Have you ever heard a skin care-related term or phrase, but have no idea what it actually means?
This guide will take you through the world of baffling skin care terminology, helping you to understand exactly what each term means, so that you are never kept in the dark again.
Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids
Also known as AHAs and BHAs, alpha and beta hydroxy acids are terms that are thrown around quite often, especially when it comes to improving your skin care routine.
But what exactly are they?
Both AHAs and BHAs are basically acid-based exfoliants, and work by loosening and dissolving the “glue” that holds dead skin cells onto the surface of the skin. This glue thickens with age, which is why these chemical exfoliants are often recommended in an anti-aging routine.
Wondering what the difference between the two is?
To put it simply, AHAs are water-soluble, and are derived from milk and fruit sugars, while BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning that they are great for unclogging pores. AHAs are great for dry skin, while BHAs work incredibly well on oily skin. While they can be used together, you are best off adding them into your routine one at a time, giving your skin some time to adjust to them.
The term “antioxidant” refers to any ingredient that has the ability to neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidation.
Don’t quite understand what free radicals are?
Keep reading on, and you will soon find out!
Some of the most common antioxidants that you will find in skin care include:
- Green Tea
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Grape Seed Extract
Antioxidants work even better when combined with each other, but, no matter which antioxidant products you end up using, make sure that you opt for air-tight tubes and bottles rather than jars.
Because the potency of antioxidants is degraded when they are exposed to light and air, so packaging really does matter.
Astringents basically tighten up the skin and clear away excess oil, but this can be quite a confusing term, as it refers to two different things in the skin care industry.
The first are astringents as a product, which are water-based solutions that are essentially a stronger form of a toner. While these do feel as though they tighten the skin, this is usually because of all of the alcohol that commercial astringents contain, and these tend to actually leave your skin dehydrated.
The term “astringent” can also refer to ingredients that have astringent qualities. This means that they are able to remove excess oil, reduce inflammation and tighten the skin, therefore minimizing pores.
These astringents include:
- Witch hazel
- Rose water
- Apple cider vinegar
- Lemon and other citrus juices
Your skin is constantly producing new skin cells in its deepest layers, and these then travel up your skin to the top layer. Once these die off, they are naturally shed by the body as new skin cells arrive to replace them. This whole process is referred to as cell turnover.
Why does this matter?
Because your cell turnover rate naturally declines with age, meaning that old, dead skin cells remain on the surface of your skin for longer, resulting in a rough and dull appearance.
By being aware of this, you will be able to seek out ingredients and products that will help to boost your cell turnover rate as you age.
Ceramides are lipids that are naturally produced by the skin, and are key components of your skin’s outer layer.
Why are they so important?
They support the skin’s natural barrier, which is important when it comes to retaining moisture. They also help to hold healthy skin cells together, which is what gives you a smooth complexion.
However, once you pass the age of 30, your ceramide levels begin to rapidly decline.
Fortunately, there is an easy fix…
Skin care products that contain ceramides have been proven to be effective when it comes to replacing the skin’s natural ceramides, and can be incorporated into every step of your skin care routine.
This is an ingredient that cannot be overused, so, now that you know what ceramides are, start using them as much as you can!
While the human body contains a variety of different proteins, collagen is its most abundant. This protein can be found throughout the body, from the bones to the muscles, and, of course, the skin.
Collagen is a structural protein, and forms a sort of scaffolding for cells, tissues and organs to live on.
Your body naturally produces collagen, and does this to a great extent when you are young, which is why you would have enjoyed firm and smooth skin.
However, collagen production naturally declines with age, leading to wrinkles and sagging skin…
In addition to using products that contain collagen, you should also be making use of ingredients that help to boost your body’s collagen production rate back up.
Dermis, Epidermis and Hypodermis
Your skin has three layers, and each one plays a critical role when it comes to the health of your skin, which is why they are often mentioned individually.
Here is a breakdown of each layer:
- Epidermis – this is the outermost layer of your skin, and is what gives your skin its waterproof barrier. The epidermis is also responsible for your skin tone, as this is where melanocytes, which produce your skin’s pigment, are found
- Dermis – this is the middle layer of skin, and contains hair follicles, sweat glands and connective tissues
- Hypodermis – also referred to as the subcutaneous layer, this is the deepest layer of your skin, and mostly consists of fat and connective tissues
Elastin is a protein that works hand-in-hand with collagen when it comes to giving your skin its shape and firmness.
However, while collagen gives your skin its strength and structure, elastin gives it its softness and elasticity.
Just like collagen, your natural levels of elastin will decline with age, making it important to take the steps necessary to boost this back up.
Emollients are lubricating agents that form a thin film over the surface of the skin.
Why is this important?
Because this helps to prevent moisture loss, as it stops the moisture in your skin from evaporating into the air.
Emollients can be both synthetic as well as natural, and tend to be found in moisturizers.
Emulsifiers are used in many skin care products, and this is because they help to prevent certain ingredients, such as oil and water, from separating.
Common emulsifiers include:
- Potassium Cetyl Sulfate
Free radicals are skin cells that are missing an atom, making them unhealthy and unstable. These free radicals attack other healthy skin cells, chipping away at their walls, and even at their DNA, until the cell eventually dies.
How do free radicals end up in your body?
Usually due to an inflammatory factor, such as:
- Sun exposure
Wondering how to prevent free radicals from damaging your skin?
The answer has already been mentioned above…
Scroll back up to read about the magic of antioxidants again!
When too much sugar is consumed, these sugar molecules end up cross-linking with protein molecules. The resulting sugar proteins are referred to as Advanced Glycation End Products, also known as AGEs.
Why is this important?
Because your body does not recognize AGEs as normal, meaning that it will produce antibodies and inflammation as a response to this.
In the long run, an abundance of AGEs will result in:
- Damaged collagen
- Accelerated skin aging
- Loss of elasticity
- Compromised skin barrier function
Humectants are unique ingredients, in that they have the ability to attract moisture from the air, almost like a magnet.
As you can imagine, this can have quite the effect when used on the skin, making humectants a key ingredient in moisturizing and hydrating products.
Humectants can be both natural as well as synthetic. Here are a few examples of each:
- Synthetic Humectants – Glycerin, butylene glycol, urea, sorbitol
- Natural Humectants – Hyaluronic acid, honey, aloe, seaweed
Mineral oil is quite a controversial ingredient, and there is so much confusion surrounding this term.
Here are a few of the facts…
Mineral oil is an oil that is derived from petrolatum, which is obtained from petroleum. However, unlike the petroleum used in cars, the oils used in the cosmetics industry are highly refined and treated.
Since the molecules in mineral oil are too large to enter into your pores, they sit on the surface of your skin, resulting in an occlusive layer that protects your skin from external irritation. However, too much of this will end up clogging your pores, leading to acne.
So, is this ingredient good or bad?
That is up to you to decide. People generally either love it or hate it, so why not give one a try to see how you feel?
Parabens are synthetic preservatives that are used to extend the shelf life of skin care products.
While this may be a good thing, parabens could potentially be quite harmful…
Well, these are ingredients that your body absorbs, and parabens end up mimicking certain hormones within your body, disrupting endocrine function. Your body cannot easily break these parabens down, and they end up accumulating within your body.
Several studies have found concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors. Although this does not mean that the parabens are what caused the tumor, this is still extremely worrying, making them an ingredient well worth avoiding.
Here are a few to keep an eye out for:
Peptides are chains of amino acids that do two things; when they are in a long chain, they turn into proteins, but when they are in a short chain, they are able to penetrate the skin and send signals to different cells, telling them how to function.
This is especially important when it comes to collagen, the structural protein in skin. As this begins to decline with age, topically-applied peptides will be able to send a signal into your skin to trigger the production of more collagen.
Phytonutrients are chemical compounds that have been produced by plants to help protect the plant from environmental damage.
Recent research has pointed to the fact that this ability also works when it comes to protecting human health, including that of the skin.
Phytonutrients tend to be packed with antioxidants, making them effective in treating a wide array of skin concerns.
Retinol, retinoids and Retin-A are all derivatives of vitamin A.
Wondering why you hear about them so much?
Because vitamin A has been proven to be the most effective anti-aging ingredient out there.
So, what exactly is the difference between each of the terms?
Here is a quick breakdown:
- Retinol – this is the form of vitamin A that occurs naturally in the skin, and tends to be found in over-the-counter products. Once this enters into your skin, your cells convert it into retinoic acid, which has been clinically proven to help with the signs of aging. However, it can take 3-6 months to notice a difference.
- Retinoids – retinoids are chemical compounds that are related to vitamin A, but are not the ones that occur naturally within the body. Retinoids exfoliate the skin and help to increase the production of collagen.
- Retin-A – Retin-A is a brand of retinoic acid, meaning that your cells do not have to convert retinol into this themselves, and can make use of it much faster. However, since this is quite a potent ingredient, you can only purchase it with a prescription.
Sulfates are common cleansing agents that are often used in, as you can probably guess, cleansers.
While they do clear the skin of excess oil and grime, they are far too strong, and end up causing dehydration.
Sulfates are best avoided, especially when there are so many other ingredients that can do the same job, but without the negative side effects.