Ingredients Explained

Considering the overwhelming number of cosmetic products in the market today, with each product containing an average of 15 to 50 ingredients, it is estimated that the typical cosmetic user places over 515 chemicals on their face everyday. So what are these chemicals and what do they do?

When looking at ingredients lists at the back of cosmetic products, the concentration of each ingredient will often be listed in order - the first item in the list will be the most concentrated whilst the lower down the list, the less concentrated.

There are many ingredients that are used by cosmetic manufacturers that can be broken down by functionality and these are the most common categories used in skincare and cosmetic products:

Foaming/cleansing agents

Cleansers will include cleansing agents that make the product have a foaming quality and these are usually sulfates as sodium lauryl sulfate.


These attract moisture as well as water from the dermis to the epidermis. They can be effective even at lower concentrations. One of the most popular forms of humectants present in cosmetic products is glycerin and hyaluronic acid.


These soften the skin and help prevent moisture loss. Some common emollients include fatty alcohols such as cetearyl alcohol.


Occlusive ingredients prevent water from evaporating from the surface of the skin, which makes it particularly good for people with dry skin types. Occlusives can range from silicones such as dimethicone or oils like mineral oil.


Products such as treatment toners, serums, face washes or masks will often contain active chemical ingredients if they purport to unclog your pores. These can be separated into two main classes of exfoliants: AHAs and BHAs. AHAs are alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid and glycolic acid. These are water-soluble acids that peel away at the surface of the skin so that newer skin cells can generate. Compared to AHAs, BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) such as salicylic acid can go deeper into the pores to remove impurities so it is often recommended for people with oily skin.


Different types of vitamin ingredients can be beneficial for the skin depending on your skin concerns. Ascorbic acid is a form of Vitamin C that can help with dullness and pigmentation. Retinyl palmitate is a form of Vitamin A that is often used to regulate cell growth and can be helpful for wrinkles as well as acne, which is why it is also regularly prescribed by dermatologists for more severe forms of acne. Panthenol is a type of Vitamin B that has anti-inflammatory properties so it helps with sensitive and irritated skin.


Most color cosmetics will include pigments that can come in organic or synthetic forms. For example, ingredients such as iron oxide and titanium dioxide are used in most foundations to provide a skin-like tint.


Fillers are used in both makeup and skincare as it can provide a better finish to the skin by making the skin more matte, for example. Some common filler ingredients include talc, which can absorb moisture and prevent caking, and mica, which helps provide a sparkly white appearance.

UVA/UVB Filters

Ingredients that block UVA and UVB can be physical or chemical blockers. Physical sunscreens use minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, to reflect the sun’s rays from the skin. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and converts it into before and releases it from the skin. There are pros and cons to both but some people react badly to certain types of sunscreen so it’s important to choose sunscreens with ingredients that work for your skin.


Although preservatives often get a bad rep, they’re important ingredients in preventing other ingredients in the product from degrading. Some common preservatives include parabens such as methylparaben or organic acids like benzoic acid.

So what ingredients should I look for?

Since everyone’s skin is unique and reacts to ingredients differently, it’s important to choose products with ingredients that work for your skin. With Skindex, we use machine learning and AI to learn what works for your skin so that every time you are considering a product, we’ll analyze and tell you whether each product contains ingredients that might be good or bad for your skin. Give us a try!


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