Our glossary contains a list of cosmetic ingredients and other terms that will help you identify ingredients in the products you use.
Quite often referred to as just dioxane. It can sometimes contaminate body care and cosmetics products when it becomes an accidental byproduct of the ethoxylation process in manufacturing.
FD&C yellow no.6
Sunset Yellow FCF. FD&C colours are colourings certified and allowed by the US for the Food, Pharmaceutical, Cosmetics & Personal Care industry. Some FD&C colours are derived from coal tar - derivatives tested on animals because of coal tar carcinogenic properties (EWG).
Basic violet 10
A basic red dye that forms a bluish red fluorescent solution when mixed with water or alcohol. As well as a colouring in cosmetics, it is also used to stain wool, paper and silk.
An acid found in vinegar - vinegar is typically 4-6% acetic acid. It can also be found naturally in apples, oranges, pineapples, cheese and many other plants and fruits. It's uses include a PH adjuster and fragrance ingredient.
A toxic, colourless ingredient used in nail varnishes and nail varnish removers. It can cause spitting and brittleness of the nails and if inhaled for prolonged periods, can act as a narcotic (drunken feeling).
Aluminium salts are widely used in antiperspirants to create flakes which group together to form a fine structure. This structure blocks up the pores in your arm pit to prevent perspiration. The safety of aluminium has been strongly debated after it was identified as a neutrotoxin.
Aluminium salts commonly used in deodorants for it's absorbent properties. It is used in some creams and lotions as a bulking and opacifying ingredient.
Alcohol that has been 'denatured' has been made undrinkable. Alcohol Denat is created by fermenting sugars, starch and carbohydrates. It is used in a variety of products including toners, cleansers and perfumes. It has grease dissolving properties so in some cases can be drying for the skin.
Aloe Vera/Aloe perryi/aloe barbadensis
A natural substance found in the leaves of the aloe vera plant. There are 300 species of aloe vera and is used for it's skin softening and healing properties.
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
Used as a surfectant. It breaks up and holds onto oils so they can be easily removed from skin and hair. Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate molecules are large and therefore do not penetrate the skin as easily as sodium lauryl sulphate, making it milder.
A naturally occuring acid found in fruit and vegetables. Ascorbic acid is also known as vitamin C.
A naturally occuring amino acid used to make the skin smooth. It can be found in sugar beet, molasses and many other plants. Although it is a naturally occuring ingredient, it can also be produced synthetically.
If something is bioaccumilative, it cannot be broken down by the body and is therefore stored in fatty tissue and builds up in concentration over time.
A type of organic farming that nurtures the interconnecting relationships of soil, plants and animals as an eco system. This technique was pioneered by Rudolf Steiner and is practiced in 500 countries worldwide.
A processed clay which is found in products like foundation, face masks and lotions to absorb excess sweat and facial oil. Bentonite can block pores and dry out sensitive skin.
A solvent obtained from coal and widely used in the chemical industry (airplane glue, lacquers, varnishes and resins). It can also be found in cigarette smoke and vehicle emissions. Commonly found in nail varnishes and nail varnish removers.
Benzyl alcohol (synthetic)
Widely used as a preservative in perfumes and colognes and has a faint, sweet odour.
Benzyl alcohol (natural)
Benzyl alcohol has a faint, sweet odour and is used as a preservative. It can be derived naturally from plants including jasmine and rose
Benzoic acid (synthetic)
A weak acid used in many body care and cosmetic products as a preservative to stop mould or fungus growing after they have been opened.
Benzoic acid (natural)
Natural benzoic acid can be derived from food products such as cherries and tea. It is used as a preservative to stop mould or fungus growing after a product has been opened.
A natural antioxidant that gives plants and vegetables their yellow or orange colour. This ingredient is used to protect the skin from the effects of free radicals.
A natural ingredient found in vegetables which is used as a natural foaming alternative to synthetic ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate.
Preservative and solvent. This ingredient was first invented as a preservative in the 60's by Boots PLC. Since then it's use has decreased after growing concerns over the potential for nitrosamine formation.
A highly flammable gas used in aerosol deodorants and lighter fluid as a propellant. Butane is slightly toxic if inhaled.
A toxic solvent that is used in nail varnish, nail varnish removers and perfume. It is an irritant and can have a narcotic effect (drunken feeling) in high concentrations.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
A synthetic preservative which has been banned from use in food in England, Japan, Romania, Sweden and Australia. BHT can cause allergic reactions.
A synthetic ingredient used in suncream to absorb UVA rays.
Chalk. Calcium carbonate is an alkali odourless powder that can be found naturally in limestone, marble and coral. It's uses include reducing a products acidity, firming, firming and buffing.
An oil base that holds essential oils in order to dilute them before they are applied to the skin. It is given this name because the oil 'carries' the essential oils to the skin. Carrier oils have very little or no scent.
Castor oil/Palm Christi Oil
A vegetable oil that is taken from the seeds of the castor bean plant. It is used as an emollient in moisturisers and other body and cosmetic products because it is soothing for skin.
Also known as urea.
A natural red dye commonly used to create red hues in lipsticks, blushers and eye shadows. This powder is made by crushing up the bodies of female cochineal beetles. These beetles can be found in Southern parts of America and feed on cacti.
A gum made from the fibre of plant call walls. It is used as an emulsifier and to hold the ingredients together (binder).
Cetearyl alcohol/Cetyl alcohol (vegetable derived)
Is a naturally occurring fatty alcohol derived from coconut or palm oil. It is used as a thickener and carrier for other ingredients.
Ceteareth(+number e.g. Ceteareth-20)
A synthetic mixture of saturated fatty alcohols. These ingredients are used as emulsifiers in products like soaps and shampoos. Ceteareth's can alter the skin in a way that enables other chemicals to penetrate more easily.
A natural substance that can be found in apples, oranges, pineapples etc. This ingredient is a derivative of cetyl alcohol and acetic acid.
A chemical compound widely used for it's antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It has an amber rating because it has been found to be bioaccumilative and resists normal chemical breakdown.
A yellowish, synthetic oily liquid with a strong smell of cinnamon. It occurs naturally in cinnamon bark and is used for aroma in perfumes and flavouring in mouthwashes and toothpastes. It is a known allergen and therefore must be listed as a separate component to fragrance in products.
A natural ingredient extracted from fruit and vegetables by fermenting sugars. It is used as a PH balancer and a gentle preservative.
Occurs naturally in essential oils such as lemon, citronella, rose and geranium. It has a rose like smell and is used for it's strong antifungal properties. This ingredient is widely used in perfumes and insect repellents.
A method for extracting oils from plants. Oil is obtained from pressing/grinding fruit and seeds causing them to release their oils. No heat is used in order to preserve the properties of the ingredients.
A hard natural fat (yellow-white) that is made from the roasted seeds of cocoa beans. Cocoa butter softens and melts at body temperature.
A protein usually made from the connective fibres of animal tissue and skin. Collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin and therefore sit on the skins surface. Collagen puts a temporary coating all over the surface of your skin "fills in" the lines and wrinkles.
Usually combinations of letters and numbers e.g. CI 15985, FD & C Red NO.2.
Cocamide DEA, MEA
A fatty acid from coconut oil used as a thickener and foam booster. It was concluded that this product is safe for cosmetic use but that it should not be used in products containing nitrosating ingredients.
Decyl Glucoside/Lauryl glucoside
A natural, biodegradable cleanser used in many natural body care products instead of sodium lauryl sulphate. It is derived from a reaction between glucose, corn starch and a fatty alcohol from coconuts.
DEA is derived from soy beans and coconut oil. Often used to adjust PH level and for it's emollient and foaming properties. DEA is a suspected carcinogen because the 'amine' (ammonium compound) part of this ingredient can form nitrosamines when it comes into contact with nitrate ingredients.
An ingredient used in cosmetics as a preservative and antiseptic. There are growing concerns that diazolidinyl urea can be contaminted with formaldehyde.
A silicone derived ingredient which coats the skin with an oily later trapping in toxins and keeping oxygen out. Dimethicone is non biodegradable.
A synthetic ingredient used to adjust consistency of a product. There are concerns over this being used in body care products as it can alter the skin, making it easier for other ingredients to be absorbed.
Used as an antifoam agent, synthetic fruit flavouring and as a fixative in products like perfumes. Derived commercially from liquid paraffin.
Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid/EDTA
A synthetic preservative used to prevent the growth of bacteria and to stop unwanted separation and reaction of ingredients. It is know to cause skin irritation and can affect cells.
An ingredient that prevents water loss and provides a softening effect. There are natural and synthetic emollients. Natural emollients include: jojoba oil, almond oil and avocado oil. Synthetic emollients include mineral oil, petrolatum and hydrogenated oils.
An ingredient added as a thickener and to help mix ingredients.
A highly concentrated, natural oily liquid from plants. Essential oils are primarily used for fragrance.
A solvent with a fruity odour used as a solvents in nail varnishes and nail varnish removers. As well as it's solvent properties it's also used as an artificial fruit essence in perfumes. Irritating to the skin.
A magnesium salt used in creams, lotions and bath products as a thickener.
These can either be plant or animal based. Although they are non-toxic ingredients, those looking for vegan or vegetarian products should check they are not animal derived.
A cheap, toxic, colourless gas that is restricted in many countries but is still used in some products. Formaldehyde vapours are are highly irritating and should not be inhaled. It is used in cosmetics for it's preservative, disinfectant and fungicide properties.
There is no definitive list as to which ingredients are classed as fragrance. The presence of the word "fragrance" could mean a mixture of up to 4,000 chemicals.
In the vast majority of natural products, fragrance means the use of essential oils, herbs or flowers - usually stated on the label.
From the seed of the flax plant and are a good source of linseed oil. Flaxseed can be found in cereals, dog food, shampoos, cloths, cough remedies, muffins and hair tonics.
FD&C Yellow No.5
A colouring made from coal tar derivatives. It is commonly used in hair rinses, hair waving fluid and bath salts. It is also found in drinks, desserts, ice cream, sherbert, sweets, baked goods and medicines. It has been documented that it can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to asprin.
A chemical compound that helps to dissolve ingredients, but can be drying on the skin. If used it in high concentrations, it draws moisture from inside the skin and holds it on the surface for a moisturised feeling.
A vegetable derived ingredient that helps to dissolve ingredients. It also acts as a moisture absorber by absorbing water from the air and is therefore very beneficial at keeping the skin hydrated and moisturised.
A pure animal protein created from boiling bones, cartilage, tendons and other tissue with water. It can absorb 5 times it's own weight in cold water and is therefore ideal for thickening cosmetic products and food.
A vegetable based substance used as a thickener. If you are in doubt whether gelatin is of plant or animal origin, look for the presence of a vegetarian/vegan mark.
A natural fibre from seeds of the Guar plant in India. It is used as a thickener and emulsifier because it has 5-8 times the thickening ability of starch.
Found in sugarcane juice and fruit. It is an acid used to alter the acid/alkali balance in products. You are probably most familiar with it from it's use in glycolic acid skin peels. This ingredient is a mild irritant and can cause sun sensitivity and and irritation.
A process developed in the 1940's by Proctor and Gamble. Hot-processing is commonly used in soap making: all the ingredients are all boiled together to form the mixture but the disadvantage to this is that the heat can remove some of the nutrients.
A series of chemical reactions to add hydrogen to a substance. When hydrogen is added, the ingredient becomes saturated and solidifies.
Also know as hexanol.
A colourless alcohol used in antiseptics, perfume and as a preservative in cosmetics.
An ingredient used as a preservative in cosmetics. The American Academy of Dermatology has found it to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis (skin irritation). There are growing concerns that imidazoldinyl urea can be contaminated with formaldehyde.
A synthetic 'fatty alcohol' used for it's antibacterial and solvent properties. It is prepared from propylene which is created when petroleum molecules are broken down into simpler molecules - this process is also known as 'cracking'.
An ingredient which is derived from palm oil and combined with synthetic alcohol. It is used in cosmetic products as a binder and emollient.
Jojoba oil/Buxus Chinensis
An oil from a shrub that is found in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts in Mexico, Arizona and California. The oil is extracted from the seeds of the jojoba plant and is used as a carrier oil and ingredient in moisturisers.
Derived from the oil of jasmine flowers and is used in flavourings and perfume.
A mineral form of white clay. In this form it can absorb high quantities of moisture, oil and impurities. These properties make it ideal for use in products like foundation as it aids covering ability.
A clay mineral with a chemical composition. It is a silicate mineral which means that it composes of silicon and oxygen. This ingredient can block and clog pores.
An animal derived protein (naturally present in our hair and nails) ingredient obtained from horns, hoofs, feathers, quills and hairs of animals. Used in hair rinses, hair wave solutions and other cosmetic products.
An oily substance obtained by squeezing wool between rollers. This oil is from the hair follicles and is rich in fatty acids. It can be contaminated with pesticides and insecticides unless certified organic. Commonly used as a thickening ingredient and absorbs water and holds it on the skin.
A hydrocarbon that has an extremely strong smell of oranges. This is the element of citrus fruits that gives them their strong smell.
A natural, colourless but very fragrant terpene alcohol found in some flowers and spice plants. It can be found in essential oils such as tangerine, rose, neroli, grapefruit and ylang ylang. Linalool should be avoided by people with perfume allergy as it can irritate the skin.
Also known as mineral oil.
Lactic acid is one of the components of vegetable fats especially coconut and laurel oil. Used for as base ingredient for soaps and detergents because of it's foaming properties (large bubbles).
A surfactant used in hair dyes and shampoos. The ingredient lowers the waters surface tensions which means the product can spread out and penetrate more easily.
A chemical preservative usually found in many body care products that is used to prevent the growth of bacteria near water. This ingredient is commonly used in antibacterial soaps and in other body care products such as creams and hair care products.
Used in cosmetics and body care because it is inexpensive, but can be very drying for the skin. It creates an oily layer over the skin trapping in toxins and impurities and keeping oxygen out.
An ingredient used to colour products such as face powder, creams and dusting powders like talc. It can also be used to make tablets.
If something is natural, it means it has not undergone any chemical processing, no synthetic ingredients have been added and is made from ingredients that exist in nature.
Chemical compounds, some of which have been identified as carcinogenic. There is concern over some of the ingredients used in body care and cosmetic products because ingredients can react with each other to form nitrosamines.
An oil taken from the leaves, bark and seeds of the Neem tree (found in India). The extract of the leaves has found to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Neem oil is very bitter.
If a product is organic, the ingredients have been grown or prepared without the use of chemicals or pesticides. It is important to note that something 'organic' does not necessarily mean 'natural'.
Derived from isopropanol. It is used as a sun screening ingredient in a wide variety of products including shampoos.
Used to absorb UV rays. It can be found in sun creams, foundation and hair products.
Synthetic chemical preservatives used to preserve shelf life. A common cosmetic ingredient found under many names inc: Methylparaben, propylparaben etc.
Parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can manipulate estrogen levels.
Used to absorb the UV rays but once absorbed, can react bimolecularly with DNA - the energy from the UV ray cannot be converted into heat quickly enough causing damage cells it comes into contact with. Padimate-O is a derivative of PABA which was banned after research found it could damage cells once it had absorbed UV rays.
A natural oil from the kernel or fruit of the plant and is primarily grown in the rainforests of South East Asia. This ingredient in itself isn't toxic controversy is building around the cost on the environment to meet the increasing global demand for palm oil.
Natural parfum is a mixture of aromatic ingredients like essential oils, plants and herbs and is used to add fragrance to products
Also know as 'fragrance' which can be made from many synthetic chemicals.
Petroleum/Petrolatum (and mineral oils)
Petroleum and other mineral oils form a oil barrier over your skin that keeps oxygen out. These chemicals are often added to cosmetics and body care products to give the illusion of a quick result- instantly soft skin etc. This ingredient has no nutrient values for the skin.
A group of chemicals used as plastisizers (for softening texture). Their main use to is to turn polyvinyl chloride into flexible plastic. This chemical is also used to make fragrance last for longer in products. Phthalates are known hormone mimickers.
Commonly used as synthetic emulsifiers and to combine water and oil in products. PEG ingredients are synthetic, highly processed waxy substances and the higher the number, the harder in texture they are. For example, PEG-15 would be softer than PEG-200.
A viscous, oily liquid used to help disperse and stabilise oil and water solutions. It is derived from lauric acid - a fatty acid found in coconut and palm oil.
Polysorbate 60, 80
These two types of polysorbate are rated amber because they have been associated with 1,4 dioxane contamination.
A salt which is a natural preservative.
A derivative of petroleum. It's main use is as a moisture carrying ingredient for products a huge range of products including liquid makeup (foundation, lipsticks etc), lotions, creams and perfumes.
A sap/resin collected by bees from cracks in trees and pollen in flower buds. Propolis is used by the bees to seal up gaps in the hive and is used in cosmetics for it's disinfectant properties.
Quite simply water that has been purified to remove contaminants before it is added to products.
This ingredient is petroleum derived and mainly used in hair sprays for it's fixative properties. The particles can stick to foreign bodies in the air and transport them into the lungs if the products is inhaled.
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A natural ingredient which comes from the pit of the fruit on Shea trees in central Africa. The pale yellowish fat is extracted by crushing and boiling the fruit. Shea Butter is an excellent base for cream, lotions and soaps because it has a high content of fatty acids, making it incredibly moisturising.
A mineral that is used to make products feel silky, smooth and to absorb oil and sweat. Silica particles are also added to nail varnish to create a smooth silky finish. The hydrated form of silica can sometimes be contaminated by crystalline quartz (a carcinogen).
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
Primarily used for it's foaming action in shower gel, bubble bath soaps etc. Salt added to SLS gives the illusion that the product is thick or concentrated. SLS can irritate the skin and cause tightness, redness and exacerbate skin conditions such as dermatitis and eczema because it strips oils from skin and hair.
A preservative that naturally occurs in some fruits.
Common salt. It is commonly used as an astringent and antiseptic in products like mouthwash, bubble bath and soaps.
Used as an anti-enzyme to prevent tooth decay. In it's natural and unaltered state is a beneficial mineral. Canada do not permit this ingredient to be used in toothpastes, mouthwashes or breath fresheners.
Sodium Hydroxide (also known as caustic soda/lye)
When mixed with water, sodium hydroxide becomes a strong alkali. It is commonly used in soap making. If too much of this is used in a product it can cause skin irritation, which is why it is rated as orange.
The process where fats, water and an alkali (sodium hydroxide) react to create soap.
The use of steam to extract essential oils in order to preserve the active ingredients. The process involves adding water and steam, which lowers the boiling point of the oil. The oil evaporates before the water into a separate container - this vapour condenses again and you have your essential oil!
A chemical added to products to stop the growth of bacteria and microbes - widely used in toothpastes and mouthwashes. There have been increasing health concerns after triclosan was identified as a endocrine disruptor in 2006. It can be stored in body fat and accumulate over time.
Tocopheryl Acetate is the chemical compound of acetic acid and tocopheryl (vitamin E). Tocopheryl acetate is sometimes used instead of natural vitamin E because it has a longer shelf life.
This type of vitamin E is easier for the skin for the skin to absorb than Tocopheryl Acetate. It is widely used as a dietary supplement to protect fat in the body's tissue.
A white pigment which occurs naturally. It is a non-chemical ingredient used in sun creams for sun blocking properties. Titanium dioxide particles physically block out and reflect UV rays. It is a recommended natural alternative to chemical ingredients such as methyl-methoxycinnamate.
Used in products like talcum powder and face powder to soak up excess moisture. The main concern with talc is that it can be contaminated with asbestos. If in doubt, look for products where talc is certified as "asbestos-free" or email the company and ask for product information.
A detergent and dispersing ingredient in a range of products. These include skin creams, shampoos and shower gels etc. There is continuing debate about the use of "amine's" in body products because of the potential for it to react with nitrates and create nitrosamines.
Ultramarine (CI 77007)
A mined mineral pigment that is bright blue. It's main uses are cosmetics such as eye shadows.
Our skin naturally contains a small percentage of urea (approx 1%) which helps our skin to naturally retain moisture. Urea is excreted from the body in urine. Dry skin is often the result of low urea levels. However, if the urea content of a product is too high, it can cause skin irritation.
Organic urea is created from 2 organic in-organic salts: potassium cyanate and ammonium sulphate.
Although urine contains urea, urea is not urine. Industrial urea is produced synthetically from ammonia and carbon dioxide. It is used in cosmetic and body care products to keep moisture in the skin. It is also antimicrobal, so it stops the growth of bacteria and mould. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell from the label whether the urea used in natural or synthetic.
Non-synthetic urea is a byproduct from the livers of humans, mammals or uric acid from birds a reptiles.
If a product is vegan it contains no by-products of animals including beeswax, propolis and lanolin.
If a product is vegetarian it does not contain any animal based ingredients (skin, stock, gelatin, fats etc) or those that have been derived from slaughter.
A water soluble vitamin that is a powerful antioxidant. Natural sources include fruit (particularly citrus fruit) and vegetables. It has a wide range of functions for the human body including fighting infections, guarding against free radicals and aiding the repair of skin cells.
It is one of the most widely used ingredients in cosmetic and body care products. The water used in cosmetics and body care products has to be sterile to avoid contaminating the product.
Wheat germ oil
An oil rich in vitamin E found in the golden germ of wheat. It is used in hair conditioners, facial oils and emollients.
Witch hazel is a skin freshener, local anaesthetic and astringent. It is made from the leaves and/or twigs of the Hamamelis virginina. Witch hazel has an ethanol content of 70-80%, but witch hazel water in the shops only contains 15% ethanol.
A natural gum derived from the fermentation of glucose or sucrose. It is used in body care and cosmetics as a thicker and emulsifier.
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A natural powder made from pure zinc used in natural sun block because of it's ability to reflect UV rays.
A zinc salt used as an antiseptic, deodorant and disinfectant in shaving creams, mouth washes and other dental products.
A zinc salt used as an antiseptic and astringent in dusting powders and antiperspirants.