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Ingredients Glossary

Ingredients Glossary
Writer and expert3 years ago
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From acids and alcohol to certified vegan and oils, here you can find our glossary of ingredients inside your beauty products. Break down the jargon and find the key to your beauty needs.


ACETONEA strong solvent, used for removing nail polish.

ACETYL GLUCOSAMINE A sugar from amino acid, used to bind water to the skin.

ACETYL HEXAPEPTIDE 3A synthetic amino acid, used for its muscle relaxing effects.

ACTIVE INGREDIENTAny ingredient in a product that can alter your skin.

AGAR-AGARA seaweed extract that is used as a thickening agent, similar to gelatin.

AHA or ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDSAcids used to exfoliate the skin can be natural or synthetic.

ALCOHOL DENATAn alcohol which is used as a preservative, made by drying to hair and skin.

ALKYLOAMIDESSynthetic fatty acids used to emulsify ingredients, often used in soap and shampoo foaming of shampoo and soap. (May be listed as DEA, TEA, or MEA)

ALPHA LIPOIC ACIDA water and oil-soluble antioxidant.

ASCORBIC ACIDWater-soluble Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant.


Balsam PeruAn essential oil, see also Benzyl Alcohol.

Batyl AlcoholA fatty alcohol derived from glycerin which is used to emulsify skincare products and reduce moisture loss.

BeeswaxA natural wax which is moisturising and has antibacterial properties.

Behenyl AlcoholAn alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture loss.

BentoniteNatural clay that is used in masks to gently dry oily skin.

Benzalkonium ChlorideA preservative used in skin products, is also antimicrobial.

Benzyl AlcoholAn alcohol which is used as a preservative, derived from Balsam Peru, it may cause skin irritation.

BenzocaineAn anaesthetic, used to numb skin when applied topically.

Betaine SalicylateA beta-hydroxy acid used to exfoliate.

BHA or butylated hydroxyanisoleA synthetic antioxidant and preservative.

BHA or beta hydroxy acidOil-soluble acids used to exfoliate the skin, can be natural or synthetic.

BronopolSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives.



Calamine A compound used to soothe itchy skin

Calcium Ascorbate A form of vitamin C

Carnitine A natural amino acid

Carvone An essential oil, used for its fragrance

Cetearyl Alcohol An alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture loss

Cetyl Alcohol An alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture loss



Decyl Glucoside A plant-derived, gentle cleanser

Dextrin A polysaccharide which binds water to the skin

Diazolidinyl UreaSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives

Dibutyl Phthalate A solvent and fragrance, used in nail polish and perfume

DiethanolamineSee Alkyloamides

DMDM hydantoinSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives



Ectoine A protective stabiliser used in cosmetics

Elastin Plays a role in skin flexibility, plant and animal derived versions are often used in cosmetics

Emollient A waxy substance which moisturises the skin by softening and protecting the outermost layer

Ensulizole A sunscreen ingredient that protects against UVB rays

Ester C A formulation of vitamin C that contains predominantly ascorbic acid

Ethanol An alcohol which is used as a preservative, may by drying to hair and skin



Ferulic Acid A plant-derived antioxidant that enhances the effects of other antioxidants

Formaldehyde Releasing Preservative An older type of preservative which is out of favour due to potential for harm

Includes: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol and glyoxal



Gelatin A thickening agent, usually derived from animal sources 

GLA or Gamma Linolenic Acid A fatty acid which is both an antioxidant and an emollient

Glycerin An ingredient which is present naturally in fats, but can also be produced synthetically. See also humectant.

Glyceryl Ester A large group of fats and oils which are used as emollients and lubricants

Glycolic Acid An alpha hydroxy acid used to exfoliate the skin

GlyoxalSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives



Hemp Seed OilNatural oil derived from the seed of the hemp plant, often used as an emollient

Hexyl Laurate A combination of hexyl alcohol and lauric acid which is used to condition skin

Humectants Light moisturisers which draw and bind water to the skin

Hyaluronic Acid A substance which holds water and prevents moisture loss

Hypoallergenic A term used to explain that a product contains no common allergens 



Idebenone A synthetic antioxidant

Imidazolidinyl UreaSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives

Isopropyl Alcohol An alcohol which is used as a preservative, may by drying to hair and skin



Jojoba Oil An oil derived from the seed of the jojoba plant, it is moisturising and antibacterial



Lactic Acid An alpha hydroxy acid used to exfoliate the skin

Lanolin A thick emollient sourced from sheep’s wool

Limonene A compound naturally found in citrus fruit that contributes to their smell

Liposomes An ingredient that helps ingredients cross the skin/tissue layer



Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate A form of vitamin C that is often used as an antioxidant in skincare

Mallow A thickening agent that is often used for its soothing effect

Menthyl Lactate A derivative of menthol, often used for its fragrance or for its natural cooling effect 

Methanol An alcohol which is used as a preservative, may by drying to hair and skin

Mineral Oil An odorless oil which is derived from petroleum



Neroli Oil An oil derived from Neroli which is fragrant but can often be a skin-irritant

Niacinamide Another name for niacin or vitamin B3



Occlusives Moisturisers whichseal moisture into the skin, usually balms or thick creams

Octocrylene An organic compound used in sunscreen, protects against UVB rays

Oleic Acid A fatty acid which has surfactant properties



Pantothenic Acid Also known as B5, used to treat acne

Parabens A group preservatives which may be harmful

Paraffin A substance derived from petroleum, used as a thickener

Phenoxyethanol A common preservative which is favoured over others due to being less of an irritant 

Phosphoric Acid Used to adjust the pH level in skincare products

Polyoxymethylene UreaSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives

Polyquaterniums A group of ingredients used in hair product, have an antistatic effect 

Preservatives A group of substances used in products to prevent bacterial contamination

Prickly Pear An oil derived from prickly pear cactus, rich in Vitamin E and antioxidants

Primrose Oil A soothing, moisturising oil from the evening primrose plant

Propylene Glycol A hydrating humectant which helps ingredients penetrate the skin



Quaternium-15See Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives

Quercetin A flavonoid found in many plants, has antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties



Reducing Agent A substance that can break down the disulfide bonds in hair, used to aid hair straightening 

Resveratrol An antioxidant which is found in red grapes

Retinol The name given to the Vitamin A molecule



Salicylic Acid A beta hydroxy acid that has deep exfoliating properties, used to target acne

Silicone Used as a slip agent and to create a layer on the skin, filling in fine lines and giving a smoother appearance

Slip Agent A term used to describe compounds which, when added to a cosmetic formulation, enable other ingredients to spread more easily on the skin and penetrate deeper

Sodium Benzoate A derivative of benzoic acid that is used as a preservative

Sodium HydroxymethylglycinateSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate A cleansing agent commonly used in detergent and shampoo, known to be drying to hair and skin

Stearyl Alcohol An alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture loss

Sulfates A cleansing agent used in many shampoos and bath products

Surfactant A compound that lowers the surface tension between two states, detergents, emulsifiers, foaming agents



Tallow An animal by-product used in the soap and candle making process

Tannic Acid An antioxidant which is believed to carry anti-carcinogenic properties

Thickening Agent Any substance that, when added to a cosmetic formulation, acts as a lubricant 



Water Binding Agent A range of ingredients which, when added to skincare, improve the skin’s moisture retention



Xantham Gum Used as a thickening agent

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