Skin Care Products and Ingredients – A Buzz Word Breakdown

Date Published: July 22nd, 2015
Blog Category: Skin Care

As an avid consumer of cosmetic and skin care products, I’ve often wondered how many of the buzz words I come across actually convey useful information about the product or are they simply made up terms for fancy marketing campaigns?

Before trying to wade through the millions of skin care products on the market, my best advice is to consult with a skin care professional. An appointment with an esthetician is typically complimentary so there is little to no investment to start off on the right foot.  I have nothing against the sales staff at department store cosmetic counters but I prefer to take advice about my skin from skin care experts. Clinicians have carefully vetted the products in their office and will likely carry those with a higher concentration of active ingredients. You are better off buying  one product that works, than using an entire skin care line that smells lovely and is packaged beautifully, but doesn’t actually do anything for your skin.

Any skin care expert should be able to educate you on the specific ingredients in their skin care product recommendations and how those ingredients work on your skin. Do your research and ask questions to ensure you’re spending your hard-earned money on a quality product.  Warren Buffet once said “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”


Face serums are light weight moisturizers with a higher concentration of active ingredients. They are usually water-based products created without occlusive (airtight) ingredients like petrolatum or mineral oil. They also contain fewer lubricating and thickening agents like oils extracted from seeds or nuts.

Using a serum is not necessary but it can give you an extra boost in your daily routine. These products can make the skin firmer and smoother, making pores appear smaller. They are not made to moisturize so they can be used in combination with a moisturizing cream or lotion.


The term ‘complex’ simply means it’s a mixture of several ingredients. The ingredients could be vitamins, minerals, plant extracts or any other compounds. It’s really just a term used for marketing.


Retinol is basically another name for Vitamin A. Retinol has an effective cell-communicating ingredient which allows it to connect to almost any skin cell and tell it to behave like a healthy, younger skin cell. It is also an antioxidant (see definition below) which means it can interrupt new damage to the skin. All of these actions help prevent wrinkling and increases collagen production.

Retinol can be broken down into potent compounds called retinoids. The terms retinol and retinoid are often confused but there are distinct differences. Some kinds of retinol can be used in over the counter cosmetics, while retinoids (like name brand Retin A) are only available by prescription. Consumers should talk to a skin specialist about how retinol will benefit their skin and the common side effects of use. Some of the higher concentrations can cause irritation and photosensitivity.


Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Antioxidants fight the free-radical damage that is responsible for the visible signs of aging. They also promote cellular repair and healing. They’re a good ingredient to see in your cosmetic products, usually in combination with other active ingredients.


Vitamins are organic compounds which are needed in small quantities to sustain life. We get vitamins from food, because the human body either does not produce enough of them, or none at all. Many vitamins are added to skin care products to help reduce the signs of aging. These antioxidants work by speeding up the skin’s natural skin repair system. They can also inhibit and slow further damage to the skin.


Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. They function as moisture-binding agents and almost all of them have some cell-communicating ability to help skin repair itself. They are good ingredients to see in products but we still have much to learn about how to best utilize peptides.

We all want to avoid harsh chemicals and compounds but what is the difference between organic, certified organic and natural? Organicare products made with plant extracts grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Certified Organic – contains plant extracts grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides according to farming practices verified by the government or other organization. Natural – these products contain plant extracts but are not necessarily organic.


This term was invented for a cosmetic campaign from the 50s. Today it basically means there is little likelihood of causing an allergic response. That doesn’t mean a hypoallergenic product is actually allergy ‘free’. Some manufacturers do testing on the ingredients while others do not. Many eliminate some of the more irritating ingredients like perfumes but the final ingredients may differ from one hypoallergenic product to another.