+ - Antioxidants
Antioxidants are active ingredients that protect cells from harmful environmental molecules called “free radicals”. These ‘free radicals’ are generated by external toxins, such as UV radiation, stress, alcohol, cigarette smoke and pollution. “Free radicals” damage skin cells, reducing skin’s natural elasticity and causing wrinkles. Using plant-based oils rich in antioxidants works against the damage. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables that are naturally full of antioxidants also is also beneficial for skin protection. Some potent antioxidant-rich plant oils and extracts are Kakadu Plum, Marula, Bilberry, Liquorice and Green Tea.
+ - Emulsifiers
Oil and water do not mix together, so if we want to enrich a hydrating water solution with protecting oils, we need an emulsifier. Emulsifiers contain both a hydrophilic element (water loving) and a lipophilic element (oil loving), which allow them to bind these different liquids together. Without emulsifiers water and oil would separate, resulting in uneven and likely unusable textures and poorer absorption of heavier ingredients such as plant oils.
Natural emulsifiers are plant waxes, such as Candelilla, Carnauba, Jojoba, Rice Bran, as well as Xanthan Gum and Quince Seed.
+ - HUMECTANTS
Humectants attract water and bind water in skin layers, increasing the water holding capacity of the skin’s top layer, stratum corneum. By doing so, humectants are powerful hydrating agents. The best natural humectants are glycerine, olive squalene, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and sodium hyaluronate.
+ - Moisturizers
Moisturizers are cosmetic products applied to the skin top add or restore moisture to it. They should add water to the skin and bind it there. Effective moisturizers consist of water, humectants, occlusives and emollients (read a detailed article here).
Moisturizers come in many forms: Creams, serums, facial oils, lotions and masks can have wonderfully hydrating properties. Which one you choose, depends mainly on your skin type, time of application, personal preferences and time of the year.
+ - Preservative
Preservatives are important cosmetic ingredients that protect products from bacteria, yeast and mold, ensuring their desired shelf-life and safety for the user. While all natural products eventually decay with or without preservatives, preservatives are especially critical to water-based products and products that are likely to come in contact with water (examples: lotions, aloe vera-based serums, floral waters).
A good broad spectrum natural preservative is the one that is effective against a broad range of microbes and stops bacteria, yeast and mold growth. One example is Preservative Eco, also known as Plantaserv M. The INCI listing is Benzyl Alcohol (and) Salicylic Acid (and) Glycerin (and) Sorbic Acid. These chemicals are found in plants such as pine resin, rowan berries and willow bark and are paraben- and formaldehyde-free.
The only way to know that your preservative is working sufficiently is to have a microbiological challenge test carried out by a lab. This is recommended (and in some countries compulsory) if you are selling your products.
Vitamin E, Rosemary Extract and Grapefruit Seed Extract are not preservatives.
+ - Emollient
An emollient softens and soothes the skin and prevents water loss as it creates a protective layer of lipids. Emollients are used to moisturize and calm irritated or dry skin. Some of the best natural emollients are Borage Seed Oil, Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter and Jojoba Oil.
+ - Emulsions
Emulsions are blends containing both oil and water, with help of an emulsifier or an emulsifying action (“shake well before use”). Typical emulsions are creams, lotions and water-based serums.
+ - High-Performance (Active) Ingredients
High-performance ingredients, also called active ingredients, are more potent and beneficial ingredients than so-called foundation or base ingredients. High-performance ingredients are generally those that deliver what the product claims to deliver: to nourish, to hydrate, to heal, to sooth, to firm, to protect and so on. These highly beneficial ingredients normally form around 10% of the product and can be used in low quantities of 1-3% – they are effective in small dosages.
Some examples of natural high-performance ingredients are Lecithin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Vitamin E (Tocopherol), Allantoin, Linoleic Acid and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).
+ - Occlusive
Occlusives, opposite to humectants, do not like water and often repel it. Instead of sinking into the skin, they usually sit on top of it, forming a protective lipid layer. This layer stops water in the skin to evaporate and escaping into the air. Typical occlusives are waxes and butters: Shea Butter, Mango Butter, Cocoa Butter and Allantoin are some of the best natural occlusives.
+ - Surfactant
Surfactant (shortened from “surface active ingredient”) is a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. It can do so as surfactants consist of parts that are both hydrophilic (water loving) and lipophilic (oil loving).
When added to a solution in a high enough quantity surfactant molecules arrange themselves in structures called micelles (you probably heard of micellular water, right?). These micelles can trap oils – which makes them excellent cleaners, drawing oil (and dirt) away from the skin or hair once the surfactant solution is rinsed off.
The useful thing about micelles is that they can help suspend oil in water. When a small amount of oily materials is put into an aqueous solution of surfactants, it will migrate into the centre portion of the micelle. So, when you put a surfactant solution on a surface like hair or skin, the oil that is there will be drawn away from the surface and into the micelles. When the surfactant solution is rinsed away, the surface is clean. That’s why first place you usually meet surfactants are cleansing products, like soaps and detergents.
As surfactants can carry both water and oils, they are amazing for adding beneficial plant oils to your skin and hair. In emulsions, which are semi-stable mixtures of oils and water, surfactants act as emulsifiers, meaning they get oils and water stay together, which normally does not happen.
Micelles can also trap air, creating foam, so surfactants are also useful foaming agents. In a shampoo, not only surfactants remove the greasiness away from the hair, but also help creating this nice rich lather.
Natural surfactants to look for: Castile Soap, Yucca Extract, Soapwort, Quillaja Bark Extract
Synthetic surfactants to avoid: Ingredients ending with –eth, (like laureth in Sodium Laureth
Sulphate) or containing the phrase PEG (PolyEthylene Glycol), or PPG (PolyPropylene Glycol). Ingredients containing the term TEA – TriEthanolAmine, DEA – DiEthanolAmine and MEA, MonoEthanolAmine.