A to Z of Useful Cosmetic Chemistry Terms

Creating homemade products is really satisfying.

Before you begin getting creative, it’s a good idea to grips with the different terminology used in cosmetic chemistry.

Chemistry Terminology

Absorption: This is a physical process rather than a chemical one; it involves the assimilation of one body by another.

For instance, a sponge can absorb water, but the action of squeezing can easily release this water.

Adsorption: This is where one substance clings to the surface of another substance, without being assimilated by it, or having a chemical reaction from it.

Take sellotape for example, whilst it may adhere to a surface, it can easily be separated, without being absorbed by it or having a chemical reaction.

Analysis: This is where a reaction to separate a compound or substance takes place.

Calorie: This is simply a unit of energy.

Catalysis: This is the process of adding a catalyst to a reaction to speed up that reaction.

Catalyst: This term is used in chemistry when we add a substance to speed up that reaction; the catalyst remains intact and cannot be destroyed or changed by the process.

Colloid: This is a form of suspension which has some characteristics of a solution.

Conduction: This is how heat is transferred along with the metal.

Convection: This is the method of transferring heat through the air.

Crystallization: This method involves negative and positive ions being packed tightly together, to form a crystal lattice in a particular order to form crystals.

Decantation: This describes the process of pouring liquid a liquid from one container into another in such a way as to leave the sediment behind undisturbed.

Dispersion: This is a colloidal system consisting of dispersed particles and the medium in which they are suspended.

Distillation: This is a term you will often encounter in the aromatherapy industry, where the difference in the boiling point of various substances is utilized to separate those substances.

It involves the process of vaporisation followed by a condensation process. The condensed material is referred to as the distillate, and the remaining material is known as the residue.

In the aromatherapy industry, the distillate is the essential oils and the remaining material is known as a hydrolat.

Emulsifier: A substance that allows two immiscible liquids to come together, usually oil and water, to form a stable suspension.

Emulsion: This is when a suspension in both phases consist of immiscible liquids.

Enzyme: A biological catalyst.

Filtration: A process used to separate two components, as long as one component is an insoluble solid.

The method involves the mixture being passed through a filter, which allows the liquid component known as the filtrate to pass through the filter, whilst preventing the residue or solid part of the substance from passing through.

Homogenous: This is a term often used in cosmetic formulation, which means a mixture that has a uniform composition, where the constituents are all in one phase.

Heterogeneous: This is a non-uniform composition, whose constituents are all in more than one phase.

Hydrogenation: This is the term used where a substance combines with hydrogen.

Oil is often hydrogenated to produce fat; for instance, unsaturated fat and hydrogen create saturated fat – a process often coined as hardening when producing a block of margarine.

Hydrophilic: Attracts water.

Hydrophobic: Repels water.

Immiscible: Does not dissolve.

Joule: A measurement of energy.

Lipophilic: Attracts fats or oils.

Lipophobic: Repels fats or oils.

Miscible: Able to be mixed.

Neutralisation: Combining an alkali and acid to render a substance neither acid nor alkali, with a pH of 7.

Oxidation: This is a chemical reaction that involves a combination with oxygen; more is discussed on oxidation in this article.

Radiation: This is known as the transfer of heat and waves though space and measuring UV rays.

Solubility: The property which enables a substance to dissolve.

Solution: A mixture in which one substance the solute, dissolve into another substance the solvent.

Solvent: The ingredient is usually liquid, of a solution where the solute is then dissolved.

Suspension: A multi-phase system which can be separated into its components by filtration.

Synthesis: The chemical reaction required to combine two or more substances into an entirely new substance.

Temperature: A measure of heat energy.

Viscosity: A term used to describe the stickiness of liquid, the closer the viscosity is to zero, the less sticky the liquid is, and the greater is its ability to flow.

Please note if we were to include every term, this list would be extremely long, so it is a work in progress.

As our background is skincare and beauty, we have also put together a glossary of beauty terms, that you may find useful which you can read here.

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