Feel like you need a degree in chemistry to understand what actually goes into your favourite skincare formula? We believe that beauty should be accessible to all, so we’re making it our mission to decode the best-loved ingredients that the skincare pros (and our fave brands) are o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d with. Get set to swot up on your skincare ABCs…
A is for AHAs
Or Alpha Hydroxy Acids. This family of plant and animal-derived acids are used A LOT in the world of skincare. Why? Because they harness the triple threat – they can exfoliate, brighten and give your skin texture a little plump boost (bye-bye wrinkles). But, not every AHA works in the same way; while several acids fall into the AHA category – like lactic acid and glycolic acid – they each have their own superpowers. Skip to the letter to find out more.
B is for BHAs
Beta Hydroxy Acids are chemical exfoliators (just like AHAs), but they can go even deeper thanks to their oil-soluble superpowers and are best for treating blemish-prone skin. They can get right into the pores, unclogging and oil-zapping along the way. One of the most popular BHAs is salicylic acid.
C is for Charcoal
Typically found in masks and cleansers, reach for a charcoal-infused product when your skin is congested and oily. Loved for its exfoliating and blackhead-busting properties, activated charcoal helps to remove excess oil and detoxify pores.
D is for DHA
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the clever ingredient nestled in most fake tan formulas. Without going too heavy on the science stuff, it gives your skin a natural glow by creating a chemical reaction in your skin’s top layer that causes darkening pigment, mimicking a tan (with no sunlight in sight).
E is for Emollients
For smoother, soft-to-touch skin, go for an emollient. Often used medically to treat skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, they work by filling cracks in the skin with fatty substances (lipids) to soothe and protect dry skin.
F is for Ferulic Acid
Used in the anti-ageing skincare world for its ability to fight free radicals and slow down the ageing process caused by oxidation, ferulic acid is a popular, multi-tasking antioxidant. It’s also thought to help other ingredients work harder (like Vitamin C and E) as well as protect against sun damage.
G is for Glycolic Acid
A type of AHA (see the letter: A), glycolic acid, is an exfoliant you’re going to want to be BFFs with. It gently sloughs away at the skin’s surface, helping shed dead skin cells and revealing a more brightened, even complexion. From tonics to moisturisers, this clever ingredient is found nestled in your favourite radiance-boosting skincare saviours.
H is for Hyaluronic Acid
Need hydration, seek hyaluronic acid. Simple! Call it a sponge, call it a magnet, whatever helps you visualise this substances’ superpower, all you really need to know is that it locks in moisture and regulates it so that your skin is always quenched.
I is for Iris
There’s more to this pretty, purple flower than meets the eye. When used in skincare either as orris root or florentina extract, it’s said to nourish, banish dullness and give those fine lines a little plumping – nature’s gift to anti-ageing skincare.
J is for Jojoba Oil
Pronounced hoh-hoh-bah, is a clever botanical substance that is a multi-tasking marvel. It moisturises, nourishes, helps regulate sebum production (to minimise shiny, oily patches), promotes collagen production and has healing anti-inflammatory properties – to name a few.
K is for Kaolin
A gentle ingredient that is kind to skin, Kaolin, or China clay, is most commonly found in face masks – although it may pop up in your cleanser too! It is best known for its ability to draw out impurities from the skin and absorb excess oil, making it a great choice for acne-prone skin.
L is for Lactic Acid
Part of the AHA family (see: letter A), lactic acid is an exfoliator that gets you glowing. With its larger molecule structure (compared to, say, glycolic acid or salicylic acid), it’s perfect for all skin types. With every application, it gets to work on the skin’s surface, gently polishing, firming, and unclogging pores.
M is for Micelles
The compound that makes your micellar water your skincare go-to micelles rid your skin of all the bad stuff (like dirt and grease), leaving behind a glowing, decongested complexion.
N is for Niacinamide
A form of Vitamin B3, niacinamide was once a dermatologist’s best-kept secret. Renowned for treating skin conditions like rosacea and acne thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as protecting against environmental damage and improving hydration levels, it’s a multitasking marvel.
O is for Oatmeal
Not to be confused with a basic bowl of porridge, oatmeal-based skincare soothes, restores and protects. Often found in gentle, kind-to-skin formulas (like baby-friendly moisturisers and eczema treatments), it’s one to reach for when your skin is on the dry and lacklustre side.
P is for Pro-Vitamin B5
You may have already spotted this ingredient down the hair care aisle, but when utilised in skincare Pro-Vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid) moisturises, softens and plumps.
Q is for Quercetin
A quietly confident antioxidant, quercetin is best known for its anti-ageing properties and protective power against harmful UV radiation. While it’s still relatively under-the-radar, you can find it in topical and oral supplements.
R is for Retinol
One of the most talked about skincare ingredients of all time, retinol, is to anti-ageing what avocado is to brunch (the star of the show, obvs). It brightens dull skin, fades dark spots, smooths and prevents fine lines, and regulates oil keeping blemishes at bay.
S is for Squalene
The trending skincare ingredient of 2020, squalene (and squalane), are natural antioxidants and emollients that moisturise, nourish and protect the skin. As well as locking in all that much-needed moisture, it’s said to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, erase pigmentation and soften scars (which is why it’s used in medical circles too).
T is for Tranexamic Acid
If pigmentation and dark spots top your skincare concern list, you’re going to want to get better acquainted with tranexamic acid. With its anti-inflammatory superpowers, this acid brightens skin and leaves pigmentation in its wake.
V is for Vitamin C
We were told to drink it up as kids and now we’re told to slather it onto our skin, but why is Vitamin C so amazing? Well, it’s hard to pick just one reason because it’s a multi-tasker that does the most. It brightens, hydrates, reduces/prevents discolouration and pigmentation, and boosts collagen production for that youthful glow. Oh, and it’s also an antioxidant, which means it fights free radicals and protects against UV damage and air pollution. Phew!
W is for Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is loved for its redness-reducing and soothing properties often found in blemish-busting treatments (like toners and on-the-spot remedies). It can also be used to treat skin concerns like sunburn and insect bites.
X is for Xanthan Gum
Ever spotted this ingredient on a whole bunch of your beauty favourites, but have no idea what it actually is? It’s all-natural (despite its lab-sounding name) and is often used to thicken formulations and bind other ingredients together, as opposed to being the star active ingredient in a formula.
Y is for Yeast Extract
Not to be confused with the stuff that goes into your favourite loaf, yeast extract is an antioxidant known in skincare circles for its moisturising and soothing properties. It can also brighten and tighten, making it useful in anti-ageing remedies too.
Z is for Zinc
Better known for its effects on your body, zinc is a vitamin that does a lot of good for your insides (mostly your metabolism and immune system). But did you know that zinc can also benefit your skin too? Whether you apply it topically or up your intake via a supplement, it’s said to help reduce the signs of ageing and inflammation and is often a go-to to treat blemish flare-ups and pigmentation. You may also spot it in your favourite suncare products, as zinc oxide can help deflect harmful UV rays.