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Cosmetic Chemistry and the Esthetician

By: Ivana Veljkovic, PhD
Posted: September 24, 2010, from the October 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

The ever-evolving esthetic industry is consistently being introduced to new and exciting ideas for improving the skin. With all that is available, it can often be difficult to determine which products will be effective. Superior formulations are out there; however, many of the industry’s most popular and beneficial ingredients are unstable and sensitive to breakdown. Although laboratory testing is needed to truly evaluate a formula’s efficacy, a basic understanding of cosmetic chemistry assists the esthetician in identifying the product components that contribute to its stability, penetration and activity.

One common misconception regarding topical products is that the results come from one ingredient. In actuality, the formulation as a whole leads to a product’s ability to deliver results. Cosmetic products consist of several components, including the following.

Active ingredients. These determine a product’s greatest topical benefit. Examples include retinoids, vitamin C, peptides, antioxidants and sunscreen agents.

Skin conditioning agents. These improve the skin’s surface and provide a soft, smooth appearance. Examples include glycerin, urea, natural oils, sodium PCA and silicones.

Functional ingredients. These create the end product, such as a cream or serum, and act as vehicles—or carriers—for the active ingredients. Examples include surfactants, emulsifiers, thickeners and preservatives.