscreen absorbs mainly UVB rays, which is why it is combined with UVA-absorbing filters (like avobenzone) to create broad-spectrum sunscreens.
A B vitamin that moisturizes and strengthens both skin and hair.
A class of preservatives used to protect cosmetics against the growth of bacteria and fungi. These controversial ingredients — including methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben — have been shown to possess weak estrogen-like properties, but the FDA deems them safe when used at very low levels (.01 to .3 percent) in cosmetics.
A purified by-product of petroleum, this thick, odorless, and colorless substance coats the skin to hydrate and prevent water loss and is used in standard (i.e., not oil-free) moisturizers. It can clog pores and cause acne in those who are prone.
Tiny protein fragments that promote collagen growth and help repair skin.
A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. Water has a neutral pH of 7. A healthy skin barrier has an acidic pH of 4.5 to 5.5. And pH-balanced skin-care products generally fall on the slightly acidic side of neutral.
PLANT STEM CELLS
When part of a living apple tree, melon vine, or other plant, these unspecialized cells have the ability to divide and stimulate growth in any tissue within that plant. There’s little evidence to support claims that the regenerating effects translate to human skin when plant stem cells are extracted and applied topically — though they may offer some antioxidant benefits.
PLATELET-RICH PLASMA (PRP)
A portion of one’s own blood that’s rich in growth factors. After drawing blood from a patient’s arm, and spinning it down in a centrifuge to isolate the PRP, doctors customarily inject it into the scalp to encourage new hair growth or inject or apply it topically to the skin to jumpstart healing for enhanced cell turnover and collagen renewal. Also called a vampire facial.
Used by dermatologists to non-surgically tighten the skin, RF energy heats the deeper layers of tissue (leaving the surface intact) to spur new collagen and elastin growth for firmer, thicker skin.
Filler made from hyaluronic acid that doctors use to replace lost volume in the skin; it is especially effective for plumping the lips.
An antioxidant found in grapes, it neutralizes free radicals to protect skin cells from damage.
The brand name for the prescription vitamin A derivative tretinoin. First approved by the FDA for the treatment of acne, Retin-A was eventually found to fight signs of aging by speeding up exfoliation, repairing skin on a molecular level, and boosting new collagen production.
These compounds—retinol, retinal (or retinaldehyde), retinoic acid, and synthetic retinoids like Adapalene and Tazerac—are one of only two proven ways to prevent the signs of aging. (The other is sunscreen!) Retinoids, which are forms of vitamin A, work by stimulating the skin cell-shedding process from below, leading to smoother skin and a reduction in both signs of aging and acne. These come in both prescription and over-the-counter products. Retinoids are also notorious for causing irritation when you first start using them, so it’s crucial to apply them just a few days a week to start with and to apply a moisturizer right after using them.
A derivative of vitamin A used in fine line-fighting products to stimulate the turnover of skin cells and increase collagen production. The maximum amount allowed in over-the-counter products is 1 percent. Retinyl palmitate and retinaldehyde are weaker, less-irritating forms of retinol.
A chronic skin disease marked by persistent redness, easy flushing, broken blood vessels, and pimples on the nose and cheeks primarily. Rosacea tends to run in families, especially those of Northern or Eastern European descent. The cause is unknown; there is no cure; and controlling triggers (heat, UV, spicy foods, alcohol) is crucial to treatment.
A beta hydroxy acid that removes excess oil and dead cells from the skin’s surface. It’s used in nonprescription cleansers, moisturizers, and treatments for acne-prone skin in concentrations of 0.5 to 2 percent.
An injectable made from poly-L lactic acid, this filler activates the body’s own collagen production to gradually restore lost volume and minimize the look of wrinkles. Patients generally need three to four treatments, with results lasting two years or more. While Sculptra is FDA-approved for the correction of shallow to deep nasolabial folds (smile lines), contour deficiencies, and other facial wrinkles, doctors reportedly use it (off-label) on the body.
The oil on the top of your skin composed of lipids, particularly wax esters, triglycerides, and squalene. Some people naturally produce more sebum than others, giving them oilier skin. Sebum can also contribute to the development of acne.
A skin-care product that contains high concentrations of active ingredients and claims superior penetration of the skin’s surface when applied.
Made from paper, cotton, biocellulose (plant fiber), or hydrogel, and imbued with skin-care ingredients, these K-beauty essentials are shaped to fit the face (and other parts, like the neck, under eyes, lips, hands), delivering moisture and luminosity in a 20-minute session.
Silicone is derived from sand and is used in cosmetics to provide an aesthetically pleasing formula, especially in serums and moisturizers. There are different grades of silicone, and cosmetics-grade silicones create an elegant, silky, and spreadable texture in skincare products. Silicone is a desirable ingredient because it can deliver the active ingredients in the product and immediately smooth the look of imperfections. Silicones prevent moisture loss and their properties make them porous (allowing the skin to breathe) as well as resistant to air.
SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES)
A safe and effective foaming detergent used in facial cleansers, body washes, shampoos, and toothpastes; not to be confused with the more irritating sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE
A detergent agent that cuts through oil and generates lather. Sulfate-free shampoos have become popular because of a misconception that the foaming agent may cause cancer, but no link has ever been established.
Rich in proteins and vitamins, this natural, non-irritating extract is a mild skin brightener that blocks the transfer of pigment from pigment-making cells to surrounding skin cells.
A measure of the amount of added protection a particular product provides against the sun’s rays. It’s important to note, however, that SPF is not an indication of the time it will take you to burn (SPF 50 needs to be applied just as frequently as SPF 30, for instance), and the SPF value of a sunscreen only takes into account its UVB protection.
A fat that binds together the ingredients in creams and cleansers and gives them a silky texture.
The outermost layer of your skin. It’s composed of skin cells held together by intercellular lipids with a layer of dead skin cells and oil on top. It keeps hydration in and potential irritants and allergens out.
Rich in fatty acids and antioxidants, this natural moisturizer is made by the skin, but diminishes with age. For skin-care purposes, it can also be derived from olives, rice bran, wheat germ, sugarcane, or palm trees.
These cleansing agents remove dirt and oil and are responsible for creating lather. There are more than 100 different varieties — some synthetic, others from natural sources, like coconut or palm oil. They’re found in facial cleansers, body washes, shampoos, and shaving creams. All types have the potential to dry and irritate the skin. They’ve come under scrutiny in recent years for their potential damage to the environment.
A natural element used in acne products, it kills bacteria, quells inflammation, and breaks down dead skin cells to clear pores.
Used as oil-dissolving detergents, emollients, and foaming agents in cleansing products. Traditional high-pH soap and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are stripping surfactants; milder ones include sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), decyl glucoside, coco-glucoside, and others.
A mineral in sunscreens that shields the skin from UVA and UVB rays.
A type of skin-care product originally designed to help balance the skin’s pH. Today, toners are generally used to deliver active ingredients like chemical exfoliators or antioxidants.
A synthetic derivative of the amino acid lysine, it interferes with UV light-induced pigment production to even the complexion. Both topical and oral forms are now being used to treat melasma and other pigmentary disorders.
TRICHLOROACETIC ACID (TCA)
A key ingredient in chemical peels used to treat sun damage and hyperpigmentation, TCA promotes shedding of the outermost layer of dead skin cells, allowing new cells to rise to the surface in the days following treatment. TCA peels are generally light to medium strength, with the former requiring a series of two to three for best results; the latter requiring only a single session (but carrying about a week of downtime).
The wavelength of ultraviolet light that leads to signs of aging by destroying existing collagen and elastin within the skin and undermining the body’s ability to create more of each. The rays cause skin cancer, and they are also generated in tanning beds. They are constant throughout the year, which is why sun protection should be worn daily regardless of season.
The high-energy wavelength of ultraviolet light that leads to darkened pigment in the form of tanning, freckles, and age spots — plus, of course, sunburns. They are strongest in summer months.
VITAMIN A (RETINOIDS)
Retinoids are derived from Vitamin A. Retinoids serve all skin types and many skin concerns well. Finding the right retinoid for your needs can help in improving cell turnover, reducing visible lines, minimizing enlarged pores, and promoting an even skin tone. For beginners, it can be helpful to start by using the retinoid every third night and gradually increase the frequency of use as your skin adjusts. Retinoids can make skin more photo-sensitive, so use a UVA/ UVB broad-spectrum sunscreen daily.
VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
An antioxidant that boosts collagen production and inhibits pigment formation. Like many antioxidants, it’s an unstable molecule that can break down quickly when exposed to light and air. Common derivatives, like ascorbyl palmitate and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, tend to be more stable than pure ascorbic acid but slower acting.
VITAMIN E (TOCOPHEROL)
This moisturizing antioxidant protects against free-radical damage.
Used in skincare to reduce visible redness, and in eye treatments to address the appearance of dark circles. It is needed in the body for blood clotting; consequently, some skincare incorporates it for post-procedural bruising.
Witch hazel is reported to have soothing and anti-redness benefits and is often used in after shave lotions for this reason. It is also used in toners, particularly for oily and combination skin types. It is said to tighten the skin and minimize visible pores, while reducing excess oil on the skin’s surface.
A mineral in sunscreen that prevents UVA and UVB light from entering skin and doing damage.
Sources: Google, Sephora, Allure