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Ingredient Definitions

Ingredient Definitions

What exactly are you putting on your skin?

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  • Common terms used here explained



An antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or inhibits their growth. Antimicrobial medicines can be grouped according to the microorganisms they act primarily against. For example, antibacterials are used against bacteria, and antifungals are used against fungi. They can also be classified according to their function. Agents that kill microbes are called microbicidal, while those that merely inhibit their growth are called microbiostatic.

The main classes of antimicrobial agents are disinfectants (‘nonselective antimicrobials’ such as bleach), which kill a wide range of microbes on non-living surfaces to prevent the spread of illness, antiseptics (which are applied to living tissue and help reduce infection during surgery), and antibiotics (which destroy microorganisms within the body).


A carcinogen is any substance, (or radionuclide, or radiation), that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer.

Cancer is any disease in which normal cells are damaged and do not undergo programmed cell death as fast as they divide via mitosis. Carcinogens may increase the risk of cancer by altering cellular metabolism or damaging DNA directly in cells, which interferes with biological processes, and induces the uncontrolled, malignant division, ultimately leading to the formation of tumours.


Moisturisers or emollients are complex mixtures of chemical agents specially designed to make the external layers of the skin (Epidermis) softer and more pliable. They increase the skin’s hydration (water content) by reducing evaporation.


An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (nonmixable or unblendable).

A. Two immiscible liquids, not yet emulsified, Phase II (yellow) and Phase I (blue)

B. An emulsion of Phase II dispersed in Phase I

C. The unstable emulsion progressively separates

D. The surfactant acting as an emulsifier positions itself on the interfaces between Phase II and Phase I (by encircling the yellow particles), stabilising the emulsion


A humectant is a hygroscopic substance used to keep things moist. Humectants are frequently used in cosmetics as a way of increasing and maintaining moisture in the skin and hair. Some possess antifungal properties. They work by attracting water to the upper layer of the skin (Stratum Corneum). All humectants have common hydroxyl groups which allow them to participate in hydrogen bonding and attract water. This process attracts moisture from the outer layer of the skin or, in high humidity, from the atmosphere. The moisture is then trapped against the Epidermis, or the shaft of the hair, depending on where the humectant is applied.

Humectants used in cosmetics include Triethylene Glycol, Tripropylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, and PPGs. Other popular humectants in cosmetics include Glycerin, Sorbitol (sugar alcohol), Hexylene and Butylene Glycol, Urea, and Collagen. Glycerin is one of the most popular humectants used because it produces the desired result fairly frequently and is low in cost.

Other humectants such as Hyaluronic Acid and Ceramides are widely used in cosmetics such as skin moisturiser. There are also natural humectants which can be used in cosmetics besides man-made ones that are mentioned above, such as Honey, Shea Butter and Jojoba Oil.


Hygroscopy is the ability of a substance to attract and hold water molecules from the surrounding environment.

When added to foods or other materials for the express purpose of maintaining moisture content, such substances are known as humectants.


Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension (or interfacial tension) between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid. Surfactants may act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants.

LAST UPDATE: November 2014

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