Scary-Sounding Skincare Ingredients That Are Surprisingly Good For Your Skin
Nature provides us with some of the most effective skincare ingredients around, but oftentimes complicated-sounding ingredients are just as good (if not better) for your skin. As long as you choose the correct ones, of course…
We pride ourselves on harnessing the power of nature’s finest ingredients as much as possible – using plant-based actives, wildcrafted extracts and essential oils across all of our skincare formulations.
However, not everything in nature is always good for your skin (cough, poison oak). Some ingredients like peppermint and lemon oils can be terribly harsh when applied to your skin and may cause redness, itching and dryness – especially if it errs on the sensitive side. So, don’t be fooled, nature is awesome, for sure, but not everything in nature is awesome for your skin.
In the exact same way, not all synthetic ingredients are bad. We’re proud to say our products avoid all the big nasties, such as parabens, sulfates, phthalates and PEGs, but we’re not 100 percent natural because we believe the best kind of skincare comes from a clever combination of both nature and science.
On that note, here are five ingredients that sound pretty scary… but really aren't. How do we know? Because we use them across many of our formulations and we’d never knowingly put anything into our products that could harm your skin. You're welcome.
1. Cetyl & Stearyl Alcohol
Some skincare brands would have you believe that all alcohol in skincare is bad. Not so. For starters, there are a gazillion different types of alcohol and not all of them sting or dry out your skin. Low-molecular-weight alcohols like denatured alcohol (alcohol denat) are the ones to be aware of. Alcohol denat functions as a solvent and is largely used to improve texture and encourage other ingredients in a product to be better absorbed by your skin. Basically, it makes a product feel nice. However, its naughty side far outweighs its nice side. Alcohol denat is extremely irritating and unbalancing because it draws out your natural oils, causing excessive dryness for many people, but also making oily skin even oilier as it tries to overcompensate for what’s been stripped away.
On the flipside, high-molecular-weight alcohols like cetyl and stearyl alcohols are actually very skin-friendly. Also known as fatty alcohols, these are added to many skincare formulations to stop oil-and-water from separating. By stabilizing oil and water they give products a much smoother texture which allows them to glide over your skin way better.
Unlike alcohol denat which has the opposite effect, fatty alcohols help keep your skin moisturized because they have emollient properties which fill in cracks on the surface of your skin. They also leave a light oily seal to soften your skin, reduce irritation and decrease transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
2. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum doesn’t sound much fun at all, but this polysaccharide not only has zero negative effects on the skin, but it might actually be quite good for it.
Often derived from corn, soy, wheat or dairy, xanthan gum is a naturally derived ingredient that’s frequently used as a thickener or binding agent in kitchen ingredients such as sauces, salad dressings and almond milk. When it comes to your skincare products xanthan gum is used for similar reasons – to bind ingredients together – but it also helps products glide over your skin more easily and effectively.
Full disclosure: xanthan gum definitely benefits the texture and feel of your product more than your skin itself, but due to it being derived from sugar, many experts believe it to have hydrating properties when applied topically. We’ll take that. Find it in Niacinamide Facial Serum among others.
Methane? On your skin? No. Way. Actually, stop right there because methylsulfonylmethane is downright awesome as a skincare ingredient. Known as MSM to friends (that includes you) this organic sulfur compound works hard to neutralize free radical damage caused by things like pollution, the sun and cigarette smoke. It does this by boosting your natural levels of glutathione, one of your body’s most important, naturally-occurring antioxidants.
MSM also has plenty of other things going for it. It’s anti-inflammatory so helps reduce inflammation caused by the usual suspects of stress, no sleep and a diet packed with sugar and carbs. Oh, and it’s also been proven to help strengthen and promote collagen production to visibly reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles, dark spots and sagging skin. Definitely a keeper.
Sure, ethyhexyl, cetyl and isopopropyl palmitates are tricky to spell and a bit of a mouthful, but we’re big fans.
Produced from a naturally occurring fatty acid called palmitic acid, palmitates are similar to fatty alcohols in that they come under the umbrella of emollients. Emollients are types of ingredients (whether natural or synthetic) that soften and moisturize dry skin by filling in and repairing cracks on the surface. This not only helps up your levels of lipids to reduce dryness and flaking, but it also works hard to prevent water loss and keep your skin healthy, hydrated and free from irritation. Check out our awesome moisturizers to get your fill of super effective palmitates.
Finally, we have phenoxyethanol. This synthetic preservative has received a lot of bad press over the years, but it’s backed by decades of clinical research and is used in extremely small concentrations (no more than 1 percent) in skincare to prevent products from spoiling or losing efficacy. Compared to many other preservatives, phenoxyethanol is way less likely to sensitize your skin or cause any kind of allergic reaction and is much more favorable to parabens.
One particular study also points to phenoxyethanol offering potential benefits to acne-prone skin, possibly improving pimples and reducing inflammation. But the jury’s still out on that one. In the meantime, think of it as an essential and safe way for you to maximize your skincare products, helping them last longer and maintain their potency to give you the best results.
To conclude, all we can say is don't be afraid of complicated-sounding ingredients on your skincare labels; some of them are awesome for your skin. Just do your research, because others definitely have the potential to be as scary as they sound. For a list of some of the most harmful ingredients to avoid, check out our toxic skincare round-up, here.
About Georgia Gould
Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.