To help you navigate through the world of skin care, we’ve launched an extensive glossary called “The ABCs of Skin Care Ingredients.” Here we’ve drilled it down to the basics by talking about all the skin care ingredients you need to know to be a true skin care whiz. We’ve covered what each ingredient is, what it does for your skin, and a few product recommendations for those of you who want to put your newfound knowledge to the test! Behold, the complete skin care ingredients glossary.
AHA: AHA is a chemical exfoliant derived from various plants that gently removes dead skin cells. Common AHAs found in skincare include glycolic and lactic acid. When using AHAs, there is increased sun sensitivity, so don’t forget to apply sunscreen.
Allantoin: Allantoin is a skin-soothing and skin-conditioning agent that actively supports and promotes cell turnover and skin regeneration. It’s commonly found in products that are meant for resurfacing the skin and healing scars because of its soothing, moisturizing, and healing properties. Look for it if you are looking to a way to gently combat acne scars!
Product recommendations: Easydew EX Repair Control Active Soothing Serum
Aloe Vera: Aloe/Aloe Vera helps reduce inflammation and increase hydration by binding moisture to the skin. This is a natural ingredient that is derived from the thick broad leaves of aloe plants. Consider it a mild soothing agent that works any time and for many skin types, especially for the sensitive.
Arbutin: This is a natural skin brightener derived from bearberries that inhibits cells from producing skin darkening pigments. Many studies suggest that arbutin is a natural, effective way to brighten the skin and it’s widely considered to be a gentler version of hydroquinone.
BHA: BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) are chemical exfoliants that can clear blackheads, minimize large pores, and calm the skin. Salicylic acid and betaine salicylate are popular BHAs used to treat acne because they are anti-inflammatory and oil-loving. BHA’s are effective because they do more than just clean your pores of dead skin cells and excess oil—they can help minimize wrinkles and brighten skin. BHAs are recommended for those who have sensitive skin and want to exfoliate, rather than use physical scrubs.
Product recommendations: CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Cream.
Bamboo Extract: Used in Asia for centuries to heal skin, bamboo extract has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It also contains antioxidants and is known to act as a humectant, by drawing moisture to the skin.
Bee Venom: Also known as Apitoxin, Bee venom is a combination of enzymes, peptides, and amino acids that can diminish the visibility of fine lines and smooth skin texture. No honeybees are harmed in the process!
Beta Glucans: These are polysaccharide sugars found in cell walls that are derived from various mushrooms, plants, algaes, yeasts or oats. In skin care, beta glucans work twofold to soothe and calm irritated skin and as an effective anti-ager to firm and plump fine lines and wrinkles.
Bich Extract: High in nutrients like amino acids and enzymes, birch extract has powerful anti-inflammatory and moisturizing effects that help the skin stay protected and hydrated. Birch juice not only intensely hydrates the skin, but it also protects skin cells from oxidative stress, including UV rays and environmental pollution.
Black Tea: Black tea has been used in skin care for hundreds of years, dating all the way back to China’s Ming Dynasty. Like green tea, black tea is loaded with antioxidants that help protect skin from UV damage and environmental pollutants. Further, its higher content of caffeine means it’s an excellent ingredient for tightening and toning the skin.
Ceramides: Ceramides are lipids that help hold skin cells together. When your skin is damaged or irritated, ceramides decrease, leaving the skin susceptible to skin ailments. Add ceramides to your skin care regimen to protect and nurture your skin.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is one of the strongest antioxidants and vitamins for the skin. Multiple studies show vitamin C has a powerful effect on skin, by brightening skin tone and protecting it from pigmentation and premature aging.
Calendula: Calendula, also known as calendula officinalis, is derived from the plant pot marigold and is rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and saponins. Calendula is shown to not only promote skin healing and repairing, but also reduce inflammation, making this a perfect skincare ingredient for sensitive skin types.
Collagen: Collagen is a protein that makes skin elastic and have a healthy, wrinkle-free appearance. In skin care, collagen can be applied topically, where it acts as a film former to moisturize and make the skin look plumper and healthier. That being said, collagen cannot fully penetrate into the dermis or create fibers, so the effect is temporary.
Product recommendations: Etude House Moistfull Collagen Emulsion.
Dipotassium glycyrrhizate: Don’t be intimidated by this 24 letter ingredient, embrace it! Dipotassium glycyrrhizate, also known as licorice root extract, is commonly found in anti-aging treatments because of it’s ability to brighten up skin tone and lighten hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E (also known as tocopherol) is a powerful antioxidant that prevents collagen breakdown and other signs of premature aging, such as wrinkles and dryness. Your body can’t produce this vitamin naturally, so your skin will benefit if you apply it topically.
EGF: EGF stands for epidermal growth factor, which is a single-chain, non-glycosylated protein that naturally occurs in our skin cells. Its main purpose is to heal our skin by promoting DNA synthesis and cell proliferation.It has many benefits for your skin, including wrinkle improvement, hydration, and pigmentation prevention.
Egg Whites: Say goodbye to large pores with egg whites! Egg extracts are commonly found in K-beauty products because they’re a film former that contains protein. They help to control excess oil and reduce the appearance of pores.
Evening Primrose Oil: Evening Primrose Oil is a natural treatment for eczema, redness, and acne. Packed with fatty acids and vitamin E, evening primrose is a rockstar ingredient for soothing and moisturizing the skin.
Folic Acid: Folic Acid can naturally be found in foods, such as dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, and dried legumes ,and is an antioxidant that works to maintain healthy skin. It fights against free radical damage and is even known to brighten skin discoloration and improve the skin’s retention of moisture.
Glycerin: Glycerin is a natural humectant, meaning it attracts water to the skin and helps to maintain its moisture content. This ingredient is great for dry skin as it helps to improve the overall appearance and strengthens the skin’s barrier.
Geranium: Geranium is an antioxidant plant extract used to treat acne because of its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It’s also used to rebalance the skin and reduce signs of inflammation and irritation. It’s especially great at treating eczema and rosacea-prone skin conditions.
Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate: Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate is a star ingredient in many Korean skincare products and is a nutrient dense byproduct of the fermentation process which works to benefit the skin at a cellular level by increasing your skin’s absorption. It has a variety of skin care benefits, such as balancing uneven skin tone, fighting against acne-causing bacteria, and helping to reduce the appearance of pore size, and refining the skin’s overall texture.
Green Tea: Green Tea is an amazing plant based antioxidant and the polyphenols found in it are what help to fight against premature aging and help to soothe the skin. Other benefits include working to reduce acne and inflammation.
Ginseng: Ginseng helps to reduce the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, as well as fight against visible signs of fatigue by helping to tone and brighten the skin. Ginseng also has amazing skin regenerating properties, which helps to increase and improve the skin’s elimination of dead skin cells.
Glycolic Acid: Glycolic Acid is a type of Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), which is a chemical exfoliant that helps to slough off dead skin cells to renew the skin’s surface. By improving the exfoliation process, it helps to reduce the appearance of aging, pore size, and hyperpigmentation to reveal a more even and brighter complexion.
Guaiazulene: Guaiazulene is a naturally occurring blue pigment that is used widely as a color additive but is also known for its skin soothing properties that is extremely beneficial at calming irritated and sensitive skin.
Product Recommendations: Klairs Midnight Blue Calming Cream
Glutathione: Glutathione is a peptide that is naturally found in every cell of the body and it works to rid it of toxins and fight against disease. For the skin, it is known to protect against signs of environmental damage and increase its overall brightness.
Product Recommendations: Neogen Rice Peel & Activator, Klavuu Pure Pearlsation Marine Collagen Micro Cleansing Water
Honey: Honey is a naturally produced substance that is a byproduct of bees through the collection of nectar from flowers. It’s a natural humectant that helps to bind moisture to the skin, and because of its antibacterial properties, it works to fight and prevent acne. Packed full of antioxidants, it fights against aging, as well as soothes and moisturizes the skin.
Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic Acid is a skincare junkie’s dream ingredient, as it works to restore the skin’s moisture content and defend it against moisture loss. This loss of moisture leads to early signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity so hyaluronic acid helps to replenish the skin and protect it against these issues.
IlliciumVerum Fruit Extract: IlliciumVerum Fruit Extract—otherwise known as Anise extract—has antiseptic properties to help to fight against acne and protect damaged skin.
Jojoba Oil: Jojoba oil—and its counterparts jojoba butter and esters—are derived from the jojoba plant, which is a shrub. The oil and butter contains tons of fatty acids, which provide extreme moisture, so it’s amazing for super dry skin.
Kaolin: Kaolin is a naturally occurring clay mineral that eliminates excess sebum (perfect for oily skin!) and works to purify and draw impurities from the skin. As a result, it helps to fight against acne and gently exfoliates the skin.
Kelp: Kelp is high in iodine, minerals, and antioxidants and helps to soothe, repair, and hydrate the skin working to delay the effects of aging.
Lactic Acid: Much like some of the other ‘acids’ on this list, lactic acid is a chemical exfoliant in the group known as alpha hydroxy acids or AHA’s, which works to slough off dead skin cells and refresh the skin so it can appear more vibrant, as well as help to get rid of any acne or signs of aging. Something to always take note of when using ingredients like this is that AHA’s temporarily thin the skin, which means you’re more susceptible to UV damage, so always make sure to apply an ample amount of SPF when using these types of products.
Lauric Acid: Lauric Acid isn’t a chemical exfoliant like AHA’s or BHA’s, but rather a fatty acid found in ingredients like coconut oil to add moisturizing properties. So if you’re avoiding chemical exfoliants no worries about this ingredient as it’s just there to moisturize the skin!
Lemon: Lemon is known for its brightening effects because it’s high in Vitamin C and citric acid so it helps to fight hyperpigmentation and any other sources of skin discoloration. But don’t go rubbing a lemon on your face because too much can have an adverse effect and cause skin sensitivity!
Product Recommendations: Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Lemon
Lycopene: Lycopene is most commonly associated with tomato, which contains highly concentrated amounts of this ingredient, the highest antioxidant activity of all carotenoids. Lycopene helps to smooth and brighten the skin and fight free radicals, which lead to early signs of aging.
Product Recommendations: Skinfood Everyday Tomato Facial Sheet Mask
Malic Acid: Malic Acid is another alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which works to exfoliate the top layer of skin built up dead skin cells, which could cause your appearance to appear dull and highlight any fine lines and wrinkles. Always remember: Exfoliating is key!
Mango Seed Butter: Mango Seed Butter is a plant-based emollient that’s extracted from the fruit kernel of the mango tree. Emollients are highly moisturizing ingredients that work to soothe and hydrate the skin. This butter also has UV protective benefits and also helps to calm any skin irritations.
Product Recommendations: Missha Misa Cho Bo Yang Eye Cream
Niacinamide: Niacinamide is also known as Vitamin B3 and it works to to visibly reduce the appearance of large pores, resurface and brighten the skin’s surface, and combat early signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps to strengthen the skin’s barrier against environmental damage.
Oryza Sativa Cera: Oryza Sativa Cera is an extract from rice bran that works to hydrate and soothe the skin as well as calm any signs of inflammation.
Product Recommendations: Neogen Cereal Real Fresh Foam Cleanser
Propolis: Some may think Propolis is the same thing as honey but it’s not. Propolis is the resin bees produce to close any gaps in the honeycomb. It has a high concentration of flavonoids which work to fight and soothe against any signs of inflammation. Its antimicrobial properties aid in helping acne-prone skin and help to fight against damage from pollution.
Papaya Extract: Papaya extract is used in many products as a gentle exfoliator as the enzymes works to break down dead skin cells, leading to a brighter, more refreshed complexion. This is a great exfoliator for sensitive skin!
Pearl Extract: Pearl is the new K-beauty ingredient to look out for and has been long used in Korea. It’s known for its brightening and hydrating properties.
Product Recommendations: Klavuu Pure Pearlsation Divine Pearl Cleansing Oil
Resveratrol: Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant found most notably in the skins of grapes (red wine!) which helps to protect the skin against environmental stressors, such as pollution and UV rays, and as a result, against premature signs of aging. It also helps to calm sensitive skin by fighting against redness and irritation.
Rose: Rose is known for its deeply hydrating properties as it works to soothe and moisturize all in one go. Besides smelling good, this ingredient also works to firm and plump skin to reveal a more youthful and bright appearance.
Squalene/Squalane: Squalane is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect against UV damage, age spots, and hyperpigmentation. Squalane also has the ability to rapidly absorb into the skin, providing an instant boost of hydration.
Saccharomyces Filtrate: The mother of all K-beauty ingredients is Saccharomyces Filtrate, known to be the star ingredient in Missha’s Time Revolution First Treatment Essence. It’s a fermented ingredient that works to encourage cell turnover, leading to brighter, more even and hydrated skin.
Snail Secretion Filtrate: Snail Secretion Filtrate—also known as Snail Mucin—is a super ingredient that works in a variety of ways to boost your skin. It helps to firm and tighten the skin, increase collagen production, fade acne scars and hyperpigmentation, and it also works to moisturize the skin. It also has microbial properties, which help to fight against any acne-causing bacterias. If you’re suffering from acne or acne scarring, this is the ingredient to be on the lookout for!
Salicylic Acid: Salicylic Acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and one of the most common acne fighters on the market. You can find it in both high end and drugstore products. Beside working like other chemical exfoliators to increase cell turnover to shed excess dead skin cells, it also works to unclog the skin’s pores of any leftover impurities that may be left behind.
Tea Tree: Tea Tree has antimicrobial properties to fight acne and the bacterias that cause it. It also works to soothe inflammation and is known to be gentler on the skin than most other acne fighting ingredients. You have to be careful with this oil though, because using too much can dry out the skin, which could then cause more acne.
Ubiquinone: Ubiquinone—also known as coenzyme Q10—is an antioxidant that can be found naturally in the body and has an energizing effect on the skin and works to slow down the effects of aging by diminishing the appearance of fine lines.
Product Recommendations: Missha Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator Ampoule
Vitamin A: Vitamin A, or better known as retinol, is a powerful antioxidant that helps generate better, healthier skin cells, and provide protection from free radicals. With continued use, it’s known to promote more youthful-looking skin by stimulating collagen production and lightening brown spots. Use it with other antioxidants to maximize its benefits.
Willow Bark: Willow Bark is known as a natural alternative to salicylic acid, and it works to minimize the appearance of pores producing a porcelain like effect on the skin. It draws out skin impurities such as excess sebum and regulates the skin’s oil production. There are tannins found in willow bark, which are high in antioxidants that have astringent properties that help to tone and calm inflammation. Willow bark is gentle enough to be suitable for sensitive skin!
Wheat Protein: Wheat Protein has a natural moisturizing effect on the skin, working to plump and hydrate the skin to reduce and prevent early signs of aging. It also works to soothe sensitive skin, leading to a more even complexion free from irritation.
Product Recommendations: Missha Time Revolution Immortal Youth Cream
Yuja/Yuzu: Yuja/Yuzu is a citrus fruit grown in East Asian known for its skin brightening effects since it’s chock full of Vitamin C. It’ll help to lighten and fade any signs of hyperpigmentation, soothe and soften the skin, and even promote collagen production—it’s the perfect anti-aging ingredient!
Zinc Oxide: Sunscreens are the key to fighting against aging as they help to protect the skin from harmful UV rays, and Zinc Oxide is an ingredient that helps to do just that! It’s known to help fight against overall uneven skin tone as it protects the skin by creating a shield against the environmental factors that attack and age the skin. If there’s one product you should be using every single day, it’s SPF. Because no matter how many serums you put on, nothing will age you faster than prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun!
Product Recommendations: CosRX Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion