Your A – Z of skincare

Sometimes reading skincare packaging or ingredient lists feels like they’re written in a whole different language! Hang in there though, as once you understand this new vocabulary, you’ll be much better equipped to make decisions about which products to use€“ or not to use.

Here are some commonly-used words and what they mean for your complexion.



A skin condition characterised by inflamed or infected oil glands think red pimples.


Related to acne and commonly used when referring to skin type or condition.

AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid):

Natural acids derived from fruit, dairy and sugar cane, which loosen and remove dead skin cells from skin, enhancing  the skin’s texture and overall appearance. AHAs include: glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and citric acid.

African whitewood bark:

An anti-oxidant that regulates sebum and acts as an anti-inflammatory.


Molecules that slow down or prevent oxidation of other molecules.


Something that causes skin cells to contract.



A type of purifying clay, great for removing excess oil from the skin.

Benzoyl peroxide:

Prevents bacteria that can cause break-outs from forming in the follicle.

BHA (beta-hydroxy acid):

Also known as salicylic acid. BHA exfoliates the skin whilst providing anti-inflammatory action. BHA also dissolves the substance that causes cells to stick together, therefore making it effective in combating acne and breakouts.


An open, non-inflammed pore blocked with oil, bacteria, dead skin cells, hair or make-up, which can be removed via extraction. The black colour isn’t from dirt, but rather the oils coming into contact with oxygen.


Ingredients derived from plants.

Burdock root extract:

A plant known for its ability to calm and moisturise the skin.



Helps to reduce puffiness and redness by constricting blood vessels.


Occurring in certain essential oils, this extract kills bacteria.


Fatty acids that help to hold cells together, strengthening the epidermis (surface layer of the skin).

Certified organic:

These ingredients must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers or chemicals. They also must be grown, prepared, processed and packaged according to the specific standards of the country which they are being certified in. They then must be certified by an organic certification body.


A face wash.


A powerful antioxidant extracted from the fruit of the coffeeberry or California buckthorn plant.


Cosmetic products that contain biologically active ingredients and claim to have pharmaceutical benefits.


A protein that makes up approximately 80% of our skin, collagen gives our skin firmness and strength. Over time collagen breaks down, however certain ingredients can promote new collagen production in the skin.


A vegetable, renowned for its cooling, de-puffing effect on skin.



Literally means “tested on skin”.


A form of silicone used commonly in oil-free moisturisers for its slip and hydration properties.


Ferulic acid:

A plant based antioxidant which enhances the stability of Vitamin C and E.

Free radicals:

Refers to UV rays, pollution, etc, that cause damage and degradation to the skin.



A hydrating ingredient used commonly in moisturising products.

Glycolic acid:

An AHA derived from sugar cane, which exfoliates the skin, evening out texture.

Green tea:

A powerful antioxidant.


Hamamelis virginiana water:

A type of witch hazel, used as an anti-oxidant and astringent.

Hyaluronic acid:

A sugar molecule which increases the skin’s moisture content. Hyaluronic acid can hold 1000 times its weight in water.


Refers to a product that is less likely to cause an allergic reaction. This does not guarantee you will not react; you will still need to check specific ingredients if you are super sensitive.


Indian herb complex:

Made up of neem, turmeric, basil, henna and aloe, these extracts purify and soothe the skin.


Jojoba oil:

A liquid derived from an evergreen shrub, and used for its softening and hydrating properties. Said to be the oil that most closely resembles the skin’s own natural oils.


Kaolin clay:

A natural clay which absorbs oil and drives out impurities, so it’s great for an oily/acneic skin.


Lactic acid:

An AHA derived from fermented milk, lactic acid  exfoliates the skin to improve texture and clarity. It has a larger molecule size than glycolic acid, so can be a less irritating alternative for sensitive skin.


A natural oil that comes from sheep’s wool. It has excellent moisturising properties and is easily absorbed by our skin. Lanolin is also known to protect and soothe the skin.


An aromatic shrub that provides a calming, anti-inflammatory effect.


A plant known for its anti-inflammatory benefits.



Decreases the production of sebum.


An organic compound, famed for its soothing, cooling properties.

Mineral oil (paraffin oil):

A liquid petrolatum, which has an excellent ability to cut through grease, dirt and makeup and locks in moisture. Mineral oil acts as a thin layer on the skin, and essentially creates a barrier which has been known to block pores. To be avoided when skin is problematic and prone to breakouts.


A lotion, cream or gel designed to hydrate the skin.

Moroccan argan kernel:

Derived from the argan tree, this nutrient helps to balance the skin’s oil secretion.



A tricky term that has no standard definition when it comes to skin care. Most commonly used to refer to products that are made mostly of plant-derived ingredients.


A form of Vitamin B3, niacinamide helps to strengthen skin and improve elasticity whilst reducing redness.


A comedo is a clogged pore (whitehead or blackhead); therefore a non-comedogenic product is one that doesn’€™t clog pores.



Indicates the product is free from oils, both natural and artificial. A highly recommended choice for those with an oily/acneic skin.

Orange peel:

Fruit rind to refresh and sooth the complexion.


An ingredient that has been grown free of chemical pesticides. Read packaging carefully as organic does not necessarily mean that every ingredient is organic, or that the ingredients are certified organic.

Oleanolic acid:

An anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory derived from olive tree leaves.



Commonly used preservatives in food and cosmetics that prevent bacteria and fungus from forming.


Derived from apples, phloretin enhances the activity of other ingredients whilst reducing damage caused by the sun.


Little lesions or inflammations on the skin, caused by oil glands infected with bacteria that then swell and fill up with pus.


Salicylic acid:

See BHA.

Saw palmetto

A botanical that helps stabilise oil secretion

Sesame seed:

Oil-rich and great for normalising sebum production.


A synthetic compound designed to protect the skin from drying out as a result of oil absorption.


Sun Protection Factor. The number that follows is a measure of the time it will take for your skin to burn with the sunscreen applied, in comparison to unprotected skin.


Cleansing agents that lather and remove dirt and oil. Can be synthetic or plant-derived.


Tea tree:

A bacteria-killing, anti-microbial and anti-septic.

Titanium dioxide:

A natural mineral used for sun protection – like a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. Used in sunscreens and cosmetic products.



Ultraviolet rays from the sun that cause premature ageing to the skin.


Rays that cause the skin to tan and burn.


Vitamin A:

Promotes the growth and repair of body tissues.

Vitamin C:

A key anti-oxidant, which strengthens collagen synthesis, and promotes radiant skin.

Vitamin E (tocopherol):

A powerful antioxidant that’s essential for the body, to protect it from free radicals. Vitamin E also has excellent conditioning properties.


Willow bark:

A natural source of BHAs (salicylic acid).

White birch extract:

Derived from a tree, this has properties to aid the skin-healing process.


A closed, non-inflamed pore blocked with oil, bacteria, dead skin cells, hair or make-up, which usually goes away on its own. If whiteheads become irritated, they can turn into more serious types of acne.



A natural sun protector, it acts as a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. Used in sunscreens and foundation (especially mineral makeup), zinc has also been known to be beneficial for those with sensitive and acneic skin.