It is very important to know what ingredients do, so we can use products containing substances that are effective and avoid the ones that cause allergies, irritations and breakouts. However, it’s not always easy to understand how ingredients work. Sometimes we come across terms, like surfactants, and aren’t sure what they mean. So, I’ve decided to put together this small guide explaining the terms used to describe the activity of ingredients. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful.
Please note that this is not a comprehensive guide, I’ve left out terms, like anti-irritants, that are self-explanatory, or words that are too technical and only used to describe how a product is formulated. But if there is a term you’ve heard and don’t know what it means, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.
Antioxidants: these ingredients protect the skin from the damaging effects of oxidation, like that caused by free radicals.
Binding Agent: ingredients that hold the product together, preventing water and oils from separating.
Emollients: ingredients that smooth and soften skin.
Humectants: these ingredients attract water, usually from the surrounding air, to the skin.
Lubricants: these ingredients make skin feel smoother to the touch and also reduce friction.
pH Adjusters: ingredients that control the pH of a product.
Preservatives: ingredients that prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and molds, extending the shelf life of a product.
Skin Bleaching Agents: substances that lighten skin by suppressing melanin formation.
Skin Protectants: ingredients that temporarily protect exposed skin from harmful stimuli.
Solvents: substances that dissolve other ingredients.
Surfactants: also called surface active ingredients, these substances have many uses. They help mix two substances, like water and oil, that normally wouldn’t. They are also detergents that emulsify, lift and remove dirt from skin and hair. In addition, they allow a product to spread easily and evenly across the skin.
Viscosity Decreasing/Increasing Agents: ingredients that decrease or increase the thickness of liquid products.