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The BIG Skincare Glossary

beauty glossary

The UK skincare market is predicted to reach USD 24.37 billion by 2024, with the segment growing at a faster pace than any other part of the beauty industry. We are constantly bombarded with fancy ingredient names that promise to give us the complexions of dreams, which can often make product shopping confusing.  

From Niacinamide to Retinol, there are plenty of buzz-ingredients making our skincare shelves look like chemistry labs. To help you get skin-savvy, we have curated an A-Z list to help you decode ingredient lists and get the most out of their skin-boosting benefits. 

A is for AHAs

AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) are a group of natural and synthetic chemical compounds formulated to exfoliate the top layers of your skin. Whilst the concept sounds slightly scary to some, chemical exfoliation is actually more gentle than using micro-bead scrubs, making AHAs a top dermatologist pick to buff of dead skin and reveal a brighter, healthier-looking complexion. There are multiple types of AHAs, however, the most popular variation is glycolic acid, which you’ll find on many ingredient lists. Products formulated with this type of acids will brighten your complexion, tackle sun damage and smooth out the skin’s surface. The most common products containing AHAs are usually toners, exfoliators and lotions. 

B is for BHAs

Whilst AHAs are amazing for those concerned with ageing and dullness, BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) are the ultimate skincare saviours if you struggle with acne, blackheads, or just generally congested skin. BHAs are commonly known in skincare under the name of salicylic acid, which is a chemical exfoliant that helps reveal a clearer complexion. Being oil-soluble, BHAs are ideal of oily T-zones and have anti-inflammatory benefits, banishing clogged pores and keeping blemishes at bay. You will commonly find BHAs in targeted spot treatments, lotions acid-infused face pads. 

C is for Vitamin C 

From dullness to unevenness and even fine lines or acne scars, vitamin C is an all-round skincare hero that has been hailed for its brightening benefits. Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids the skin’s natural regeneration process, repairing damaged cells and restoring your complexion’s glow. This wonder-ingredient is also a saviour when it comes to free radical damage, with dermatologists actively recommending it to combat sun damage and help with pollution-induced dullness. With products containing this vitamin being highly acidic, they trigger the skin to produce more collagen and elastin, resulting in accelerating healing from any environmental aggressor damage. What can you find vitamin C in? Pretty much everything! From serums to moisturisers and even eye creams, this skincare gem is widely used in products, with some brands building entire ranges around it. 

D is for DHA

If you’re all about faking that summer glow with tanning drops and clever face tanners, DHA (Dihydroxyacetone) is the wonder ingredient that helps you look sun-kissed. This colour-booster reacts with the amino acids from the upper layers of your skin to create the appearance of a darker complexion. You will find this ingredient in everything from tanning drops, mousses or gels designed for both your face and your body. Despite the popular belief, DHA does not protect you from the harmful UVA and UVB rays, so you still need to make sure you follow up with SPF whenever you’re exposed to sunlight. 

E is for Vitamin E 

Vitamin E is commonly praised for being a hydration powerhouse, channeling skin-soothing benefits and boosting your complexion’s healing process. In technical terms, vitamin E actually refers to a group of oil-soluble antioxidants, however, the most common variations found in skincare are tocopheryl acetate and tocopherol – so don’t get scared if you see these technical terms on your products’ ingredient line-up. In terms of benefiting the skin, vitamin E helps with cellular restoration, fighting off free-radical damage and working to calm inflammation. Vitamin E works a treat at restoring and repairing damaged and dehydrated skin, however, if you’re more on the oily or acne-prone side, dermatologists advise against it. Commonly found in skincare formulations alongside vitamin C, you’ll often find this ingredient in serums and moisturisers. 

F is for Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseeds have taken the wellness world by storm, so there is no wonder why they have become a popular skincare ingredient too. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients, flaxseed oil is the ultimate anti-ageing hero that you need to know about. On top of delivering intense hydration, the oil also helps reduce hyperpigmentation and acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory, helping to nourish and soothe your complexion whilst quenching it in its luxurious texture to create a bouncier appearance. This ingredient is available mainly in face oils and moisturisers, and you’ll often find it alongside incorporated in antioxidant-rich formulas. 

G is for Glycerin

Glycerin, a naturally-occurring component of healthy skin, is often used in products as a humectant. In simple terms, glycerin helps draw moisture from the air and retain that moisture within your skin, giving it that bouncy appearance. Helping dry skin look softer and suppler, this ingredient helps fortify your complexion’s moisture barrier and facilitates the penetration of other ingredients into the top layers of your skin. Glycerin is most commonly found in moisturisers and primers, creating a fresh and dewy canvas for make-up application. 

H is for Hyaluronic Acid

If you skipped all the other ingredients to get to this one, I honestly don’t blame you! Hailed as a powerhouse of hydration, HA ticks all the boxes: retains moisture, helps diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles and creates a plumping effect. A naturally-occurring substance in our bodies, HA plays an important part in the skin’s youth-supporting matrix. Same as glycerin, it helps draw moisture from its surroundings, having the capacity to hold 1000 x its weight in water, working to constantly renew and replenish the skin’s protective barrier and boost its elasticity. You can find hyaluronic acid in serums and moisturisers, and its gentle nature makes it suitable for all skin types. 

I is for Inositol 

Inositol is widely used in skincare and cosmetics as a humectant, a tanning compound or an anti-static agent. This carbocyclic sugar is naturally produced by the human body and it helps attract and retain moisture, boosting the performance of the other skincare ingredients from the formulas it has been added to. From moisturisers to lotions and anti-ageing products, you are likely to find this ingredient whitin many skincare formulas. When it comes to its tanning benefits, inositol is helps intensify and maintain suntan for longer, which is why this ingredient has made its way into the formulations of tanning oils, tanning accelerators and ‘after-sun’ products. 

J is for Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is an emollient, fragrance-free oil that is extracted from the seeds of a perennial shrub. Commonly used for its restorative properties, this rich source of fatty acids is almost identical in texture to the sebum naturally produced by our skin. Lighter in texture and less greasy than many commonly used oils, jojoba is known for its skin-soothing benefits, working a treat at nourishing dry skin. You can find Jojoba Oil on its own or as a component of other facial oils. 

K is for Vitamin K

Vitamin K is starting to make an appearance in more and more product formulations due to its skin-boosting properties. Known to keep dark circles at bay and help with skin elasticity, this vitamin is a must for those looking to tackle any problems with the under-eye area – including deeper wrinkles such as crow’s feet. This vitamin is also amazing at combating redness and irritation, accelerating the skin’s healing process. Paired with other glow-boosting ingredients such as caffeine, Vitamin K can do wonders when it comes to banishing dullness and revealing a healthier complexion. You are most likely to find vitamin K in eye creams and serums. 

L is for Lactic Acid

A popular AHA, Lactic Acid is used for its amazing exfoliating properties, working wonders on oily and acne-prone skin. Perfect for sensitive skin, this type of acid gently exfoliates and banishes dullness without compromising the skin’s protective barrier. How does it work? Lactic acid basically interferes with the bond between healthy skin cells and dead skin cells, increasing cell turnover and working on the upper layers of the skin to buff away any signs of dullness. Whilst this is a very gentle acid, dermatologists advise that you limit your use to a few times a week to avoid irritation. You can find Lactic Acid in facial peels, chemical exfoliators and cleansing gels. 

M is for Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid is a popular anti-ageing ingredient that works to accelerate cell turnover, revealing a brighter, younger-looking complexion. Standing under the AHA category, this type of acid is derived from bitter almonds and it is gentler than some of its other exfoliating counterparts. Mandelic works to dissolve the tiny bonds that hold skin cells together, removing dead skin from the surface of your complexion whilst strengthening collagen bonds, banishing dullness all together. You’ll most likely find Mandelic Acid in face peels, cleansing gels and serums. 

N is for Niacinamide 

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that helps tackle enlarged pores, blemishes and unevenness. Helping to boost the skin’s elasticity and fight free-radical damage, this ingredient strengthens the skin’s protective barrier and improves elasticity, making it a popular choice for those looking for anti-ageing product formulations. All skin types can benefit from the use of Niacinamide, with experts advising that you incorporate it in your daily skincare routine to maximise its benefits. You can find Niacinamide in serums, moisturisers and masks. 

O is for Oatmeal

Turns out oatmeal isn’t just for your breakfast bowl – your skin can benefit from its properties too! Known for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, oatmeal is a great skin-soother that works amazing for sensitive skin types, fortifying your complexion’s barrier and calming any irritation. If you suffer from oiliness, this buzz ingredient can help soak up excess sebum and remove any dirt particles from clogged pores, gently exfoliating the top layers of the skin. You can find oatmeal in everything from moisturisers and toners to body lotions and scrubs. 

P is for Probiotics

Ingestible probiotics have become a big wellness trend, but the skincare world can benefit from the properties of this ‘good bacteria’ too. Probiotics are essentially microorganisms that are naturally found within our bodies and they encompass the array of micro-organisms that live on the surface of our bodies. When correctly formulated, skincare harnessing their benefits can work wonders at banishing inflammation and resurfacing unwanted texture, making probiotics a key ingredient to help fight the ‘bad bacteria’. You can incorporate probiotics in your skincare routine through moisturisers, face mists and serums. 

Q is for Quercertin 

Quercertin is a natural compound commonly found in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, kale and berries. Believed to have positive impacts on your health when consumed as part of a healthy diet, quercertin has made its way into skincare. Research has found that it helps with cell regeneration, promoting the growth of new cells and diminishing the effects of free-radical damage due to its anti-oxidant properties. Quercertin can be found in moisturisers and face mists. 

R is for Retinol 

One of the most googled ingredients, Retinol has become a staple for many skincare lovers. Retinol is a form of vitamin A, known to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, help with enlarged pores and promote a more even complexion. Enhancing collagen production and promoting bounciness within your skin, this ingredient has won the hearts of dermatologists and skincare lovers alike. You can find Retinol in serums and creams and, as a general rule of thumb, dermatologists advise that you start off with a low percentage and gradually work your way up. 

S is for Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium Bicarbonate (aka baking soda) is commonly used in skincare as a pH adjuster or an abrasive agent, which you’ll find in many face and body scrubs. Reacting when it comes in contact with water, baking soda transforms into a foam that helps unclog pores and remove dead skin cells, banishing blackheads and refreshing your complexion. You can find this ingredient in cleansers and exfoliating scrubs. 

T is for Titanium Dioxide

Titanium Dioxide is commonly used in sunscreens for its ability to protect skin from UVA and UVB damage. This gentle ingredient works well on sensitive skin and can be safely used around the eyes, making it the perfect sunscreen active compound that is suitable for all skin types. Due to the molecular size of this ingredient, titanium dioxide doesn’t penetrate beyond the top layers of the skin, allowing you to get sun protection without any skin damage and clogged pores. 

V is for Vanilla Extract

The benefits of vanilla go beyond its delicious smell. Vanilla extract is actually rich acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory, making it amazing at soothing irritated skin. Its anti-bacterial properties also make vanilla an amazing acne treatment, and the anti-oxidant nature of vanilla helps with combating signs of ageing such as hyperpigmentation. Vanilla extract is most commonly found in moisturisers. 

W is for Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel has maintained its popularity in the world of natural remedies, with many industries harnessing its properties. The leaf, bark and twigs of the plant are widely used in the world of medicine, however, in skincare, many turn to witch hazel to help fight oily and acne-prone skin. Like many other plant-derived substances, witch hazel is rich in anti-oxidants. Dermatologists normally tend to advise against its regular use – whilst skincare products containing this ingredient are good quick-fix when it comes to reducing excess oil and de-greasing the skin, they can actually sensitise the skin in the long run. If you turn to with hazel to help with any skin concerns such as acne, many recommend using it in moderation, and only as a targeted treatment. 

X is for Xanthan Gum

Xanthan Gum is a sugar-based polymer, commonly used as a thickening agent in skincare and cosmetics. Whilst this ingredient is not notably beneficial to your skin, you are very likely to find it in most skincare products for its abilities to enhance the consistency and maintain the texture. You will find this ingredient in everything from serums to masks and cleansers. 

Y is for Yeast Extract 

Used in the production of many fermented foods and drinks, yeast is a powerful source of beta-glucan, which acts as an anti-oxidant that helps hydrate, reduce inflammation and reduce skin pigmentation. Helping to restore the skin’s barrier and plump the skin, you can find yeast extract in multiple moisturisers. 

Z is for Zinc

Despite Zinc being a metal (which can sound slightly off-putting), it actually aids the health of our skin, acting as a regulator of numerous genetic activities. Because of its ability to regulate sebum production and prevent clogged pores, acne-prone skin types can benefit from skincare products containing zinc. This mineral also helps protect the skin aids its healing and regeneration, helping it look younger and healthier. You can find zinc in serums, moisturisers and targeted treatments. 

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