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1,2-hexanediol is a synthetic preservative and moisture-binding humectant. As a solvent, the ingredient helps to dissolve other substances.

The CIR concluded the ingredient was safe as used in cosmetic and personal care products, as did the EWG with a low hazard (green) score of 1.

1,2-hexanediol has been known to potentially cause dermatitis and irritations especially around the eyes. Because it is highly effective as a ingredient, only low concentrations are needed, which decreases the likelihood of irritations and sensitivities.

A synthetic ingredient that functions as a skin-conditioning and occlusive agent.

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Acai is a berry with a potent source of antioxidants, including ferulic acid and epicatechin. Acai has high antioxidant content. Consumed as juice, or as a whole food, acai has been shown to exert potent antioxidant benefits and reduce the cascade of damage caused by the overproduction of free radicals.

In short: AHA, also known as alpha hydroxy acid, exfoliates skin and improves signs of aging, dry skin and an uneven skin tone.

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid) are derived naturally from various plant sources and from milk, but 99% of the AHAs used in cosmetics are synthetically derived. In low concentrations (less than 3%), AHAs work as water-binding agents. At concentrations greater than 4% and in a base with an acid pH of 3 to 4, these ingredients can exfoliate by breaking down the substance that holds dead skin together.

The most effective and well-researched AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid may also be effective.

AHAs may sensitize mucous membranes. However, AHAs have been widely used for improving signs of aging, dry skin and an uneven skin tone, all of which lead to younger-looking skin.

There is a vast amount of research that substantially describes how the aging process affects skin and that demonstrates that many of the unwanted changes can be improved by topical application of AHAs. AHA use can result in increased sensitivity to the sun, though wearing a sunscreen daily eliminates this risk.

Note: AHAs are of little benefit when added to rinse-off products, as their contact with skin is too brief for them to function as exfoliants or absorb into skin.

Alcohol refers to a group of organic compounds with a vast range of forms and uses in cosmetics and in other types of products and solutions.

For skin, there are good alcohols and bad alcohols, corresponding to high-molecular-weight alcohols and low-molecular-weight alcohols, respectively, which can have emollient properties (cetyl alcohol) or act as detergent cleansing agents like isopropanol.

There also are benign forms, including glycols, which are used as humectants to help hydrate and deliver ingredients into skin’s uppermost layers.

Alcohols with low molecular weights—the bad-for-skin kind—can be drying and sensitizing. The alcohols to be concerned about in skincare products are ethanol or ethyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol. The concern is when one or more of these are listed among the main ingredients; tiny amounts in an otherwise good formula aren’t a problem.

In addition to being drying and sensitizing, these alcohols can disrupt skin’s surface layers. Alcohol helps ingredients like retinol and vitamin C penetrate into the skin more effectively, but it does that by breaking down the surface layers of skin—destroying the very substances that keep your skin feeling healthier and looking younger over the long term.

Alcohols like SD and “denatured” immediately harm the skin, starting a chain reaction of damage that continues long after it has evaporated. A 2003 study published found that with regular exposure to alcohol-based products, cleansing becomes a damaging ordeal—skin is no longer able to keep water and cleansing agents from penetrating into it, thus further eroding its surface layers.

It also destroyed the substances in skin that help to naturally soothe and defend it against visible effects of environmental damage.

If that weren’t bad enough, exposure to alcohol causes healthy substances in skin to literally self-destruct. The research also showed that these destructive, aging effects on skin’s substances increased the longer the exposure to alcohol; that is, two days of exposure was dramatically more harmful than one day, and that is only from exposure to a 3% concentration (most skincare products with denatured alcohol contain greater amounts than that).

In short, for the healthy appearance of skin at any age, avoiding products that contain high amounts of the drying, sensitizing types of alcohol is a non-negotiable skincare must.

See Aloe vera.

May also be listed as aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder, aloe extract, or aloe juice.

See Aloe vera.

See Aloe vera.

Aloe vera (also listed as aloe barbadenis) is a commonly used plant extract that has soothing properties, antioxidant qualities, and serves as a hydrating agent for skin due to its polysaccharide and sterol content.

In pure form straight from the leaves, aloe vera’s benefits for skin include its lack of occlusion and the refreshing sensation it provides (hence, why it’s in common “after sun” products).

Aluminum is the most common element on Earth. It’s also a common source of confusion in terms of its presence in cosmetics, specifically whether that presence poses a health risk. The fact is, when you read “aluminum” on an ingredient list, it isn’t pure aluminum.

Pure aluminum is not added to any skincare or makeup product. Rather, compounds (mixtures of aluminum), such as aluminum combined with other natural elements, are safety used in a variety of ways in personal care products, foods and medicines. These compounds contain only traces of aluminum.

Here are a few examples of the most common aluminum compounds used as ingredients in cosmetics, and a brief description of what they are (as well as their global safety status).

Aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum chloride contain only trace quantities of pure aluminum. These are most commonly used in antiperspirant and deodorants (and some medications).

Alumina is also not “aluminum,” but rather a combination of minerals that contain various mixtures of aluminum, silica, chloride or zirconium and oxygen. It is also known as “aluminum oxide” or “aluminum hydroxide,” and is used in cosmetics, medicines and medical devices.

Magnesium aluminum silicate is refined from clay and often used as an absorbent ingredient in cosmetics. It is unable to penetrate skin.

Aluminum starch is made from a reaction of a plant-derived ingredient (starch), and often used as a thickening or absorbent ingredient in cosmetics.

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Sustainability Score: red

What is it?

PEG-100 is a water-soluble ester made either by combining natural oils with stearic acid or by combining Oxirane (ethylene oxide) and fatty acids.

It’s often used as a moisturizing agent that fortifies skin’s natural barrier and helps prevent moisture loss. This in turn makes skin feel softer. PEG-100 is also used as an emulsifier to prevent the separation of oil and water molecules, which helps preserve the desired consistency and texture of the product. It can also serve as a surfactant, increasing the ability of skin’s surface oil to blend with water and be easily washed away. Hence, its widespread use in creams, facial cleansers, and shampoos.

Is it safe?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer for this one either. EWG assessed it as a moderate hazard (orange) score of 3. Despite its many benefits, PEG-100 has been linked to toxicity buildup in the body, reproductive health issues, and even cancer.

However, when applied topically, PEG-100 cannot penetrate the deeper layers of the skin, so it does not pose significant dangers when properly formulated for cosmetic and skincare purposes. There is concern, though, over this ingredient being applied to broken or damaged skin (i.e. dry, cracking skin or even acne zones), whereby the natural barrier of skin is compromised, creating an open pathway for PEG-100 to penetrate and develop toxicity in the organs.

Because of the conflicting opinions even amongst experts, it’s best to discuss with your dermatologist whether this ingredient would benefit your skin.

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