Skincare Glossary

Are you often stumped and confused by all the ingredients in cosmetics? I often find myself googling ingredients to grasp an understanding of their benefits and whether or not they are going to irritate my skin. I have put together a bit of a list of common skincare terms and ingredients to make it easier to understand what we are putting on our faces.

This is a living page and will be constantly updated when I come across something new, and speak about skincare in blog posts.

I must stress that these terms are from my own research and understanding of ingredients. As stated in my disclaimer, I am not by any means a professional and all my _________





Alcohol –  Used widely in skincare, Alcohol is known to dehydrate and sensitise the skin.

Antioxidants – The term given to any ingredient that prevents free radical damage to the skin.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids – A group of naturally occurring acids (Glycolic, Lactic       )  that dissolve the fluid that binds our skin together. As we age, this fluid becomes thicker and therefore harder to break down.  AHAs exfoliate the surface of the skin resulting in a smooth, more refined and youthful complexion.

Aloe Vera – Widely known for it’s healing properties, Aloe Vera is used to soothe, hydrate and reduce inflammation.  Very common for the treatment of sunburn.

Argan Oil – A very versatile oil rich in Vitamin E, Argan oil doesn’t clog pores but nourishes, hydrates and protects skin, hair, and nails.

Avocado Oil – An emollient oil chock full of fatty acids and antioxidants.  Avocado oil is a great anti-inflammatory and is typically used to hydrate, nourish and soothe.


Benzoyl Peroxide – An anti-bacterial topical treatment used to rid the skin of acne-causing bacteria

Beta Hydroxy Acid – A chemical exfoliant that penetrates pores to dislodge dead skin cells and excess sebum which can result in blackheads and acne. This treats texture, pores and fine lines. See Salicylic Acid.

Biotin – A B vitamin that is commonly found in foods which plays an essential role in the metabolism. Biotin is also used to nourish hair, skin, and nails.

Bontanicals – A fancy umbrella term used to describe a plant-derived ingredient that may or may not be all that beneficial to the skin.


Ceramides – A naturally occurring fatty acid that keeps skin looking plump and soft. Ceramides create a protective layer on the skin to ensure all over health and radiance.

Charcoal – A powerful detoxifying ingredient that is used to control oil and purify the skin.

Citric Acid –  An acid (AHA) found in fruits, that can be used to both exfoliate and brighten. Citric Acid can also encourage collagen to form.

Collagen – A protein found naturally in the skin that increases elasticity and strength. Over time harmful UV rays break down collagen which results in fine lines and wrinkles. Collagen can be rebuilt to reverse the side effects of aging.




Enzymes – Made from fruit, enzymes can assist in the chemical exfoliation process. You’ll find these in a lot of face masks or professional peels to give you bright, refreshed skin

Essential Oils – A group of fragrant natural oils that have aromatherapy properties.  Each individual oil is very different. Some may be beneficial to the skin, while others may cause irritation and even allergic reactions.

Eucalyptus Oil –  Derived from Australia’s native eucalyptus tree, this oil is often used for the treatment of acne


Free Radicals – A type of molecule that is created by the sun, smoke and pollution that damages skin cells – think sagging, dehydration and wrinkles.


Glycolic Acid – This AHA is derived from sugar cane. Glycolic acid works well to exfoliate and resurface the skin. See Alpha Hydroxy Acids.

Grapeseed Oil –  Full of antioxidants and vitamins, Grapeseed Oil is super hydrating and is a great weapon in the fight against free radicals.

Green Tea – A potent antioxidant for both our bodies and skin which can reverse the damage caused by those pesky little free radicals.


Hyaluronic Acid – A naturally occurring molecule that holds 1000x its weight in water. As we age the Hyaluronic Acid in our skin diminishes which leads to sagging, wrinkles and an overall dull appearance. Hyaluronic Acid is included in many moisturisers to add hydration to the skin and make the complexion look and feel healthy and plump.



Jojoba Oil – A great repairing oil that doesn’t clog pores and promotes regeneration of skin cells.


Kaolin – Mostly used in mud masks, Kaolin is used to absorb oils and mattify. It can be quite drying on normal-dry skin types.


Lactic Acid – Belonging to the AHA group of acids, Lactic Acid is derived from fermented milk which makes it a very gentle chemical exfoliant. This clever little acid also has hydrating properties which makes it a great starting point for AHA’s.

Lanolin – A rich, oily like substance that is derived from wool. Very soothing and super hydrating, lanolin is often used in lip balms and ointments


Mandelic Acid – Another AHA which accelerates cell renewal and gently exfoliates the skin. This acid is a great starting point for chemical exfoliation.

Mineral Oil – A by-product of petroleum used in many cosmetics. Mineral Oil can assist in hydration but is also known to clog pores and lead to breakouts.


Niacinamide – This all in one skincare powerhouse ingredient treats a multitude of skin concerns. Belonging to the B vitamin group, Niacinamide will increase the elasticity in the skin, curb redness, while soothing irritation and adding hydration.




Parabens – A type of preservative that prevents the growth of bacteria and mold in cosmetic products. Studies have claimed that parabens disrupt hormone regulation and may be carcinogenic.

Peptides – A chain of amino acids that build protein, which in turn repairs the skin and promotes the growth of collagen. Linked to the treatment of wrinkles and fine lines.

Phthalates – Pronounced THAL-ates, this nasty little ingredient is essentially used make materials like plastic and rubber a little more flexible.  This is definitely not something you want in your cosmetics.



Resveratrol –  This cheeky little antioxidant is found in red grapes and is a helpful ingredient in the fight against aging by giving the skin a youthful appearance.

Retinoid – A blanket term used for all vitamin A derivatives.

Retinol – Basically the bee knees when it comes to skincare. Retinol has you covered on the anti-aging front. It stimulates cell renewal, increases collagen production, increases radiance and youthfulness, works at treating wrinkles, fine lines and acne all while improving texture and tone. Using an SPF is a must when Retinol is a part of your skincare regime.

Rosehip Oil – This potent natural oil is a boss at hydrating and nourishing the skin. It gets to work by soothing and restoring the skin while boosting hydration levels.  Like most skincare ingredients, Rosehip oil can be poorly produced meaning the oil itself can lack quality. Make sure the oil that you use is from a credible source to ensure you are reaping all of that rosehip goodness.

Rosewater – A super gentle soothing ingredient, Rosewater is used to soothe irritations and redness while adding extra hydration to the skin.


Salicylic Acid – The most famous of the BHA’s, Salicylic acid which is widely used for the treatment of acne.  Not just a one trick pony, this clever little cookie also assists in the treatment of wrinkles and skin texture while boasting anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

Shea Butter –  A ridiculously rich and creamy butter derived from a nut, Shea butter is full of nourishing vitamins and antioxidants used to hydrate the skin. Works really well on severely dehydrated and flaky skin.

Sulfates –  Used in cleansers to create a lathering effect, Sulfates can strip the skin of its natural oils which can cause irritation.  Many products are now developed without the use of sulfates.



Tea Tree Oil – A well-known acne fighter, Tea Tree oil is an antibacterial oil with a multitude of household uses. Often found in natural skin care products aimed at treating acne outbreaks.



Vitamin A – See Retinol

Vitamin B3 – See Niacinamide

Vitamin C – Protects the skin against free radical damage which can be caused by UV rays and environmental factors. Vitamin C reverses sun damage, reduced hyperpigmentation and stimulates the production of collagen. Steer clear of Vitamin C when using Retinoids.

Vitamin D –  Stimulates cell turnover and boosts radiance. Most people

Vitamin E – Calms inflammation, fights UV damage and reduces moisture loss in skin cells. Vitamin E is perfect for sunburn and dry, sore skin.


Walnut Shell Powder –  A naturally derived product that is used as a microbead alternative in physical scrubs. Studies show that walnut shell powder is quite abrasive and sharp which can result in microscopic tears in the skin. Not the best choice for an exfoliator.


Witch Hazel – This natural astringent is known for its inflammatory and acne fighting properties. However, some reports claim that with prolonged use, Witch Hazel can be drying and can create sensitivities.




Zinc Oxide – Found in physical sunscreens, Zinc protects the skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays. These rays are the number one cause of premature ageing.


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