Here we explain terms used throughout our website to complete our reference guide.
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Ingredients which induce a tightening of the skin.
Drug astringents, such as Alum, cause a contraction of the skin and stop secretion of fluids by coagulating protein. A product designated as a cosmetic astringent is likely to contain alcohol, aluminium compounds, or witch-hazel. Since astringents tighten the skin, they may protect sensitive skin from the effects of the environment.
One of the primary functions of Surfactants is cleansing. In order to do this, the cleanser will wet the body surfaces, emulsifying and solubilise oils, and suspend dirt. Cleansers contribute foaming and lathering properties to cleansing products and bubble baths. Ingredients which are designated as a cleanser include soaps as well as fatty acids, which become soaps after they have been reacted with an alkali.
Colour Additives, Colouring Agents. Ingredients which impart colour to the skin, hair, or nails, or which are used to colour finished products. Most colourants are synthetic in origin, some (Henna, Iron Oxides and a few others) occur in nature.
From the cosmetic point of view, creams are basically emollients. They are emulsions, usually of the water in oil type. The heavier oily layer of the cream protects the skin by holding a film of water on the skin. It is the water which softens and moisturises the skin. The oily layer also protects the skin from the effects of the environment. Creams reduce flaking, are lubricants, improve the appearance of the skin, and can help to mask the signs of aging.
A volatile oil obtained from the leaves, stem, flower, other parts of the plants, usually carrying the odour characteristic of the plant. Most essential oils are mixtures; Others are nearly pure single compounds (wintergreen oil is methyl salicylate). Essential oils are not saponifiable, although they may be added to finished soaps or other products. Synthetic versions of many essential oils are available, largely due to a shortage of the supply of natural oils. The complexity and subtlety of each oils mixture makes it impossible to duplicate by synthetic means.
An essential oil or synthetic chemical which imparts a scent to the body or to a product. Fragrance makes a product more appealing or is intended as perfume for the wearer. One curious class of fragrances mask the odour of a product and give the impression that the product has no fragrance (fragrance-free). A fragrance is a complex of many volatile and reactive compounds, more numerous than all the other ingredients in a cosmetic product. If a person is sensitive to or irritated by a product, the cause frequently is the fragrance ingredient.
A product which is less likely to cause adverse allergenic reaction than similar, competing products. This does not mean than the product will cause no reaction, just fewer reactions.
An emollient emulsion, usually of the water in oil (w/o) type. Lotions act as lubricants and help reduce flaking of dry skin. They are skin-conditioning agents and sometimes contain humectants. Lotions and creams are similar in function, lotions being thinner (less viscous), less occlusive, with a smoother, less greasy feel on the skin.
A cosmetic absorbent which, when mixed with water and allowed to dry on the skin, is intended to draw impurities from the skin's pores. Masks usually contain mineral (clay) or plant (starch, oat, rice) absorbents as the primary ingredient. A variety of herbs, oils and other ingredients are frequently added to cleanse and soothe the skin.
Lotion, cream emollient, humectant, skin conditioner, occlusive. Moisturisers do not provide moisture for the skin. Rather, they form a film on the skin which enables it to hold onto the moisture which is already present. Since the stratum corneum (skin) is capable of absorbing a certain amount of water for a short period of time, the best time to apply a moisturiser is immediately after bathing. (Dry yourself first!)
Occlusive emollients in moisturisers are valuable for protecting the skin in harsh environments.
Occurring in nature, whether of animal, vegetable, or unrefined mineral origin. This usually does not refer to petroleum, its derivatives, or other chemically derived substances which are termed synthetic. There is no accepted standard for the word "natural" as it applies to cosmetic product, so its presence on any label means only what the manufacturer intends it to mean. This meaning is frequently stretched to include semi-synthetic, which is a combination of substance which occurs in nature and a wholly synthetic component.
A generic name applied to a wide range of substances, some of which are quite different. Oils derived from plants or animals are usually fatty acids such as oleic, plamitic, stearic, lauric, etc. Along with edible oils, these are lipids. They are used as primary ingredients in cosmetics as lubricants and emollients, and they are frequently used in saponification to yield glycerin and fatty acid soaps. The fatty acids produced by saponification are themselves the raw materials for many cosmetic ingredients. The only difference between lipid oils and fats is that oils have a shorter chain molecule, and stay liquid at room temperature. Other oils are mineral (petroleum) and essential.
In the chemical sense, organic refers to all compounds containing carbon with a few simple exceptions (carbon oxides, carbonates, carbon sulfides and a few metallic carbon compounds). Carbon is present in every cell of every plant or animal which is living or which has been alive. This includes all petroleum substances which, although now inert, were once living organisms. The term organic is entirely different when applied to agriculture. In cosmetics almost all ingredients are organic, even though some may be synthetic (derived from petroleum).
A scale from 0 to 14 used in measuring the acidity or alkalinity of solutions. Pure water, at pH 7.0, is considered neutral. Acidity increases as the numbers decrease. Alkalinity increases as the numbers increase. The normal pH of skin and hair is between 4.0 and 6.0, slightly acidic. The pH of a product is important for many reasons. Some examples: The pH of the water used in formulation must be controlled, or the chemical reactions may not be complete. If he pH of a shampoo is too alkaline the hair may be damaged; if it is too acid the shampoo will not cleanse properly. For a preservative system to work properly, the pH must be held within a narrow range.
An ingredient used to control the pH of a finished cosmetic product. pH adjusters alter the product's pH and maintain it at the desired level.
Cosmetics are subject to contamination and deterioration in many ways. A preservative system, in order to be completely effective, must be able to prevent the growth of bacteria, viruses, mould, fungus and other micro-organisms. The preservative system must prevent oxidation (rancidity); in some cases it must retard separation and discolouration of the product. Most preservatives are effective in very small concentrations (1/10 of 1% of the volume of the product, or less), and two or more preservatives working together as a system can actually reduce the total amount of preservative needed both because they each may be more effective in specific activity and because they heighten each other's efficacy due to synergism.
The chemical combination of an acid and a base yields a salt plus water. Table salt is Sodium Chloride (NaCl), and is formed by the following reaction: HCl + NaOH = NaCl + H2O. Soap is a type of salt which is formed by the reaction between a fatty acid and a metallic alkali (base).
The combination of an alkali, usually sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium hydroxide (caustic potash), and a fatty acid. The salt formed is called soap. The caustic nature of the alkali disappears because two entirely new compounds are formed in an irreversible reaction. In the case of lye, all the sodium is contained within the soap, the hydroxide in glycerin, the major by-product of saponification.
As a cleansing preparation for hair, a shampoo is basically a surfactant with good cleansing properties. In this function the surfactant or combination of surfactants should wet the hair and scalp, emulsify or solubilise oils, and suspend soil. There is no need for the shampoo to foam or lather, but users find these properties reassuring, and foam-boosters are a common part of modern shampoo formulations. Commercial shampoos were unknown before the 1930's, and the earliest products were either liquid soap based or harsh synthetic surfactants. Modern shampoos are a mixture of gentle surfactants, as soaps leave a dulling film on the hair. Blends of herbs are frequently added for their traditional benefits. Fragrance, colour and preservatives are also added.
A group of fatty acid derivatives (the esters of a fatty alcohol and Stearic Acid) used to help produce emulsions in creams and lotions, as cleansing agents, and as foam boosters.
Industry reports of sensitisation reactions when used by allergic persons.
The inorganic compound of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O. The most common cosmetic ingredient, the most widely used solvent. In order for a product to be consistent and made to standards, the water itself must be standardised. This requires:
(1) sterilised water, because microorganisms in the formula would multiply rapidly and spoil the product
(2) purified and/or filtered water because suspended contaminants must be removed
(3) demineralised water, because minerals in water (hard water) prevent or impede chemical reactions.
The water must also be deionised. Since the normal pH of water is 7.0, excess alkalinity or acidity must be neutralised or the product's stability cannot be assured. If any of these processes are missing, the product may not retain proper thickness, the preservative system may not be effective, metallic salts (from minerals suspended in the water) may discolour the product. Water is the first ingredient in most shampoos, rinses, conditioners, lotions and other liquid products.
The ingredient should read "water", but euphemisms abound: spring water, rainwater, barley water, herbal water, etc. Whilst it is understandable that the manufacturer wants to make the product sound more natural, more desirable, the consumer should know that water is water - no more, no less. Technically, if a products ingredients list includes something like "herbal extract of …," that ingredient should have been manufactured in a place which is physically separate from the production of the finished product. It should also be obvious that the herbal content of this ingredient is not as important as the fact that it is the source of water for the finished product.