Ingredient Spotlight, Skin Care

Skin Care Dictionary: Every Ingredient Explained

Skin Care Ingredient Glossary

On every bottle of every skin care product you’ve ever purchased, there’s always a long list of ingredients that most people tend to skip over. As long as the name of the product or description on the bottle tells us that the product’s doing what we want it to do, we trust it. The actual ingredients, however, remain a mystery. Well, at DermWarehouse, we’re trying to eliminate the mystery behind finding and buying the perfect products for your skin. Here’s a list (in alphabetical order) of some common skin care ingredients and what these ingredients are actually doing for you. Now you don’t have to just trust the names or the labels, you can see for yourself whether the products you’re spending your money on are really the right ones for you.

ALOE VERA is a soothing topical ingredient that has many skin benefits. It can help reduce acne, soothe skin that has been burned, reduce signs of aging, and can heal wounds and insect bites. Aloe vera also works great as an after-shave. Product Recommendation: Prescribed Solutions Starting Up/Face Glycolic Anti-oxidant Cleanser

ALPHA-HYDROXY ACIDS (AHAs) help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation and age spots, and can help shrink enlarged pores. Side effects of alpha-hydroxy acids include mild irritation and sun sensitivity. These are used to brighten dull or dry skin. Product Recommendation: DCL AHA Resurfacing Lotion 20

AMINO ACIDS are the building blocks of your skin. Your body must have protein in order to produce new muscle tissue. Protein is produced when there are sufficient amino acids present. They help to build collagen, act as an exfoliant, improve moisture retention and act as an antioxidant. They will also help to reduce the signs of aging and can even be great for your hair and nails. Product Recommendation: ClarityRx Sleep It Off Mask

ALLANTOIN is a natural moisturizing and keratolytic agent that enhances the desquamation of upper layers of the skin with anti-irritating and soothing qualities to protect the skin. Product Recommendation: Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Targeted Spot Brightener

ALPHA-LIPOIC ACID helps fight future skin damage and also repairs past damage. It has great anti-aging effects and will reduce fine lines, boost levels of antioxidants (e.g., vitamin C) and give skin a healthy glow. ALA will also reduce swelling and puffiness in the face. Product Recommendation: Perricone MD High Potency Classics – Face Firming Serum

ANTIOXIDANTS are compounds such as vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q10, idebenone, zinc, copper and beta carotene. They protect skin by limiting the production of free radicals, which can damage skin cells. They produce valuable anti-inflammatory results by increasing circulation and cell metabolism, which promotes more even skin tone and helps keep acne and wrinkles under control. Antioxidants also help keep skin firm, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars, and help to reduce the effects of sun damage. Product Recommendation: Dermalogica Antioxidant HydraMist

ARBUTIN helps with skin brightening and fading hyperpigmentation. It’s a great ingredient for sun spots, acne scars, and melasma. Product Recommendation: Obagi-C Fx C-Clarifying Serum

ARGAN OIL is rich in antioxidants that help protect against environmental damage. It will also help to moisturize the skin and reduce oil, promoting a smoother, clearer complexion and even helping with acne. Product Recommendation: Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30

AZELAIC ACID is used as a topical treatment for mild to moderate acne. It helps to reduce the growth of bacteria, reduces inflammation, and helps damaged skin return to its normal state. It also helps reduce pigmentation, so it’s particularly useful for darker skinned patients whose acne spots leave brown marks. Product Recommendation: Glytone Enhance Brightening Serum

BEESWAX is a humectant so it attracts water to help keep the skin hydrated. It also provides a protective layer on the skin and acts as a natural exfoliator. Product Recommendation: Gosling’s Original ChopSaver Lip Care SPF 15

BENZOYL PEROXIDE helps control surface oil and neutralize Propionibacterium Acnes (P. acnes or the acne causing bacteria) on the skin. When the number of P. acnes bacteria is reduced, the number of acne breakouts is reduced as well. It also works to break down and exfoliate dead skin cells and eliminate oil, which in turn unblocks pores and reduces acne. Occasionally benzoyl peroxide can be drying, so be wary of this. Product Recommendation: Jan Marini Benzoyl Peroxide 10%

BIOTIN (also commonly called vitamin H) is known for the health and beauty benefits of your skin, hair and nails. Biotin processes almost all types of food that you intake, together with protein, fat and carbohydrates. If the biotin levels in your body are at appropriate levels, the food you eat will be processed immediately. Since inner health often appears on your face and skin, biotin has the capacity to solve all your skin problems and leave you with glowing, wrinkle-free skin, beautiful hair, and healthy nails. Product Recommendation: Elon Matrix 5,000

CAFFEINE (including green tea) acts as a diuretic, dehydrating fat cells and making skin appear smoother, at least in the short-term. It can reduce dark, puffy circles under the eyes as well. Product Recommendation: Replenix Caffeine Fortified Calming Serum

CASTOR OIL has a variety of benefits. Not only does it protect against wrinkles and soothe the skin, it can also be used to grow hair and smooth out split ends. Many people love using castor oil to help grow their eye lashes or eyebrows.

CERAMIDES help replenish lipids lost from environmental factors and during the aging process. They help restore moisture to the skin and help build a natural barrier on the skin to protect it. These are also used to effectively treat eczema. Product Recommendation: SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream

CHARCOAL will exfoliate and cleanse your skin, which is why you find it in a lot of masks. Charcoal is also good for oily, acne prone skin and can help with large pores. Product Recommendation: Soapwalla Activated Charcoal & Petitgrain Cleansing Bar

CLAY is another ingredient frequently found in skin care masks. It helps absorb oil, prevent clogged pored and acne.  Product Recommendation: Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask 

COCONUT OIL can naturally protect your skin from the sun, helps heal dry, cracked lips, and is a great skin softener.

COENZYME Q10 helps slow down the visible signs of UV damage and can help to prevent premature aging. It provides antioxidant protection, promotes collagen production, reduces inflammation, and decreases the appearance of fine lines. Product Recommendation: SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum 

COPPER PEPTIDE is used for skin regeneration. It helps to firm, smooth, and soften skin by increasing the body’s natural tissue-building process. Product Recommendation: Jan Marini Age Intervention Face Cream

DIMETHICONE fills in uneven texture and fine lines, which helps produce a smooth and perfect look. It also provides a shielding cover on skin, which helps keep moisture in, leaving skin hydrated for longer. Product Recommendation: Obagi Hydrate Facial Moisturizer

DMAE (DIMETHYLAMINOETHANOL) will not only help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, it will also help prevent the drooping and sagging of the muscles under the skin, which is a big contributor to looking older. Product Recommendation: Janson Beckett 5% DMAE Firming Serum with Elastin

ELASTIN is a protein that helps improve skin’s elasticity and hydration. Product Recommendation: Reviva Labs Elastin + DMAE Night Crème

ESSENTIAL OILS can be very soothing and help with irritation and itchiness. Additionally, they can help reduce the appearance of scars and provide overall anti-aging benefits. Product Recommendation: Pat’s Original Eczema Care Skin-Soothing Cream

GLUCOSAMINE helps increase the skin’s hydration and plumps up thin skin. Product Recommendation: Revision Skincare Bodifirm

GLYCERIN acts as a humectant, meaning it helps the skin retain moisture. It’s hydrating and therefore can help with dryness and overall texture of the skin. Product Recommendation: La Roche Posay TOLERIANE Hydrating Gentle Cleanser

GLYCOLIC ACID helps to refine and retexturize skin. It will provide a very even exfoliation of the skin and is very effective for treating fine lines, acne, blackheads, dullness, oiliness, etc. Product Recommendation: Neostrata Glycolic Renewal Smoothing Lotion

GREEN TEA has anti-inflammatory properties that can help with swelling, skin irritation and redness. Green tea is also very soothing on the skin. Product Recommendation: MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème SPF 50

GROWTH FACTORS are important in maintaining firmness and elasticity in the skin. They direct the cells to think and act younger and therefore have many anti aging benefits. Product Recommendation: SkinMedica TNS Advanced+ Serum 

HONEY is a humectant and therefore helps skin absorb and retain moisture. It’s hydrating and packed with antioxidants to help protect and repair skin. Honey also helps to prevent damage and is a calming ingredient. Product Recommendation: Allies of Skin Multi Nutrient & Dioic Renewing Cream

HYALURONIC ACID regulates cell renewal and helps to maintain the skin’s moisture and elasticity. It plumps the skin while increasing volume to collagen layers and will help to make your skin smoother and softer. Product Recommendation: SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator

HYDROCORTISONE works by reducing skin inflammation, redness, swelling, itching, and irritation. Product Recommendation: PCA Skin CliniCalm 1%

HYDROQUINONE is an ingredient in creams used to lighten discolorations in skin. It works by reducing the amount of melanin in the skin, making darkened areas lighter. You will usually start to see results within 3 weeks if you’re using the cream on a twice daily basis. Product Recommendation: PCA Skin Pigment Gel

JOJOBA This very gentle moisturizing ingredient leaves skin supple and soft without clogging pores and is perfect for all skin types. Similar in structure to the skin’s natural and lipid barrier, it penetrates skin to hydrate. Product Recommendation: NEOCUTIS NEO-FIRM

KERATIN is a protein that helps keep the skin firm and forms a protective layer to preserve healthy skin. This barrier helps keep out pathogens and helps minimize damage from environmental factors to reduce the signs of aging. Product Recommendation: Virtue Full Shampoo

KOJIC ACID is an all-natural compound derived from fungi that’s used in cosmetics and skin lightening products. Kojic acid works to stop the production of melanin in your skin, which will make your skin lighter in color. Age spots, sun spots and spots related to melasma and hyperpigmentation contain more melanin than the surrounding healthy skin. It can work on these issues as well as on healthy skin to give it a lighter appearance. Product Recommendation: Clinicians Complex Skin Bleaching Hand & Body Lotion

L-ASCORBIC ACID is the form of vitamin C that you should look for in skin care products. This will help minimize fine lines, scars, and wrinkles. Product Recommendation: iS CLINICAL Pro Heal Serum Advance

LACTIC ACID is a gentler AHA (alpha hydroxyl acid) than glycolic acid and works to reduce acne and many signs of aging such as wrinkles.  It’s found in many over the counter skin care products used for anti-aging, and is also used in chemical peels. It also moisturizes, increases natural barrier lipids in the outer layer of skin, and lightens and brightens skin, reducing age spots or darkened areas. Product Recommendation: DCL C Scape High Potency Body Lotion

MALIC ACID is another AHA commonly used in skin care products. As with other AHAs, malic acid penetrates the skin, removing dead skin cells, revealing a fresh, new layer of skin. It helps to unclog pores, exfoliate and hydrate the skin without making it oily, increase collagen production, and improve skin’s texture. Malic acid is gentler than glycolic acid, thus better for sensitive skin.

MANDELIC ACID is an alpha hydroxy acid that helps to treat acne and oily skin, eliminates hyperpigmentation, and eliminates fine lines and wrinkles. Mandelic acid causes less skin irritation than other AHA’s and is therefore better for sensitive skin. Product Recommendation: Neostrata Mandelic Mattifying Serum

MICA is used in skin care products (mostly in mineral powders) for its shimmering appearance. Mica creates the illusion of a smoother, softer and more radiant skin tone. Product Recommendation: Dermalogica Total Eye Care SPF 15

NEUROPEPTIDES will improve the skin’s resilience, tone, and texture and help to reduce lines and wrinkles. Incorporating these will hydrate the skin and increase firmness.

NIACINAMIDE is a powerful form of vitamin B. This powerful ingredient helps reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Product Recommendation: DefenAge 24/7 Barrier Balance Cream 

OCTINOXATE is absorbs harmful ultra violet light which leads to premature aging.

PANTHENOL promotes wound healing, helps restore damaged epithelium, reduces itching and inflammation, improves skin hydration, improves skin roughness, and more. Product Recommendation: La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5

ORGANIC RED TEA EXTRACT is more powerful as an antioxidant than green tea and contains vitamins A, C, and E to resurface, protect, and brighten the skin.

PEPTIDES are used in anti-aging products and help produce collagen, relax muscles, and reduce redness. Product Recommendation: Allies of Skin Peptides & Antioxidants Firming Daily Treatment

PHYTIC ACID is used for skin lightening and is a great exfoliator. It can help clear and shrink pores and is also good to reduce acne. Product Recommendation: SkinMedica LYTERA 2.0

PLANT STEM CELLS help protect against damage and also are great for anti-aging. They have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and will help promote an even skin tone, diminish the appearance of wrinkles, make the skin appear more firm and plump, and can help with dark spots. Product Recommendation: Clinicians Complex Stem Cell Cream

POLYENYLPHOSPHOTIDYL CHOLINE (PPC) is a huge reliever of dry skin.  It acts as a great moisturizer and will relieve dry or chapped skin. Even the most severely dehydrated areas can be quickly recovered using this ingredient.

PROBIOTICS help build and strengthen the skin barrier. They can also help with dry skin and protect against eczema and acne. Product Recommendation: Murad Prebiotic 4-In-1 MultiCleanser

RESVERATROL has been talked about as an ingredient used to substantially combat aging, more so than many other antioxidants. This ingredient can be found in red wine and now many skin care companies are using it in their products as well, to fight the effects of aging. My short research into Resveratrol, however, shows conflicting human data, with no studies showing any long term benefits for the skin. For the time being though, it sounds to be more hype than fact. Product Recommendation: PCA Skin Resveratrol Restorative Complex

RETINOL is the purest, most active form of vitamin A and is the ultimate rejuvenator of aging cells. It helps to improve pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone and color, and your skin’s hydration levels. It’s a powerful exfoliant that helps the skin shed dead skin and will make the skin smoother and younger looking. Product Recommendation: SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0 

SALICYLIC ACID exfoliates the skin’s surface to help decrease acne bacteria. Salicylic acid is known to be less irritating than skin care products containing alpha-hydroxy acids, but should provide similar improvement in skin texture and color. These are used for oily or acne prone skin. Salicylic acid is especially good for blackheads and whiteheads. It can also dry your skin. Product Recommendation: Jan Marini Multi-Acid Resurfacing Pads

SHEA BUTTER is essentially a “super food” for your skin. It is highly moisturizing, protects the skin, helps to regenerate the skin, stimulates collagen production, helps heal burns and cuts, and helps to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, and scars. It’s known to be one of the best (and all-natural) anti-aging ingredients for your skin. It is also great for wintertime and after sun care. It’s great for all skin types, including very sensitive skin. Product Recommendation: PCA Skin Peptide Lip Therapy

SOLUBLE COLLAGEN is a skin conditioning protein responsible for skin strength that helps the skin to recover after aggressive damages.

SQUALANE OIL helps boost hydration,  fights free radicals, and provides powerful anti-aging benefits. It’s very lightweight and doesn’t feel greasy and can also balance oil production. Product Recommendation: ClarityRx Nourish Your Skin 100% Squalane Oil

SULFER helps dry out the surface of your skin and absorb excess oil It also dries out dead skin cells to help unclog your pores and reduce breakouts. Product Recommendation: Clearogen 3-Step Acne Treatment Set – Sulfer

TITANIUM DIOXIDE is a natural physical sun protectant that shields from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Product Recommendation: Elta MD UV Physical Tinted Broad Spectrum SPF 41

VITAMIN A helps to correct many skin conditions. It helps to reduce acne, makes skin heal faster, exfoliates the skin, and slows down the normal aging process. It can, however cause some side effects including sun sensitivity, irritation, redness and a drying of the skin. Product Recommendation: SOMME Institute A-Bomb moisturizer

VITAMIN C enhances the effectiveness of sunscreens applied to your skin. It can also help defend against signs of aging. It helps to heal damaged skin and can also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Product Recommendation: Revision Skincare Vitamin C Lotion 30%

VITAMIN D helps treat psoriasis and reduces skin inflammation and irritation. Product Recommendation: Clinicians Complex Antioxidant Facial Mist with Rose Water

VITAMIN E helps protect against sun damage and will minimize the damage done by UV rays. Product Recommendation: Reviva Labs Vitamin E Oil E-Stick with SPF 15

VITAMIN K helps the body heal from bruising and can also help to heal spider veins, stretch marks, scars, and dark circles under the eyes. Product Recommendation: Revision Skincare Vitamin K Serum

WITCH HAZEL helps with inflammation and also helps reduce the appearance of pores. Not only that, it also diminishes signs of aging by preventing free radical damage. Witch Hazel also helps soak up oil, helping with acne and it can even soothe puffy eyes due to its antioxidant properties. Product Recommendation: Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment

ZINC OXIDE is a powerful ingredient for protecting against the sun. It can be used to protect against diaper rash and can generally soothe the skin as well. Product Recommendation: Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

Now that you’re more educated about what ingredients you’re looking for in your skin care products, it’s time to start shopping! Remember, all of our products are categorized by category, top concerns, ingredients, and more so you can easily find exactly what you’re looking for.

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About Dr. Alan J. Parks

Dr. Alan Parks is a board certified dermatologist. Dr. Parks founded his practice, Eastside Dermatology, in 1986 and has been practicing there ever since. In 2016 Dr. Parks launched DermWarehouse, an eCommerce website selling professional strength skin care products to customers across the United States.

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