When acids are used in skincare, it doesn’t mean the acids that cartoon villains used to melt through metal… We’re talking about skin-friendly acids that exfoliate the skin by prompting the uppermost layers to slough off, revealing beautiful, fresh skin beneath.
Glycolic acid is probably the most commonly used AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid). Glycolic acid is the smallest AHA molecule, which means it can penetrate deeper into the skin than its cousins, lactic acid, mandelic acid and citric acid. Because of this, it is not as easily controlled and can cause huge change very quickly. This is a double-edged sword as it is also slightly more likely to cause irritation.
Glycolic acid, like all AHAs, gets into the skin and prompts the dead skin cells on the upper layers to slough themselves off. This constant cell turnover means that it can dehydrate the skin and is best used alongside hydrating ingredients. Overuse of glycolic acid can be detrimental to the skin, hence the importance of long-term guidance alongside its usage. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane… Don’t use sugar to exfoliate unless it is chemically with glycolic acid!
Word to the spot-prone: some find it brings up an abundance of under-the-surface buggers.
Lactic acid is possibly the reason why Cleopatra bathed in milk! Lactic acid was first found in sour milk but it is not the only place it can be found and it can also be synthesised. It is an AHA like glycolic acid but it is a much larger molecule, meaning that it works more slowly and is thus more gentle. Lactic acid is the acid to go for for more reactive skins.
In smaller doses, lactic acid can also hydrate the skin by preventing transepidermal water loss or TEWL. Lactic acid, although larger than glycolic acid, still gets down deep enough to speed up cell turnover so it will be (nearly) as effective on hyperpigmentation, dullness and fine lines. Due to the strength and potency of glycolic acid, lactic acid is often considered to be safer in comparison during pregnancy.
Salicylic acid is also known as beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) and is derived from willow bark – salicylic acid is THE chemical exfoliant for oily and acne-prone skin, as it penetrates into the pore and dissolves the plug of dead skin cells and oils. Salicylic acid also prompts the skin to slough off skin cells from the top, just as AHAs do, but it is gentler as it is anti-inflammatory in nature.
It is thought that salicylic acid works on any lumps and bumps, including keratosis pilaris and ingrown hairs, as these are caused by a fault in the skin’s keratinisation process where the skin does not fully shed off dead skin cells and they become stuck in the pore. Salicylic acid is a no-no during pregnancy, due to studies that have shown that oral salicylic acid (aspirin) in high doses may not be safe during pregnancy.
Polyhydroxy acids are not a skingredient in themselves – they’re more a subcategory of acids. You’ve got your AHAs, BHA and then you also have PHAs. Polyhydroxy acids are basically just like AHAs except that they are more suitable for reactive skins and those with inflammatory skin conditions.
Two well-known polyhydroxy acids would be gluconolactone, a free radical scavenger, and lactobionic acid, which reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation and hydrates the skin.
With PHAs, you get all the benefits of AHAs (and BHA), such as increased cell turnover and hydration, but they’re more gentle. This is due to the fact that they can’t quite penetrate as deeply into the skin as an AHA.
See hyaluronic acid in Hydrators!
Antioxidants are skingredients that prevent masses of free radicals from causing harm to the skin. Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron and they will stop at nothing to find this electron to balance themselves. In this search for balance, they will latch on to healthy cells and steal their electron which causes a process called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress can cause DNA damage to the skin, making your skin look a whole lot older a whole lot faster. This is why antioxidants are essential – they fight battles for your skin that you can’t even tell are going on!
Green Tea Extract (EGCG)
Green tea extract, EGCG, epigallocatechin gallate or camellia sinensis is one of the most well researched antioxidant ingredients and you will find it in the majority of skin lightening products as well as pollution-protective products. Green tea is full of polyphenols, structures that hunt down free radicals. Free radical damage leads to premature ageing so this is only a good type of hunt!
Green tea extract is also soothing, due to the anti-inflammatory nature of polyphenols, which means it can be helpful with inflammatory skin conditions and help to bring down redness and irritation. Green tea itself is also beneficial as a beverage as it has very similar effects from the inside out – the perfect alternative to tea and coffee as the polyphenols make up for the high caffeine content. Just a note: rubbing your face with a wet green tea bag will not work!
Co-Enzyme Q10, otherwise known as ubiquinol, Co-Q10 or ubiquinol, is a chemical compound that is needed for an enzyme to be an enzyme. It is used in skincare primarily for its antioxidant properties as it is a free-radical scavenger.
This co-enzyme is a game-changer. It’s the final element in the energy chain, and both to bodies and skin is defined as a youth booster, heading straight into the cell’s mitochondria (or “engine room”) to generate cellular energy. Additionally, it aids in the growth of cells to minimise the appearance of fine lines.
Co-Enzyme Q10 is something your body knows very well as it exists within your cells but all good things come to an end… or at least a decline. As we age, our natural production of Co-Q10 slows down dramatically.
You can find Co-Q10 in both topical and ingestible formulations and it is shown to reduce the signs of ageing when taken in a supplement. It is a fab skingredient to add to your routine to defend from pollution-related damage.
Resveratrol is a phytonutrient, specifically a polyphenol, that both acts as an antioxidant itself and boosts the body’s own supply of enzymes that battle free radical damage. Resveratrol is found in grapes hence why it’s often referenced when it comes to wine being good for your skin, but it’s also found in blueberries, cranberries and dark chocolate.
Resveratrol, like all antioxidants, battles the free radicals that cause premature ageing but it is also possible that it inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that causes the formation of pigmentation in the skin.
Liquorice Root Extract
See liquorice root extract in Pigment Police!
See vitamin E in Vitamins!
Hydrators are ingredients that boost your skin’s levels of hydration. They’re the tall glass of water that your skin needs to operate at its best.
One of these acids is not like the others, hence why it is here in Hydrators! When people see acid, they presume exfoliation of some form but hyaluronic acid is not an exfoliant, it is a hydrator extraordinaire. Our body makes hyaluronic acid itself but as we get older, this production slow downs which is one of the reasons why skin becomes less hydrated and more crêpey as the years go by.
Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water and it is a humectant, meaning it draws water towards it. When applied topically, it pulls water upwards from the lower layers of the skin, instantly plumping out and hydrating the uppermost layers. This makes it not so ideal for times when your skin is already dehydrated or your skin’s barrier function is impaired, as it can just dehydrate the skin further by bringing the moisture right out of the skin.
Different forms of hyaluronic acids have different molecular sizes which means they can get deeper or shallower into the skin dependant on what you’re looking for. Sodium hyaluronate, the salt of hyaluronic acid, can come in smaller molecular size to pure hyaluronic acid and thus can get further down into the layers of the skin.
Squalane is the saturated form of squalene, a compound found in the skin’s sebum. It is one of the most natural skingredients you’ll find as it is actually native to the skin. As an oil, it is fabulous for those with dry, dehydrated or mature skin as these are the type of skins that aren’t producing a lot of squalene themselves.
The hydrogenation process that turns squalene into squalane stabilises it like nothing else and gives it a much longer shelf-life than squalene. It is non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t clog pores, and may possibly be anti-bacterial.
One noteworthy thing about squalane is that it takes a while to absorb into the skin. When it is a secondary ingredient in skincare, this slow absorption is negated by the penetrant enhancing ingredients.
Vitamins are vitamins, whether they’re found in your diet or in your skincare. Your skin, being an organ, needs vitamins just as much as the rest of you does!
Vitamin A is the only vitamin that can cause a physical change within the skin and repair DNA damage – can I get an A-men? We believe that vitamin A is the first building block to skin health and that all should be getting it both topically through a serum and internally through supplements… unless you are pregnant (or breastfeeding when it comes to ingestion)!
There are many forms of vitamin A in topical skincare: you’ve got retinoic acid AKA prescription vitamin A, you’ve got retinol which transforms into retinoic acid within the skin and you’ve got retinyl palmitate which is slightly less irritating to the skin and more stable than retinol. There is also beta-Carotene, the form of vitamin A that gives plants and vegetables and orange colour and what your parents told you gave you night vision.
Our nerdie choice is usually retinyl palmitate in a progressive product, due to the fact that its stability and bioavailability means that it is less likely to cause a retinoid response (ie. vitamin A related skin irritation).
Vitamin C is key as us hoomans do not make it naturally. Vitamin C has so many fabulous benefits: it can strengthen capillary walls, preventing broken capillaries and diffused redness, it is integral to the skin’s synthesis of collagen, it is an antioxidant and so can battle pollution-related damage and it is an tyrosinase inhibitor, meaning that it stops the enzyme that produces melanin from overproducing it and causing pigmentation problems.
The purest form of vitamin C is l-ascorbic acid which, unfortunately, is only at its most effective within 10 days of exposing it to any air at all but if it is highly potent, even with the efficacy drop, it will still contain higher levels of vitamin C than many other products!
Other forms of vitamin C in topical products include ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (oil-soluble so fab at penetrating), magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (water-soluble, highly stable), retinyl ascorbate (mix of retinoic acid AKA vitamin A and ascorbic acid) and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (highly stable form that works well with other forms of vitamin C).
Each form of vitamin C works best in different formulations, dependent on the other ingredients and what type of product it is.
Vitamin E is best known as a highly potent antioxidant that can protect the skin from UVA damage. It is lipophilic, meaning it is oil-soluble, and thus can boost the skin’s hydration. There are many forms of vitamin E in skincare but alpha-tocopherol is thought to be the most useful to human skin as it is highly biologically active. This can come in both synthetic and natural form but the natural form has been proven to be more effective.
Vitamin E has been put to use for its moisturising properties for decades, so it is also ideal as an additional source of skin hydration. Be wary – vitamin E can be slightly comedogenic and so can bring on congestion in those who are naturally oilier. Vitamin E is perfect for those with dehydrated, dry or mature skin due to its softening and moisturising effects.
Peptides are two or more amino acids holding hands! They are like protein jigsaw pieces as when some of them link up, they form different types of proteins. As you have probably guessed, yes, peptides occur naturally in the skin already but there are benefits to introducing some more. In skincare products, peptides are used as a backup dancer for your skin’s protein, making the whole show a lot stronger.
Peptides can send signals to the dermis to do a number of different things, including upping collagen production, making them a key anti-ageing ingredient. There are more peptides out there in the world than you could imagine and we still don’t know all we can know about them! You will most commonly see peptides in a blend or in the form of copper peptides. No peptide is “better” than another, they just have different talents, like us hoomans.
Pigment police are the skingredients that tackle, target and prevent pigmentation problems, including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (acne marks) and age spots (solar lentigo). They’re the folks to call if your looking for brightness and an even skin tone.
Kojic acid is fungus for your face, as it is a natural product of fungi! Kojic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor, meaning that it stops tyrosinase (an enzyme that tells the skin to create melanin) in its tracks. You’ll find kojic acid in products that target pigmentation, whether it be post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation AKA acne marks or age spots. Kojic acid is possibly the ingredient closest to hydroquinone available in Ireland and is less likely to cause irritation.
Nerdie fact: kojic acid is also used as a natural food preservative.
Liquorice Root Extract
Liquorice root extract as a skin lightener is also either known as glycyrrhiza uralensis, glycyrrhiza inflate or glycyrrhiza glabra… but liquorice root extract is much easier to say and spell. Liquorice root extract is both a tyrosinase inhibitor and an inhibitor of pigment synthesis, which means it stops the creation of pigmentation by both putting a halt to the pigment-creating enzyme (tyrosinase) and the following processes.
We probably don’t need to mention where it comes from but in case you didn’t realise, it is extracted from liquorice. Not only does it help to lighten pigmentation and prevent pigmentation problems such as hyperpigmentation in the first place but it is also antioxidant in nature. Antioxidants are what protect your skin from free radical damage and the related accelerated ageing so it’s a fabulous added benefit for liquorice root extract to have.
Niacinamide or vitamin B3 is a water-soluble vitamin that is proven to help inhibit the transfer of melanosomes within the skin… In English, it stops one of the processes that allows hyperpigmentation to form, meaning age spots and acne marks. As well as this, in studies, it was shown to increase the brightness of the skin.
It is also shown to help with congestion and the structure of the skin, so can prevent the formation and help the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It really is a busy B of a vitamin!
Proteins make up the majority of the lower layers of the skin, especially collagen and elastin.
Collagen is one of the proteins that makes up the structure of the skin and other connective tissue in the hooman body. It essentially makes up the dermis, the living layer of the skin below the epidermis. Collagen is what makes the skin firm and keeps it close to the contours of your face and our own natural reservoir of collagen begins to deplete from 25 onwards… Some say 21 or 18 but that is just spooky.
Collagen, when applied topically, is too large as a molecule to get anywhere near your dermis but when ingested as hydrolysed collagen in supplements, it can have phenomenal results as when it is bio-available, it can be absorbed properly by the body. Not for the vegans or veggies though, as the sources of hydrolysed collagen are usually either marine or bovine.
Collagen supplements don’t just include collagen though. They often include high amounts of vitamin C which is an essential vitamin for the skin’s own production of collagen, alongside other ingredients that feed the skin from within.