Cosmetic Skincare Vocab

What is it? Examples Pros Cons Be aware
Oil Oil Plan vs mineral oil; refined vs unrefined oil The outer layer of the skin (epidermis) is composed of skin cells surrounded by lipids. Lipids are composed of fatty acids and oils are very rich in fatty acids which makes oils very nourishing for the skin


Oil lubricates the skin and creates an occlusive barrier over the skin


Very limited number of bioactive ingredients are oil soluble


Oils do not need preservatives unless mixed with water.


Not all oils are created equally stable





Most of the skincare products use water or oil as the base for the product formulation.

Oil – based product means that oil is the main ingredient (first listed on the ingredient list).  Respectively, water – based product list water as the primary ingredient. The rest of the ingredients might be the same.


General rule of thumb to balanced skincare routine is to apply water –   based products before proceeding to the oils; however, balance of the two is essential

Water H2O Tap water, spring water, distilled water Water allows more ingredient options within the formulation: vast majority of skincare ingredients are water soluble


Water allows for lighter texture and easier application of the product

Water is prone to microbe contamination and water borne bacteria. To add to this instability of the base product,  companies are not obligated to disclose the source of water in their formulas

Hydrating effects may be short-lived, if there are no emollients in the formulation. Combination of   water and oil in the product formulation creates the need for an emulsifier

Formulations that include water require preservatives


Humectants Ingredient that  draws water molecules out of its environments toward itself Hyaluronic acid (HA), lactic acid (AHA), aloe vera, glycerol, fatty and amino acids Humectants add moisture into the skin by drawing water molecules from the environment towards the epidermis in order to re-hydrate the skin


If you are located in a dry environment, humectant will have no water to pull from the outside. As such, it will draw water from deeper layers of the skin making skin even more dehydrated












Those three ingredients are present in every oil- or water- based moisturizer.


The particular combination of those three ingredients will determine the texture and the function of the moisturizer (occlusive vs humectant moisturizer)



Occlusive agents Ingredient that forms a film on the skin to prevent water loss. Moisturizing agents


Petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, silicones, cocoa butter, waxes Occlusive agents focus on preventing the epidermal layer from losing moisture by forming a protective film over the epidermis  Occlusive agents to do not  increase the moisture levels of the skin but can help to prevent water loss

Occlusive agents are primarily  lipid / oil – based so they can contribute to clogged pores


Emollients Ingredient that smooths the skin surface by filling the cracks between the skin cells. Lubricating occlusive agents in nature


Castor, mineral oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, aloe vera Emollients soften the skin without actually adding moisture to it! They work by filling the gaps between the skin cells to improve the appearance of dry patches and make skin more flexible


Prevents water leaving the skin and environmental aggressors from getting in

Might be irritating and contribute to congestion of pores


Ingredient that helps to keep unlike ingredients (such as oil and water) from separating in an emulsion and toners


Beeswax, cetaryl alcohol, emulsifying wax – NF, propylene glycol Emulsions are type of moisturizers that are lighter than creams and less concentrated than serum
Astringent ingredients Substances that cause biological tissues to contract / tighten and draw together, after topical application Alcohol, witch hazel, lemon extract, camphor Give instant cooling effect

Clear the surface of the skin from oil (but that comes at a price: oil glands tend to work harder to replenish the oil which makes the skin even oilier at the end)



You cannot reduce size of pores! Such effect is short lived

Astringent ingredients can be used in any skincare product; however, most often they are used in toners and   moisturizers
Bioactive ingredients Substances that have therapeutic effect on living tissues Peptides, antioxidants, facial acids, facial oils and vitamins Core of skincare nutrition Bioactive ingredients tend to be unstable: air and light break down the formulation Bioactive vs Organic:

Bioactivity refers to a proven therapeutic benefit of the ingredient. Organic refers to how that ingredient was grown


Antioxidants Ingredients that intercept or lessen visible impact of external pollutants  and free radicals on the skin


Can be plant based and lab produced


Vitamin C, vitamin E, retinol,  resveratrol, green tea

Limit production of free radicals that damage skin cells


Slow down the process of oxidizing of oils


Most of these ingredients are water soluble. Such product formulations are also rich in preservatives


Most of these ingredients break down in the presence of light, heat and air


Ensure balance of skin soothing and irritating ingredients. Some active ingredients provide healing irritation to the skin. That said, irritation (especially chronic one) is pro-aging









Be sure to purchase skincare products that are packaged in airtight containers which also protect the product from exposure to light. Also, make sure to   store products away from hot or warm places


Respect expiry date of the product and always follow instructions listed on the product

Skin –replenishing ingredients Ingredients that help to enrich skin’s surface, drenching it with hydration and keeping it there HA, ceramides, glycerin, silicones, fatty and amino acids, Glycolic acid (AHA), salicylic acid (BHA) Help to avoid moisture loss and dehydration



Skin – restoring ingredients Ingredients that nourish skin’s surface in a way that make it look firmer, younger and with more even – looking complexion Retinol, niacinamide, peptides, linoleic acid, linolenic acid Help to restore even tone and complexion of the skin. As such, those ingredients soften the appearance of   fine lines and wrinkles


Preservatives Substances that minimize sources of energy for microbial growth  Glycerin, ethanol, parabens, phenonip, germaben II, suttocide A  Sorbic acid, salicylic acid, benzol alcohol and glycerin are safer preservative options  Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Isoparaben, or Butylparaben are the preservatives often found in skincare products as preservatives. Parabens as a group have been linked to possible carcinogenicity. There have been no successful studies to show that repeated and prolonged use of paraben is safe. It is a low-cost synthetic preservative for which many large cosmetic brands have tried to fund studies to prove that prolonged usage is safe; all   studies failed


Thanks for reading,

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