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Humectants? Sufactants?

Yourn Woman reading a lotion package

?Recipe for success: If you want to get the most out of your cosmetics, it helps if you can understand which ingredients they contain and what these products are intended to do.

Deciphering the scientific terms for makeup ingredients can be the first step toward a more effective skin-care regimen.

Do you ever feel like a Ph.D. is required to even begin to read the label on your revitalizing eye cream? Is the back of your tube of hydrating facial mask lined with multi-syllable words that sound intimidating? How can the ingredients in something as simple as a clay mask or a moisturizer be so hard to understand? Well, get ready for a crash course on skin care ingredients.

Know the skin you’re in

The best way to start taking better care of your skin is to begin understanding how your skin works. The skin is a remarkable system that acts as our first line of defense against the outside environment. The condition and appearance of the skin depend on temperature, hydration, and many other factors; in turn, these factors affect the skin’s ability to absorb topical treatments. By understanding your skin, you can help increase the effectiveness of the skin-care products you are using.
Skin is 70 percent water, and needs moisture both inside and out to keep its healthy glow. Drinking plenty of water not only makes you feel better but will help your skin look great, too. Help protect skin from external dehydration by using an oil-free daily moisturizer. Look for one with an SPF (sun protection factor) ingredient as well to prevent sun damage.
Always start with clean skin. Makeup, sunscreen, and moisturizers can all reduce the effectiveness of your skin-care products by simply getting in the way. The best time to apply skin-care products is after a warm — but not hot — shower. Most active ingredients can penetrate better when they are dissolved. For this reason, don’t wipe skin totally dry; if skin is too wet, pat skin gently with a towel. Warm skin also absorbs ingredients better. Even a few minutes wrapped in a warm towel can make a big difference.
When cleansing, remember that most soaps and body washes are not formulated for the sensitive skin on your face. Facial soaps are specially designed not to over-dry sensitive skin and rinse clean so there is no residue. They usually don't have fragrance added since your face can be hypersensitive to scents.
The uppermost layer of skin is made up mostly of dead cells. When this layer becomes too thick, skin not only takes on a dull, unhealthy appearance, but skin-care ingredients may not penetrate deep enough to have an effect. There are several ways to prevent this. One is by using a chemical exfoliant (definition below) such as an alpha hydroxy acid. Another way is to use a gentle exfoliating scrub such as Vita-C+ Apricot Citrus Scrub. Exfoliating is very beneficial, but keep in mind that overdoing it can be harmful. Exfoliants should not be used more than four times a week.


Various personal care products with magnification of the front of one of them on the side.

Learn those label definitions

Now that you have a basic strategy for enhancing your skin, here are some of the scientific words found on product labels that are worth coming to terms with.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants are a type of preservative, to prevent color fading or to prevent odor (smell) changes.
Emulsifiers: Emulsion is a smooth blend of oil and water. Since most skin care products include both water and oil soluble ingredients, emulsions are a great way to deliver the active ingredients. The only downfall is that emulsions quickly separate; therefore, they usually include an Emulsifier that prevents separation.
Emollients: Emollients are substances that smooth and soften the skin. There are a wide variety of emollients on the market.
Exfoliants: An agent that causes exfoliation or the removal of the top layer of dead skin cells. Two common types of exfoliants are acids (alpha-hydroxy acids, for example) and abrasives (salt, sand, ground seeds, silica beads, etc.)
Humectants: Humectants are substances that can attract water, usually by pulling it out of the air. Humectants are basically moisturizers.
Preservatives: Preservatives are extremely important when it comes to skin care products. While some preservatives may occasionally irritate the skin, the consequences of using a product spoiled by bacteria are far worse. Some antioxidants and stabilizers are also referred to as preservatives because they inhibit a breakdown of the product.
Solvents: Solvents are substances that dissolve other ingredients. The most common are alcohol and water.
Surfactants: A surfactant is a wetting agent that is capable of reducing the surface tension of the liquid. In skin care, surfactants enable a product to easily glide across the skin.
Armed with these facts, you can now engage in the process of skin care more knowledgeably. From shopping and choosing product to the actual exfoliating and moisturizing, you will soon be revitalizing with confidence!
Ernie McCraw is director of beauty education for Sally Beauty Company, the world’s largest distributor of professional beauty products. A licensed cosmetologist for more than 30 years, he is a frequent contributor to fashion and beauty publications nationwide.

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