Glossary of Active Ingredient in Cosmetic Preparations

Ever found yourself studying the ingredients on your skin care packaging?

Are you often left wondering what they all mean?

Well here at The Naked Chemist, I am all about education.

So I’m going to show you how to become your own label detective.

That way and understand, how to analyse the ingredients found in your skin care products.


Antioxidants: These are very active ingredients, and are often used in skincare formulas to combat free radicals.

They help to prevent premature aging through oxidation, and subsequent deterioration of our skin cells.

You can read more about the power of antioxidants and how to combat pollution, in the article, the clear skin difference.

Binding Agents: These ingredients hold together products, preventing the water and lipid components from separating.

Buffers: These are solutions used to help maintain the acid, alkaline balance on the skin, they are used in your cosmetic preparations to minimise irritation.

Catalysts: These are substances that cause, or increase the speed of chemical change, they are most often found in two part formulations.

Colours: Colouring agents of natural and synthetic origin.

Detergents: A group of synthetic or organic cleaning agents.

Dyes: Colorants are added to skin care products and cosmetics, to enhance their aesthetic appeal.

Dispersants: These substances used in cosmetic preparations, help to facilitate the dispersal of one ingredient into another.

Elastomers: A substance with rubber like properties that is often found in masks.

Emollients: Any compounds used to moisturise, lubricate and smooth the skin surface.

Emulsifiers: A series of agents used to assist in the mixing of normal non-mixable substances, for example oil and water.

Enzyme: A biological catalyst.

Humectants: Substances used to attract and maintain the moisture content in formulations, in addition to maintaining the moisture content on the skin.

Lubricants: Used in cosmetic preparations to reduce friction, making the skin smooth to touch.

Mixture: A mixture contains more than one substance.

Preservatives: Substances used to protect formulations from infection and decomposition, caused by microorganisms.

The decomposition manifests itself as physical or chemical changes of colour texture and appearance.

You can read more about preserving products, in the article what are parabens and how safe are they to use.

Perfumes: Added to many cosmetics products, in order to enhance the appeal of the product and disguise odours of some products.

Solute: An ingredient which dissolves in another.

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

Suspension: A multi phase system, that can be separated into its components by filtration e.g. sand and water, calamine solution, mud and water.

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