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Ingredient Labels Explained

By: Robert Manzo
Posted: May 28, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Before & After

Before: After weeks of cleansing with a waxy cleanser, there is no visible occlusion. After: Under UV light imaging, a heavy occlusive layer is visible.

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An easy way to understand this is to examine a common emulsion—mayonnaise. Basic mayonnaise is made with vegetable oil, water and egg. What’s the emulsifier that keeps the oil and water together in a nice, white, thick emulsion? The lecithin from the egg.

This is the basic ingredient understanding of most lotions and creams on the market. There are basic classes of ingredients in most lotions and creams—water, moisturizers (occlusive and humectant), thickeners, esters (lubricity), oil-soluble ingredients, preservatives, chemical antioxidants and stabilizers. Let’s look at an ingredient list for a lotion/cream.

Water is the highest concentration ingredient, which is
typical in water-in-oil emulsions. The moisturization typically comes from a blend of occlusive and humectant moisturizers. In this example, dimethicone and petrolatum are the occlusive moisturizers, while glycerin is the humectant moisturizer. An occlusive moisturizer provides a barrier to the skin to trap moisture from leaving the skin. A humectant moisturizer attracts moisture to the skin and binds it into the stratum corneum.

As previously discussed, emulsifiers are important to keep emulsion formulas stable. One way to spot emulsifiers in skin care formulas is to look for an ingredient with a hyphen and a number attached to it. For instance, ceteth-20 and steareth-21 are both emulsifiers in the above formula. Cosmetic chemists have to be careful in choosing the correct emulsifiers with the correct concentration. If the emulsifiers are present at a concentration that is too high, then skin irritation will result; too low and the formula will separate.

In the formula above, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol and potassium sorbate are all contributing to the preservative system of the formula.

The Skin Care Ingredient Handbook is so much more than an ingredient dictionary. You will learn about cellular functions and skin aging; skin care trends for ethnic skin, scalp and hair products, BB creams, suncreens; active versus functional ingredients, natural, organic, and synthetic ingredients; OTC drugs; INCI names, antioxidants and DNA and how to read labels. Did we mention the newest ingredients are listed?

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