The ABCs of Skincare Terms

By: Fola Onifade
AHA. Collagen. Free radicals. You've read a ton of skincare blogs and you keep seeing the same few words popping up, but you have no idea what they mean. Bookmark this article so you can refer to the definition of these words until you're reading all any skincare blog like a pro.

Take our skincare quiz to see how well you know these terms!


Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): A type of chemical exfoliant that loosens the bonds that hold skin cells together. This reveals new skin by allowing old skin cells to be easily swept away. Popular AHAs in your products: glycolic acid and lactic acid.

Antioxidant: Ingredients that can help neutralize free radicals (see below) which can, when imbalanced, cause damage such as premature aging of the skin.

Ascorbic acid: AKA vitamin C. An antioxidant typically found in anti-aging formulations like our Illumine Facial Serum to protect the skin. It can also be found in certain cosmetic products as a  preservative.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs): An oil-soluble chemical exfoliant derived from fruit and milk sugars. BHAs treat wrinkles, blackheads and photoaging by also loosening the bind that hold skin cells together.
Popular BHAs in your products: salicylic acid

Bentonite: (Or Montmorillonite). An absorbent clay rich in antibacterial minerals that's typically derived from weathered volcanic ash. It's used in purifying or detoxifying cleansers and masks to pull pollutants, oil and grime from pores.
Source: The Creative Exchange on Unsplash
Biocellulose: Biodegradable, bacteria-derived fiber frequently found in sheet-masks that allows the masks to retain moisture and a snug fit which helps drive active ingredients into the skin.

Ceramides: Naturally occurring in the skin’s oil, these fats hold together the cells of the outer layer of skin to strengthen the skin's protective barrier.

Chemical exfoliant: Chemical exfoliants are the gentler cousins of physical exfoliants. While physical exfoliants manually scrub off dead skin cells, chemical exfoliants break the bonds between those skin cells to make them easy to wash away

Collagen:  The most abundant protein in the human body that makes our skin thick, strong and smooth. Collagen naturally breaks down over time, and UV rays and free radicals can speed up this process. Certain ingredients like retinol, peptides, and laser treatments can stimulate new collagen production. The best thing you can do to prevent the loss of collagen you currently have is to wear sunscreen.

Emollient: Moisturizing ingredients that can penetrate into the spaces between skin cells, which leaves the skin feeling softer and smoother.
Popular emollients: face oils such as our Rosehip Oil, our  100% Sweet Almond Oil, argan oil, and jojoba oil

Free radicals:
Highly reactive molecules in the environment that are typically created through exposure to some kinds of radiation like UV rays. In high enough doses, free radicals can damage the skin. Antioxidants (see above) are thought to neutralize free radicals and prevent that damage.

A humectant (this means it pulls moisture from the atmosphere to hydrate skin) that is relatively inexpensive and is typically used in moisturizers and hydrating cleansers.

Glycolic Acid: An AHA (see above) often found in high-end  cleansers, creams and peel. It’s derived from sugarcane and aids in exfoliation by dissolving the gluelike substance between skin cells.
Three black women's faces
Source: Eloise Ambursley on Unsplash

Hyaluronic Acid:
A sugar molecule found naturally in the skin that increases skin's moisture  and prevents water loss. It can hold 1,000x its weight in water and is typically found in expensive creams and serums.


Micellar Water:
A no-rinse liquid cleanser made of purified water, and hydrators (like glycerin), mild surfactants, that wipe away makeup, oil, and dirt when swiped over skin with a cotton pad. They're mild formula makes it great for sensitive and acne-prone complexions.

Salicylic Acid:
A BHA that removes excess oil and dead cells from the skin's surface. It's used in nonprescription cleansers, moisturizers, and treatments for acne-prone skin in concentrations of 0.5% — 2%.

Serum: (You learned this one last week!) A skin-care product like our Illumine Facial Serum that contains high concentrations of active ingredients and claims superior penetration of the skin's surface when applied.

Sulfates: Ingredients commonly found in cleansers and shampoos that create lather and remove dirt and oil. Sulfates can be too harsh for some people, creating dry or irritated skin by stripping the skin and hair of too many of its natural oils.
How'd you do on the quiz? Give it another go, now that you've learned all these new terms!

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