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Ingredients Glossary

Ingredients Glossary
Writer and expert4 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 skinCalcium Ascorbate A form of vitamin CCarnitine A natural amino acidCarvone An essential oil, used for its fragranceCetearyl Alcohol An alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture lossCetyl Alcohol An alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture loss



Decyl Glucoside A plant-derived, gentle cleanserDextrin A polysaccharide which binds water to the skinDiazolidinyl UreaSee Formaldehyde Releasing PreservativesDibutyl Phthalate A solvent and fragrance, used in nail polish and perfumeDiethanolamineSee AlkyloamidesDMDM hydantoinSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives



Ectoine A protective stabiliser used in cosmeticsElastin Plays a role in skin flexibility, plant and animal derived versions are often used in cosmeticsEmollient A waxy substance which moisturises the skin by softening and protecting the outermost layerEnsulizole A sunscreen ingredient that protects against UVB raysEster C A formulation of vitamin C that contains predominantly ascorbic acidEthanol 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 antioxidantsFormaldehyde Releasing Preservative An older type of preservative which is out of favour due to potential for harmIncludes: 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 emollientGlycerin 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 lubricantsGlycolic Acid An alpha hydroxy acid used to exfoliate the skinGlyoxalSee Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives



Hemp Seed OilNatural oil derived from the seed of the hemp plant, often used as an emollientHexyl Laurate A combination of hexyl alcohol and lauric acid which is used to condition skinHumectants Light moisturisers which draw and bind water to the skinHyaluronic Acid A substance which holds water and prevents moisture lossHypoallergenic A term used to explain that a product contains no common allergens 



Idebenone A synthetic antioxidantImidazolidinyl UreaSee Formaldehyde Releasing PreservativesIsopropyl 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 skinLanolin A thick emollient sourced from sheep’s woolLimonene A compound naturally found in citrus fruit that contributes to their smellLiposomes 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 skincareMallow A thickening agent that is often used for its soothing effectMenthyl 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 skinMineral 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-irritantNiacinamide Another name for niacin or vitamin B3



Occlusives Moisturisers whichseal moisture into the skin, usually balms or thick creamsOctocrylene An organic compound used in sunscreen, protects against UVB raysOleic Acid A fatty acid which has surfactant properties



Pantothenic Acid Also known as B5, used to treat acneParabens A group preservatives which may be harmfulParaffin A substance derived from petroleum, used as a thickenerPhenoxyethanol 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 productsPolyoxymethylene UreaSee Formaldehyde Releasing PreservativesPolyquaterniums A group of ingredients used in hair product, have an antistatic effect Preservatives A group of substances used in products to prevent bacterial contaminationPrickly Pear An oil derived from prickly pear cactus, rich in Vitamin E and antioxidantsPrimrose Oil A soothing, moisturising oil from the evening primrose plantPropylene Glycol A hydrating humectant which helps ingredients penetrate the skin



Quaternium-15See Formaldehyde Releasing PreservativesQuercetin 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 grapesRetinol The name given to the Vitamin A molecule



Salicylic Acid A beta hydroxy acid that has deep exfoliating properties, used to target acneSilicone Used as a slip agent and to create a layer on the skin, filling in fine lines and giving a smoother appearanceSlip 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 deeperSodium Benzoate A derivative of benzoic acid that is used as a preservativeSodium HydroxymethylglycinateSee Formaldehyde Releasing PreservativesSodium Lauryl Sulfate A cleansing agent commonly used in detergent and shampoo, known to be drying to hair and skinStearyl Alcohol An alcohol used to emulsify skincare ingredients and prevent moisture lossSulfates A cleansing agent used in many shampoos and bath productsSurfactant 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 processTannic Acid An antioxidant which is believed to carry anti-carcinogenic propertiesThickening 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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