The Skin-Care Glossary: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything You Need to Know
Bookmark this page. Seriously, do it now. We know (probably better than anyone) just how vast and complex the beauty landscape can be, especially the shifting terrain of the skin realm.
To better help you navigate, we've updated our already extensive collection of complexion-relevant terms with nearly 100 new definitions, covering everything from ingestibles to injectables, wonders both natural and lab-made, nagging skin conditions, and the popular tools pros use to improve them. So, the next time you're stumped by an ingredient label (What the heck is Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate and why do I want it near my face?), or perplexed by a procedure on your dermatologist's ever-evolving treatment menu (RF? LED? IPL? PRP?), enlightenment will be but a click away. Here, your ultimate skin-care glossary.
A palm tree, native to Central and South America, known for its deep purple berries. The fruit extract is used as a potent antioxidant in skin-care products and supplements.
Having a pH ("potential hydrogen") less than 7. The skin’s barrier, or acid mantle, is naturally slightly acidic, with a pH hovering around 4.5 to 5.5. When it drops out of range, skin becomes prone to breakouts and irritation.
Present in all living organisms, this molecule plays a critical role in regulating blood flow and providing cells with usable energy. When applied topically, the ingredient can smooth and firm the skin, repair sun damage, and relax wrinkles.
A colorless, strong-smelling solvent found in many nail-polish removers, it works by softening and dissolving the polymer molecules in polishes, gels, and acrylics. Because it's drying to the nails and skin, many removers containing it are also spiked with moisturizers, like glycerin.
Long used in emergency rooms to treat alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses, this form of carbon — found in cleansers, masks, toothpastes, health drinks — has been specially treated to increase its absorbency, allowing it to sponge up dirt and oil from pores (or toxins from the stomach when taken internally).
Used as a thickener in makeup, skin-care products, and shampoo, this gelatinous, algae-derived sugar molecule also has mild antioxidant benefits.
A human-like epidermal growth factor (EGF) produced in bioengineered barley seeds, and used in skin-repairing products from Bioeffect and DNAEGF Renewal. The barley-made protein is a messenger molecule said to have the same amino acid sequence and 3-D structure as human EGF, so it can detect and bind to EGF receptors on human skin cells, ordering them to grow, divide, and rejuvenate.
An acne medicine that kills pimple-causing bacteria and exfoliates pores. It can be found in concentrations up to 10 percent in over-the-counter products.
Long-chain sugar molecules found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and grains, such as oats and barley. Powerful humectants and soothers, they can strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier and stave off bad germs.
Sometimes referred to as Montmorillonite, this absorbent clay is derived, most often, from weathered volcanic ash. Rich in antibacterial minerals, it’s commonly used in “purifying” or “detoxifying” cleansers and masks, as it pulls pollutants, sebum, and grime from pores.
A red-orange pigment found in certain fruits and vegetables, it’s a precursor to vitamin A (retinol); upon ingestion, the body converts beta carotene into antioxidant vitamin A, which helps maintain skin and eye health. It’s essential for normal cell growth and turnover, and may help improve the skin’s tone and texture.
BETA HYDROXY ACID (BHA)
These chemical exfoliants can smooth fine lines, even pigmentation, and penetrate deeply into pores, dissolving sticky plugs of sebum and dead skin. One of the most common BHAs, salicylic acid, is found in many acne washes, creams, and peels.
Produced in the leaves and seeds of various plants, it can also be made in a lab. Commonly used in cellulite creams and eye creams, it constricts blood vessels, reducing redness and puffiness.
One of over 80 compounds called cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis sativa plant. The oil is used in beauty products mainly for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and moisturizing properties. It cannot produce a high.
This naturally occurring amino-acid pairing quells damaging inflammation, glycation, and free-radical activity, and levels of it in our bodies decline with age. Some research indicates that oral supplements and topical creams containing it can stave off premature wrinkling, collagen breakdown, and thinning of the skin.
Used to treat itching and minor skin irritations, this pink liquid is a mixture of zinc oxide and ferric oxide.
Also called L-carnitine, this amino acid helps convert fat into energy when naturally present in the human body. In the skin-care aisle, the ingredient is often found in cellulite and eye creams. Though there's little clinical data supporting its long-term effectiveness, its anti-inflammatory activity can temporarily smooth puckering and puffiness.
A broad term referring to the way cells send information using proteins and other signaling molecules — and receive information from inside or outside the body via receptor sites located on cell membranes. Increasing numbers of skin creams contain ingredients, like retinol, carnosine, and peptides, claiming to bind to receptor sites and encourage cells to behave like younger, healthier versions of themselves.
Ideal for sensitive skin, this mild, coconut-derived surfactant is typically found in cleansers and shampoos from green beauty brands.
A natural carbohydrate, DHA is the active ingredient in most sunless tanners.
Shorthand for dimethylaminoethanol, it's produced by the human brain and found in sardines and other small fish. While the research is mixed, oral and topical forms claim to protect skin-cell membranes from free-radical damage, while firming, smoothing and brightening the complexion.
An over-the-counter, full-face acne treatment containing the retinoid adapalene 0.1 percent, it normalizes cell turnover to minimize pore-clogging and fights inflammation.
A slippery form of silicone that hydrates and protects the skin; often found in oil-free moisturizers.
The Korean ritual of using a cleansing oil in tandem with a water-based face wash to thoroughly dissolve and remove oil-based makeup, sunscreen, and pollutants.