What Do All of Those Unpronounceable Words on Your Products’ Ingredient Lists Mean?

When upon a time, Attract ran information columns by our favorite attractiveness pros. In celebration of our 30th anniversary, we’re bringing again the tradition — but this time the specialist is: us (we have uncovered a ton more than the a long time). Send your burning (or itching, or otherwise infected) inquiries to [email protected], and we could possibly response them in an impending tale. 

“I never ever acquire a beauty solution with no checking the component list 1st: I know my glycolic from my salicylic, my glycerin from my squalane. But there are nevertheless text I are unable to make heads or tails of. What unpronounceable superhero elements need to I be hunting out for?”

While I see the wisdom in Michael Pollan’s information to not consume anything at all you cannot pronounce, that rule will not actually implement to examining labels on serums and shampoos. (Unless you are having your serums and shampoos, and you should really don’t do that.) In splendor formulas, a 25-letter term is frequently just a chemical title for a extremely powerful brightener or moisturizer. And immediately after 12 several years at Allure, a several of them do roll off my tongue. But to totally answer your issue, I also attained out to some of our most loved cosmetic chemists. Behold, the ultimate unpronounceable glossary.

Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate

This aluminum salt, which has the magic touch for producing dry legs smooth, “is one of my most loved substances for system treatment since it can acquire a lotion, cream, or even a thick balm loaded with oils and butters from greasy to comfortable and matte devoid of compromising on moisturization,” says beauty chemist Kelly Dobos.


I’m generally on the hunt for glowier skin, and now I know that I need to be looking for terms ending in this suffix, which means a negatively charged ion of vitamin C — one particular of pores and skin care’s ideal brighteners. “Vitamin C’s are antioxidants, but most degrade rapidly, like apples turning brown. How effective are they if you do not stabilize them?” asks cosmetic chemist Ginger King rhetorically. “Ascorbates are stabilized sorts of vitamin C’s. The only other steady just one is 3-o-ethyl-ascorbic acid.”


When irritated pores and skin requirements TLC, it is excellent to know about azulenes. “These parts of crucial oils have been extensively studied for their anti-inflammatory homes,” states Dobos, whose preferred is guaiazulene.

Behentrimonium Chloride

A quick repair for dry hair and scarf-induced gnarls, this “quaternium compound is antistatic, which also assists with detangling and helps prevent flyaways,” claims King. She would like to established the history straight on one issue: “Quaternium compounds are superior for detangling, but quaternium-15 is a preservative and formaldehyde donor. It is a black sheep in the great quat loved ones.”

Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohols

“We feel of alcohol as the stuff we drink, which consists of the chemical ethanol. But to a chemist, an alcohol is any material with a hydroxyl team connected to a carbon atom,” explains Dobos. “They can have vastly distinct houses.” That usually means not all alcohols are drying. Cetyl and stearyl alcohols, for case in point, are waxy solids termed fatty alcohols, ideal for generating the wealthy, creamy textures we want in our moisturizers and conditioners. Far more proof: Glycerin, just one of the most effective moisturizers out there, is a polyol, a sort of alcohol with many hydroxyl groups.


If you really like cooking with garlic but detest smelling like a restaurant, you want cyclodextrins. States Dobos: “They are a class of polysaccharides — chains of sugar molecules — that are significantly helpful in dry shampoos for capturing disagreeable odors.”


For considerably less frizz, extra shine, “dimethicone is your pal,” claims King. “It is a linear silicone that coats hair, and it is not volatile. There are fears around cyclic silicones having volatility troubles that could guide to inhalation that may well not be safe and sound. Granted, there are several so-termed silicone possibilities, but none of them seriously function perfectly.” (Allure has also earlier documented that cyclic silicones might accumulate in the h2o source, which raises environmental problems.)

Isoamyl Laurate

Contemplate the presence of this fatty acid your insurance coverage coverage that a moisturizer will do its position beautifully, with no sensation hefty or pilling. Says King: “This is a quite awesome, nongreasy emollient that will help clean out pores and skin and has a brief absorption.”

Linum Usitatissimum Seed Oil

The three-syllable expression for this component is “flaxseed oil,” and of all the purely natural oils listed on pores and skin-treatment labels, King especially enjoys to see this just one: “It contains a significant volume of omega-3 fatty acids to moisturize and calm pores and skin and it’s not overly greasy, like other pure oils.”

Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 and Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5

Some of the most efficient skin-treatment elements are peptides — amino acid chains — and these two leading King’s checklist for firming and brightening, respectively. A palmitoyl, she adds, is a “peptide that is hooked up to palmitic acid for better penetration.”

Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

Irrespective of whether you want to preserve new highlights or prevent frizz, glimpse for this in a shampoo. It is a gentler surfactant than sulfates, claims Dobos, which indicates you get all the sudsing without having stripping coloration.

Synthetic Fluorphlogopite

These clean, transparent white flakes are built in a lab to resemble natural mica — and to make lids, cheeks, and lips radiant. “Synthetic fluorphlogopite has better sparkle than all-natural mined mica,” says Dobos, “and isn’t going to have the concerns with unsafe and unethical [child] labor techniques related with [some of the mining of] its natural counterpart.”


If you are on the hunt for mascara or eyeliner that will not smudge, or lipstick or foundation that is not going to fade, then you want to obtain this silicone resin on component lists. “It is like Saran Wrap, but with a soft, adhesive residence,” suggests King. “It varieties a permeable movie, yet has a awesome, gentle sense, and helps make makeup prolonged-wearing, water-resistant, and transfer-proof.”

This tale at first appeared in the August 2022 situation of Allure.

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