Skincare Glossary

By Bobbi Brown

There are many terms and ingredients associated with skincare products - MiNDFOOD provides you with a basic list.

There are many terms and ingredients associated with skincare products. This is only a basic list. While there are no miracles when it comes to the skin, a clear understanding of how ingredients work will help you select the right skincare products.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) – Naturally occurring acids found in fruit and milk, used topically to reduce the appearance of fine lines. They help speed up the skins natural exfoliation process, helping it shed dead skin cells.

They can improve the texture of the skin, unclog pores and help prevent breakouts. Glycolic acid is a commonly used AHA. Do not use products that contain salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid) as it is too harsh for general exfoliation. They are only intended for use on problem areas.

Anti-ageing – The best anti-ageing formula is a healthy lifestyle. Nothing will stop the clock. Poor diet, excessive drinking, smoking, lack of exercise and sunburn all accelerate the effects of aging.

Antioxidants – Help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals, molecules with an unpaired electron. Free radicals cause oxidation that can damage cellular material.

Vitamin A, C and E, betacarotene, green tea, and grape seed extract are all effective antioxidants.

Balms – Super-rich moisturisers that target dry patches of skin on the face, hands, feet and body.  Look for ingredients such as avocado extract or shea butter.

For a subtle glow, I warm some balm up in my hands and pat on the cheeks after applying makeup.

Base – is a term that generally refers to a product applied under foundation to smooth and protect the skin. Base often contains a mixture of vitamins, antioxidants, and aging ingredients.

Brightener – Makeup products sometimes contain light-diffusing particles and/or ingredients that inhabit oxidation. These are referred to as brighteners.

Collagen – is a fibrous protein found in the skin. When collagen levels in the skin are high, the skin appears firm. Levels of collagen decline as we age. As the support provided by the collagen is reduced, wrinkles begin to form.

Injections temporarily replace lost collagen. The topical application of peptides may have a similar effect.

Emollients – Include squalane, avocado oil, wheat germ oil, glycerin, lanolin, petroleum, shea butter and others. They hold moisture in the skin and make the skin soft and supple.

Exfoliators – are designed to help slough off dead skin cells. Look for scrubs specifically designed for the face.

Fixers – are sprays that set makeup. Makeup is typically set with powders

Green tea extract (Camellia Sinensis) – is a powerful antioxidant found in many anti-aging products that may slow down the visible signs of aging.

Humectants – include glycerin, algae extract, sodium hyaluronate, urea, lactic acid, panthenol and orher. They absorb water from the air and help the skin retain moisture.

Hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate) – is a fluid that surrounds the joints and is found in skin tissue. Aging slows the production of this acid, so it is often supplemented as an anti-aging treatment.

It is used as a filler for wrinkles (injections) and can be applied topically or taken in pill form. It is often added to moisturiser and works to hydrate the skin.

Oxidants – are unstable molecules caused by pollution, smoke, ultraviolet light, toxins, and other environmental factors. Also known as free radicals, they attack and damage the skin, leading to photo aging.

Peptides – Two or more amino acids bonding together, forming a linear molecule. The molecules can transfer biologically active agents (green tea, vitamin E, copper) to cells, renewing them.

Algae peptides are used in some firming formulas. Copper peptides have been used for years to aid in wound healing. Labels might indicate that a product contains pentapeptides (five peptides) or polypeptides (many peptides.)

Photo aging – sun damage

Retinoids – (retin-A, retinal, renova) powerful vitamin A derivatives used to fight acne and help build collagen to reverse visible signs of aging. The drug is effective in reducing fine lines around the eyes and mouth, not deep wrinkles.

Inflammation and peeling are common side effects from use and can last from two weeks to a month.  Because this drug makes the skin more sensitive to the sun, use of sunscreen is essential.

Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid this drug, since it is not known how much is absorbed through the skin and high doses of vitamin A can cause birth defects.

Natural sources of retinoids include yams, tomatoes, fish-liver oils, melons, squash and leafy green vegetables.

Serum – are concentrated, corrective skin treatments that are packed with highly effective active ingredients that address specific skin concerns like dullness and uneven skin tone.

Ingredients commonly found in serums include vitamin C, green tea extract, and white birch extract. For best results, they should be applied after cleansing and before moisturier.

SPF (sun protection factor) – Measures the degree of protection a product provides against the sun’s UVB rays. The formula used divides the minutes it takes to burn wearing a think application of the product, by the minutes the same person takes to burn without any sunscreen.

Squalene (natural, unsaturated) – Is derived from shark-liver oil. It is very emollient and has some germicidal benefits.

Tyrosinase Inhibitors – Including kojic acid, hydroquinone and prevent browning or age spots on the skin. Licorice has been used for centuries to lighten and brighten the skin.

Vitamin B3 (niacinamide) – Is a water soluble vitamin found in yeast, eggs, liver and vegetables that helps increase the amount of fatty acids in the skin, promoting exfoliation and firmness.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – is an anitoxidant that can reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and create a more even skin tone. It protects the skin from atmospheric pollution and from ultraviolet light. It also helps convert inactivated vitamin E back its active, antioxidant form.

It is involved in the formation of elastin and plays a role in converting proline, and amino acid, into collagen.

Vitamin C increases collagen manufacture, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. The production of melanin is an oxidative process that causes pigmentation.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C counteracts the oxidative process. High doses of vitamin C reduce the pigmentation of scars and make them look less noticeable.  It is found in fruit and vegetables.

Vitamin E (tocopherol) – provides antioxidant protection. All the cells in the body contain fatty acids that need protection against oxidation, which causes disease and symptoms of aging.

Vitamin E protects the fatty acids (oils) against oxidation and rancidity.  It has also been shown to act as a mild sunscreen, with an SPF factor of 3.

Vitamin K – helps to reduce ruddiness and promotes faster healing of bruising, swelling and skin irritation.


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