Cosmetic Ingredient Glossary

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AC DermaPeptide Lifting PBFA peptide derived from almonds. May reduce the appearance of wrinkles, but more study is needed. Read more

AcetoneA powerful solvent, often used as the active ingredient in nail-polish remover. On contact, can irritate skin; inhalation of its fumes can cause a slew of other health problems. Read more

Acetylsalicylic acid Main ingredient in aspirin. Early studies suggest it may help prevent melanoma, but further research is required. Read more

Alpha-hydroxy acidsIdeal for reducing fine wrinkles, regulating and smoothing the skin texture, exfoliating pores, and maintaining a balanced pH levenl. They work by thinning the straum corneum — the outermost layer of skin — and promoting collagen production. Read more

AluminaA drying agent. One of the most absorbent substances on earth. Read more

Aluminum saltsUsed in antiperspirants to inhibit sweating by blocking sweat glands. Read more

Argan oilA natural ingredient produced from the kernels of the argan tree. Contains fatty acids to maintain skin elasticity, smoothness, and radiance. Read more

ArgirelineAn ingredient similar to Botox. It can be injected or applied topically (for a lesser effect). Read more

Artichoke leaf extractA good antioxidant and free-radical scavenger. Artichoke leaf extract contains chlorogenic acid, which was found to prevent the erythema that occurs with UV irradiation. Read more

AvobenzoneA chemical sunscreen that works by converting the energy from UV rays into a non-harmful form, such as heat. Not recommended for kids or pregnant women, as it gets absorbed into the body. Read more

Baking sodaSodium bicarbonate. A very alkaline (pH9) ingredient often used as an abrasive agent in toothpaste and in rinses for acidic mouths. Read more

Benzoyl peroxideHas been shown to kill acne bacteria by generating reactive oxygen species in the sebaceous follicle. However, this process creates free radicals, so use only when needed and only on specific spots. Read more

Beta-hydroxy acidAn oil-soluble ingredient that can easily enter clogged pores. Also removes dead skin cells, allowing new cells to grow in and theoretically fill in wrinkles. Read more

Bifida ferment lysateA probiotic claimed to work as a DNA repair agent when applied topically. This is not proven by a study. Read more

Bitter cherry seed oil Contains fatty acids that moisturize and soften hair, as well as vitamin E. Read more

BrimonidineAn alpha-2 andrenergic antagonist that’s believed to work as a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it constricts the dilation of blood vessels. Recently FDA-approved to treat rosacea. Read more

CadmiumA toxic heavy metal sometimes found in lipstick. It is not easily absorbed into skin, but topical exposure to large quantities is not recommended. Read more

Caffeic acidA form of hydroxycinnamic acid, this is a very potent antioxident. Studies have shown it is more effective than ferulic acid. Read more

CaffeineApplied topically, this ingredient works as a vasoconstrictor, antioxidant, and diuretic. However, due to its diuretic effect, may be drying as well. Read more

Camellia japonica seed oilNatural oil derived from camillias. Increases collagen production within the skin and promotes hydration. Read more

Carrot seed oilAn oil that has strong antioxidant properties and contains carotenoids, which help prevent signs of aging, even out skin tone, and protect skin from UV damage. Read more

Castor seed oilPrimarily used as an emollient and moisturizer. Read more

Caviar extractExtracted from caviar, the salt-preserved, non-fertilized eggs — or roe — of sturgeon (or other fish). Has emollient properties but needs more study. Read more

Cetearyl alcoholLike Cetyl alcohol, this is a fatty alcohol derived from coconuts. A great moisturizer that is used as an emollient and to improve viscosity in cosmetics. Read more

Cetyl alcoholLike Cetearyl alcohol, this is a fatty alcohol derived from coconuts. A great moisturizer that is used as an emollient and to improve viscosity in cosmetics. Read more

Chlorogenic acidA phenolic compound naturally found in green coffee beans, potatoes, prunes, and other foods. Has strong antioxident and anti-inflammatory properties. Read more

Coal tarA petroleum by-product sometimes used to treat psoriasis. Exactly how it works, however, is unclear. Read more

Coconut oilA very heavy oil that is frequently used in hair products, as it contains triglycerides that are easily absorbed into the hair shaft. Read more

Coffeeberry ExtractExtracted from the coffee cherry of the Coffea arabica when it is still green and “sub-ripe,” CoffeeBerry Extract contains an extremely high concentration of polyphenols, particularly chlorogenic acid, which serve as potent antioxidants. Read more

Cottonseed oilAn emollient and moisturizer that is rich in tocopherol, as well as fatty acids. Read more

CyclopentasiloxaneA lightweight, liquid silicone. Used in moisturizers, conditioners, solvents, and as a delivery agent for other skin-care ingredients.

DimethiconeA type of silicone that works well to help fill in wrinkles, while still allowing other ingredients to get through to the skin thanks to its unique structure. Often used in foundation to prevent the product from creasing in lines and wrinkles. Read more

Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)Has been proven to firm skin by causing the formation of vacuoles (large pools of water) inside cells. However, too many vacuoles can cause cell death– use with caution. Read more

ElemiPossibly an exciting new anti-aging ingredient that helps to promote microcirculation in skin. However, more studies are needed to prove this. Read more

Ferulic acidA form of hydroxycinnamic acid, this is a strong antioxident. Read more

Fulvic acidA strong acidic polymer (pH1) extracted from organic substances such as peat. Helps other ingredients better absorb into the skin. Read more

Galanga leaf extractAn extract from the galanga plant, a member of the rhizome family. A good antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits; may also promote the production of hyaluronic acid in skin. Read more

Gamma-linoleic acidFound in apricot-seed oil, this ingredient soothes conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff. Read more

GarlicTopically applied garlic gel has been shown in studies on those with alopecia areata to help promote hair growth. Also handy for repelling vampires. Read more

GlycerinAn emollient, humectant, and occlusive agent. It has been shown to consistently be one of the best moisturizers in products. Read more

Glycolic acidA great exfoliant that also increases collagen production by stimulating fibroblasts. Found to be effective in treating UV-damaged skin because it mediates the matrix degradation that keratinocytes release. Read more

Gold nanoparticlesTiny particles of gold. Could cause damage to skin that inhibits wound healing and speeds up aging. Read more

Greek yoghurtAn ingredient claimed to soothe skin by delivering moisture when applied topically. Also, a delicious snack. Read more

Green bananaBananas are rich in antioxidants and contain vitamins A, C, and E, as well as beta-carotene, selenium, and lutein. Unripened (green) ones have been shown to help heal ulcers. Read more

Green teaContains powerful polyphenols that fight against skin cancer formation and free radicals. Also protects against inflammation and encourages cell regeneration. Read more
Hemp oilDerived from seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids. These have anti-inflammatory effects, can stimulate collagen production, and can inhibit linoleic acid oxidation when applied topically, but research shows consuming hemp oil orally is even more effective. Read more

HomosalateA chemical sunscreen that works by converting the energy from UV rays into a non-harmful form, such as heat. Not recommended for kids or pregnant women, as it gets absorbed into the body. Read more

Hydrogen peroxideThe main ingredient in hair bleach, it bleaches hair by breaking down melanin when it oxidizes. Always do a patch test when using hair color containing it, as it can cause chemical burns and/or allergic reactions. Read more

HydroquinoneA skin-lightening ingredient that works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, by acting as a melanocyte cytotoxic inhibitor, and by increasing the cytotoxicity of melanocytes. Read more

Hydroxyethylpiperazine ethane sulfonic acid (HEPES)A buffer, used to maintain the pH of a formulation. Read more

IdebenoneA stable form of the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, the most prevalent antioxidant naturally found in the body. It neutralizes free radicals and protects the skin from UV-induced reactive oxidative species, but causes allergic reactions in some users. Read more

Irish moss (Chondrus crispus)A type of red seaweed that is the main source of carrageenans,which are sulphated linear polysaccharides. Plumps skin and may possess antiviral and immunomodulatory properties. Read more

IsododecaneAn emollient used for its smoothness and for being silky without being greasy. Read more

Isopropyl myristateUsed in cosmetics as an emollient and lubricant. Comedogenic (pore-clogging; bad for acne-prone skin). Read more
Katafray extractComes from a tree found in Madagascar and is used in traditional medicine to heal wounds and skin infections. Claims that it improves skin’s barrier function and ability to retain moisture are not, to date, substantiated. Read more

KinetinA cytokin and plant hormone that has been shown to build repair enzymes as well as increase the rate of the cell cycles. Improves fine wrinkling and lines, mottled skin, and roughness. Read more

KiwifruitOften used in cosmetics for its scent, but also serves as an emollient with high essential fatty acids (Omega-3 from alpha-linoleic acid) and antioxidants. We’d like to see more testing, though. Read more

Kojic acidUsed to lighten dark spots or treat melasma, kojic acid works by suppressing tyrosinase activity. Some users experience a contact allergy, so patch test first. Read more

Kukui oilKukui oil is derived from the candlenuts of the kukui tree in Hawaii. Creates a barrier to prevent the skin from losing moisture and may also aid wound healing (though more studies are needed). Read more 1 ; Read more 2

L-ascorbic acidA form of vitamin C, this naturally-derived ingredient is an antioxidant. One of the main ingredients of our FutureDerm CE Caffeic Silk Serum! Read more

Lactic acidA popular alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), lactic acid can be naturally extracted from milk, but is usually synthesized in a lab for use in cosmetics in order to ensure its purity. Lactic acid’s smoothing abilities are similar to that of glycolic acid. Read more

Lavender oilA strongly-scented essential oil derived from lavender flowers. Often used in aromatherapy products. Read more

LeuphasylA synthetic peptide that works like enkephalins to inhibit neuronal activity and catecholamine — which includes nonadrenaline and adrenaline — release.

Licorice root extractContains glycyrrhizinate and has been proven to be anti-inflammatory as well as a moisturizer. Also prevents hyperpigmentation. Read more

LimoneneA colourless liquid hydrocarbon. Limonene has been found to be an irritant and a skin sensitizer, which means that it makes you skin more vulnerable to the sun. Read more

Lysate extract bioactiveClaimed to smoothe skin, improve its appearance, and produce a cooling effect, but further studies are needed. Read more

MelanozymeThe trademarked name for a certain variety of the enzyme lignin peroxidase, which comes from fungi. Used in skin-lightening products. Read more

MethylacrylateAn ingredient in nail polish that has been shown to cause contact dermatitis (i.e., a rash) in some users. Read more

Mineral oilA liquid distillate of petroleum comprised of alkanes (saturated hydrocarbons) that have a chain length of between 14 – 20 carbon atoms. Able to penetrate skin, which can help heal psoriasis but also allows for enhanced penetration by UV light. Read more

MitostimeAnother name for the extract of Laminaria digitata, which is a type of brown algae. Said to help increase cell energy, slowing the aging process, but further study is needed. Read more

Musk rose oilAn emollient which has a high proportion of fatty unsaturated acids, such as linoleic, oleic, and linolenic acids, along with carotenes, tocopherols, and tretinoin. A study showed it can help heal skin and reduce signs of aging, but we’d like to see more research on this very promising ingredient. Read more

NiacinamideThe high-pH version of vitamin B3. Improves mild to moderate acne and signs of aging, such as hyperpigmentation. Read more

OctisalateA chemical sunscreen that works by converting the energy from UV rays into a non-harmful form, such as heat. Not recommended for kids or pregnant women, as it gets absorbed into the body. Read more

OctocryleneA chemical sunscreen that works by converting the energy from UV rays into a non-harmful form, such as heat. Not recommended for kids or pregnant women, as it gets absorbed into the body. Read more

Olive oilContains resveratrol, which may promote the activity of sirtuins, agents that prolong the life of collagen-producing skin cells. May also protect against UV skin damage, but further study is needed. Read more

OxybenzoneA chemical sunscreen that works by converting the energy from UV rays into a non-harmful form, such as heat. Not recommended for kids or pregnant women, as it gets absorbed into the body. Read more

P-phenylenediamineThe main ingredient in hair dye. This organic compound turns brown when oxidizing agents — like air — are present. Read more

ParabensOften used as a preservative, parabens are a hot topic amongst beauty insiders. There is evidence that might link them to breast cancer, but it’s important to remember the FDA has declared them safe in cosmetics. Read more

PeptidesHave been shown to increase collagen production and enhance ingredient penetration in research studies. However, peptides are too large to penetrate the skin, so while it’s clear they work, researchers don’t know quite how this is possible. Read more

Technically a wax, petrolatum acts as an occlusive moisturizer, keeping water in the skin and other substances out. It is derived from petroleum. Read more

Petroleum jellySee Petrolatum.

Pistachio The skins of pistachio nuts are packed with antioxidants, and, when this ingredient is applied topically, it can have a photoprotective effect, reducing UVB-induced erythema. More study is needed, though, and anyone with a nut allergy should be careful. Read more

PlacentaExtracted from the organ that connects a baby to its mother in her uterus, this ingredient has not been shown to have any positive effect on the skin. It is usually taken from sheep, pigs, or goats, but at least one product we know of uses human placenta. Read more

PolyethyleneThe most widely-used plastic in the world today. In cosmetics, used for many things, including as a stabilizer and viscosity-increasing ingredient. Read more

PolymersOften found in hair products, polymers coat the hair and offer a watertight seal. They’re also able to thicken hair, add moisture, and improve hair health overall. Read more

QuinoaA cereal grain containing amino acids that have been proven in studies to penetrate the hair shaft, strengthening hair. Read more


ResveratrolShown in a number of studies to increase sirtuin production. Often extracted from the roots of Japanese Knotweed. Read more

RetinolA potent anti-aging ingredient, retinol deactivates the matrix metalloproteinases that break down collagen, increases cell turnover, and improves skin’s moisture retention. Also the star ingredent of FutureDerm Time Release Retinol 0.5. Read more

Retinyl propionateA form of retinol. Retinyl is not as potent as retinol, but unlike retinol, can be used with hydroxy acids. Read more

Safflower oilAn antioxidant that combats free radicals, skin discoloration, acne, and inflammation. Read more

Salicyloyl phytosphingosineAn ingredient that helped reduce the depth of wrinkles and improve the appearance of photoaged skin… in a study commissioned by its manufacturer. Further study is required. Read more

Sclerocarya birrea (Marula) OilOil extracted from the seeds of an African tree. Contains oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acids, as well as both vitamins C and E. Read more

Shea butterA fat extracted from the nuts of the African shea tree, shea butter is an excellent moisturizer. It also may have anti-aging and healing properties. Read more

SiliconesInert, synthetic compounds generally used to improve make product glide smoothly over the skin. Also help prevent transepidermal water loss and absorb excess oils. Read more

SilverA precious metal. Future research may uncover that it promotes wound healing, helps acne, and has anti-aging properties, but current research is contradictory at best. Read more

SNAP-8The elongated form of argireline (it has two extra amino acids). Has an effect similar to Botox. Read more

Sodium hyaluronateA natural complex sugar that holds about 10,000 times its weight in water. It hydrates skin extremely well, and can temporarily reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Read more

Soft paraffinSee Petrolatum.

SoyExtracted from soybeans, this ingredient helps to lighten skin and reduce unwanted body hair. However, it can be irritating to the skin and provoke an allergic reaction in some users. Read more

SqualeneA naturally occurring compound found in shark liver as well as many plant-based oils. It has anti-aging and anti-fungal properties and is easily absorbed by skin. Read more

Starfish extractExtracted from starfish, this ingredient is becoming popular in Asian products. Claims that the starfish’s regenerative properties help aging skin are unsubstantiated. Read more

Sunflower seed oilAn emollient and occlusive agent that does not clog the pores. It contains ~60% linoleic acid. Note: This applies only to the cosmetic-grade oil, not the kind you can buy at the supermarket. Read more

Synthetic waxLess greasy but also less pliable than fats. Waxes resist oxidation, microbial agents, and moisture well. Read more

Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbateA form of vitamin C that is oil-soluble. This powerful antioxident can penetrate both the epidermis (the uppermost layer of skin) and dermis (the deepest layer of skin). Read more

ThymolAn oil derived from thyme. Has been shown in several studies to work against Candida albicans, one of the fungi responsible for nail fungus. Read more

TrimethylsiloxysilicateA silicone derivative and emollient that’s good for forming films and repelling water. Read more

Triple antibiotic ointments (TAOs)The collective name for Polymyxin B Sulfate, Bacitracin Zinc, and Neomycin. Used to prevent infection in wounds. Read more

UreaAn excellent natural moisturizing factor that improves skin barrier function. It binds water to the skin and promotes the production of keratin. Read more

Vitamin CVitamin C is a necessary nutrient for the human body (in food). Topically, it is a strong antioxident and a key ingredient in our FutureDerm CE Caffeic Silk Serum. See also L-ascorbic acid; tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate; magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. Read more

Vitamin EA fat-soluble antioxident, vitamin E can be taken as a dietary supplement or used topically. When combined with vitamin C, it helps protect skin from the sun. Read more

White petrolatumSee Petrolatum.
White teaAn extract from white tea leaves that has a preventative effect against phototoxicity and photocarcinogenesis. As with green tea, a powerful antioxident. Read more

Yerba mate extractDerived from a leafy holly plant, yerba mate is better known as a drink than a skincare ingredient. However, it has strong antioxident properties. Read more

Zinc oxideA very effective physical sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Read more

Zinc pyrithioneAn antibacterial and anti-fungal compound that also has cytotoxic activity against skin cells. Often the active ingredient in dandruff shampoo. Read more