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Today we're talking skincare lingo! Sometimes myself and others in the community use these terms without even really thinking about it, so this post is your reference library...


'INCI' is short for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. It's the way in which ingredients must be listed in Europe, the US, China, Japan and I'm sure a lot of other parts of the world. There are certain conventions to this system, for example: ingredients are generally listed from highest concentration to lowest concentration, however this rule does not have to be followed if the ingredient is at <1% concentration. This means that you can deduce certain things; Fragrance would not be included at a higher percentage than 1% and legally the preservative phenoxyethanol cannot be used above 1%, therefore ingredients listed after either of these two on the INCI list are likely formulated at less than 1%. Whilst for some ingredients (like retinol) a concentration of <1% is not a bad thing at all, but if the brand is claiming to formulate with all of these amazing antioxidants then you look at the INCI list and Fragrance is halfway up there with all of those 'amazing' ingredients listed after it, you can probably judge that the formulation isn't going to change your skin life.

It's also important because it standardises things, allowing you to see past marketing and what a brand chooses to call a product. For example, you can find out if your 'retinoid' contains a full-on retinaldehyde (potent and difficult to formulate) on retinyl palmitate (a much less potent and cheaper ingredient to formulate with) and decide how much you're willing to spend on it. Likewise, we know the only ingredient class proven time and time again to reverse existing signs of ageing is the Vitamin A family (AKA retinoids), so if there's an 'anti-ageing' product that doesn't contain a form of this, you'll know that right away, instead of having to go off the company's fluffed-up marketing terminology. Of course it doesn't tell you about how these ingredients will interact with each other, how they will perform on the skin or whether they'll give you results, but it's a starting point and a tool in deciding whether you're interested in trying a product or not.


This is pretty much anything you do to take the 'edge' of a product. It's specifically very helpful when it comes to introducing retinoids into your skincare routine or even if you're just moving up to a stronger form or concentration, as this can cause irritation and a drying effect (at least for the first couple of weeks of use). To buffer the product, you'd apply a light layer of a simple moisturiser to damp skin, let it dry down then apply your retinoid (you can let that set down and apply a second light moisturiser layer afterwards too, if you like). Some of it will still get through the moisturiser, but you've 'buffered' the intensity of it. 


I think this is very misunderstood, so let's break down what it is and when / why it might happen. When you use an acid or a retinoid, you're increasing your skin cell turnover, so you might find that acne stuff lurking under that top layer of skin can come to the surface more rapidly. This usually happens if your skin isn't used to an ingredient or you've upped the strength or type of the ingredient you're using. It's most common with prescription topical retinoids like adapalene and tretinoin, and shouldn't last more than around 6 weeks. 

If you're breaking out from an ingredient like niacinamide or Vitamin C, that shouldn't be happening because they're not increasing skin cell turnover. If you're breaking out 3 months after starting your retinoid, that also probably shouldn't be happening. If it's a cosmetic product, you're probably having a reaction to the ingredient if it's accompanied with inflammation and sensitivity (not everyone realises that you can break out when your skin barrier is compromised). Possibly it's too strong or you just have a sensitivity to the ingredient in question or even something else in the formula. If it's a prescription, you will need to speak to the prescriber who will be able to advise if it's something you're going to need to push through or if they want to tweak your prescription, give you some application tips or get you to drop other products from your routine that could be making things worse. 


There actually isn't a proper definition for this, so I'll just walk through what people generally mean when they refer to 'active' ingredients. The term came from the US where skincare ingredients regulated as drugs (such as sunscreen ingredients and salicylic acid, as an acne treatment) are listed as 'active ingredients' and the percentages in the product of them have to be disclosed on the packaging. There's no such thing here in the UK and EU and in general vernacular it's come to more broadly refer to the skincare ingredients that are going to treat your skin. They're what give you visible results rather than playing the supporting role of cleaning or hydrating your skin. They can be a little more irritating and you have to be mindful about how often you use them, in what concentrations and alongside which ingredients.

Double cleanse

This is a method of cleaning your skin in the evening to get makeup, sunscreen and general grime from the world off your skin. You start with an oil-based cleanser on dry skin to break down any makeup or sunscreen, then you emulsify or wipe that away and go in with typically a water-based cleanser, to make sure everything is off, there's no residue left over from the oil cleanse and that your skin is totally fresh. Of course, as you get used to your skin and figure out your preferences, it doesn't have to be that prescriptive but when people talk about 'double cleansing', this is generally what they're referring to.

Humectant / occlusive / emollient

These are three categories of moisturising ingredients, though some will fall under more than one of these umbrellas. Personally, I look for a moisturiser that contains all three. Humectants draw water into the skin, so should be applied when it's slightly damp. Examples include glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Occlusives are what traps that hydration in, which is why they work so well together. One of the most occlusive skincare products out there is petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline). An emollient is a skin-softener. Most plant oils fall into this category.

Hopefully this post helped anyone new to this blog or the skincare world! Are there any phrases you heard a lot of when you first got into skincare and had no idea what people were talking about?

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