【SkinCare 1: The Types of Ingredients】

We all love looking pretty. Almost all the women want to maintain their youngness forever through different methods. 

As a mid-thirty woman, the questions I am asked the most by my friends during gatherings are “What kinds of the skincare products are you using?” “How come your skin look so nice ?” “I am facing blablabla… recently..how to solve it ?” “Your makeup looks so smooth and natural. What kind of cosmetic/foundation are you using?”, etc. 

Well…I am not professional/registered dermatologist but I did take some courses related to cosmetic science. Facing my friends’ questions, usually what I can say is that 

  1. There is no perfect skin, the skin you think it’s good because they are treated by a right product in a right way. 
  2. No perfect skincare product could fit all the skin types and solve all the skin related problems as your skin’s conditions can change based on different factors such as environmental, stress levels, allergies, age, hormones and diet, etc. Therefore, you have to keep the circles of “trial and error” until you find a suitable one for your own skin.

It sounds sad but…at the same time, it’s also good news because it makes the cosmetic market remaining fragmented, the people who want to build their own skin care brand could enter the market easily. As a customer, you will have a lot of products to try in a wide range price. 

Ok, it seems that I have been off topic a bit, let’s get back to my track. 

Based on the above two “factual” facts, what I recommend my friend to do first is that before making any purchase on skincare product, you have to know what type of your skin belongs to, like 1)normal/combination  2)dry  3)oily/acne-prone  4)sensitive. It will help you narrow down the choices of skincare product as some of the ingredients might not suitable for applying on your skin. 

For example, the sensitive skin will be allergic to some products consisting of sodium lauryl sulphate, ammonium lauryl sulphate, salicylic acid, AHAs and alcohol. Fragrances, dyes, facial oil, mineral-based sunscreens such as zinc or titanium will drive to sensitivity too. You are highly recommended to avoid using those products.

For oily/acne-prone skin, it’s better to use water-based formula, avoid clogged pores and emollients. Don’t use harsh exfoliators over the active breakouts.

After figuring out your skin type, the next step is to look at the ingredient list on the package box/bottle label to see what kinds of chemicals you are using. 

Honestly, almost every skincare product has their own formula (except those are produced as labelling). Those formulas can be categorized into the following ingredient types which can be presented via different formats such as liquid(watery), fat (solid/liquid) or powder, etc. 

Below are the ingredient types which are normally blended together to form skincare products, suncream, cosmetic products and hair products, etc. They serve as different functions respectively to ensure the products’ safety and stabilization.

4“Must” Ingredient Types for All Products’ Formation


Ingredients are listed in descending order, starting from the largest amount in the product. Usually we can find water/aqua (70-80%). In here, we normally use distilled water(去離子水) for cosmetic products as it won’t affect the formation of the products after blending all the ingredients together.


It can be presented by liquid (油oil) and solid (蠟wax) generating from animals (lanolin羊毛脂, squalene角鯊烯, beeswax, etc.), plants (all those natural essential oils such sweet almond oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, etc.) minerals (Vaseline, paraffin wax石蠟, etc.) and synthetic/compound oil (squalene角鯊烷).

It can be part of functional ingredients such as emollients, humectants and occlusive, etc.

Functional Ingredients (功能性原料)

They will be presented as “XXX extract” on the label via different formats such as liquid, fat or powder.  

  1. Active ingredients(活性成份): the molecular is small enough to penetrate through to the bottom layer of the epidermis. They are scientifically proven to have the desired effect as the product states. At the same time, they also serve as marketing purpose such as antioxidant, anti-aging, whitening/brightening, acne/oil control, anti-inflammation/anti-irritation, hydrating, hair conditioner, etc.
  2. Emollients(潤膚劑): reducing skin moisture loss and softening the skin, replacing skin liquid and filling the gaps between skin cells such as caprylic/capric triglyceride
  3. Humectants/Moisturizing Agents(保濕劑): maintaining skin hydration by attracting and chemically binding water in the skin. For example, Hyaluronic acid can bind 1,000 times its own weight in water. The common humectants are glycerine, hexanediol, butylene glycol and sorbitol, etc. However, one of the problems with humectants is that they will extract the water from deeper skin layer to support upper skin layers. It might have chance to cause greater dryness. Therefore, we need to add Occlusives(成膜劑).
  4. Occlusives(成膜劑): it can create a barrier over the skin and prevent water loss from the skin surface. The common occlusive are squalene, shea butter, cocoa butter, lanolin, beeswax and paraffin, etc.
  5. Sun Screeners(防曬劑): there are two types: chemical(synthetic) and physical(mineral). I will further discuss this topic separately.


We know that water and oil can’t be mixed together. In order to solve this problem, we need add surfactants to create emulsification, combine these two and make sure its stabilization, viscosity, help prevention its separation and enhance the user experience.

If you want to know more about the details or types of emulsifiers(乳化劑)/surfactants(表面活性劑), you can search online. As it will related to 3 basic concepts

  1. The concepts of “Oil in Water” (水包油), “Water in Oil”(油包水).
  2. The types of surfactants(表面活性劑) like ionic(離子型): anionic(負), cationic (正) and amphoteric (雙性) and non-iconic (非離子型). Those 4 serve different functions and will create different texture after blending.
  3. The structures of surfactants(表面活性劑) such as hydrophilic (親水性) and lipophilic(親油性), we can use HLB (Hydrophilic Lipophilic Balance) to test, etc.

In here, I won’t say too much about it because normally customers won’t pay attention to this when they go shopping. 

After these 4 have been mixed together, we want to make sure that the product is stable, safe and remain its functions for a longer period, we will add the following items. 

Other Types

Product Safety/ Stabilization

  1. Preservatives(防腐劑): this is an important component of skincare as it can prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and mould. If a product contains water(aqua), it is very likely to have preservatives.
  2. Anti-oxidants(抗氧化劑): active ingredients are easy to be oxidized after open or under the exposure of the sun. Therefore, adding anti-oxidant can keep the active ingredients perform its role and extend the storage period.
  3. Penetrating Agent(促滲透劑): it furthers functional ingredients to penetrate into our deeper skin quickly but it might not bring special benefits/harm to our skin.

Texture Improvement/User Experience Enhancement 

  1. Thickeners(增稠劑)/Rheology Modifiers(流變改變劑): as the name says, it makes the texture thicker so that customer can be easy to apply
  2. Solubilizers(助溶劑): an ingredient that helps solubilize an insoluble ingredient in a medium
  3. Texture modifiers(改善膚感成份)/Powder(粉): it can be powder or liquid to enhance the user experience and create the effect of soft focusing, absorption and delivery.
  4. Fragrance(香料): fragrance can cause allergies in susceptible individual and irritation in those with sensitive skin. It can be divided into two categories 1. Natural 2. Synthetic. and different types such as floral, citrus, fruity, green, herbal, sweet/balsamic, spicy, aldehydic, woody, marine/water, leather, musk, amber, chypre, oriental and fougere, etc. Therefore, natural skincare might also contain fragrance. If you look for fragrance-free, you have to look at the ingredient list carefully.
  5. Colorants(色素): it can be divided into 4 types 1. Inorganic pigments 2. Organic pigments 3. Natural pigments 4. Pearl pigments. Mainly for enhancing users’ experience or for cosmetic products such as lip stick, eyes shadow, etc.
  6. Thermosensitizer(溫感劑): it will either bring cool or heat to our skin after applying the products based on the product claims.

Of course, I know when people look for a skin care product, normally they will be caught by the attractive package, the functional statements, the texture and smell, etc. instead of the ingredient list at the first sight, especially the list is consisted of a long and nonsense chemical names. However, if you want to build a good routine for your skin, you have to be conscious on what you are buying and using. 

Below are the misunderstandings of choosing a good skincare product.

  1. Everything is related to marketing. The most expensive product might not be the best skin-care product. 
  2. Don’t use age to determine what kinds of product you should use. The age is just a number. You should focus on your skin condition.
  3. Sometimes the function statements such as hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, clinically proven, dermatologically tested, natural, organic, fragrance free, free from chemicals, vegan and preservative free, etc. are just for marketing purpose. 
  4. Hypoallergenic(不致敏): there is no FDA regulations for hypoallergenic formulas.
  5. Non-comedogenic(不阻塞毛孔): there is no industry standard or regulation. Even though the label states, it can still clog pores.
  6. Clinically proven(診所認證): it usually refers to data collecting from a small group of people, might not completely reflect the whole.
  7. Dermatologically tested(皮膚科測試): it might be simply an paid endorsement. According to EU guidance, it implies that dermatologist has supervised the testing on humans but there are no standard tests for the safety or efficacy of the skincare/cosmetic products.
  8. Natural(天然): there is no regulation in the US and UK while several certifications such as ECOCERT, NATURE, COSMOS standard,etc. do exist for labeling. However, it doesn’t mean that the product labeled as “nature” is safe for all people. As we know, some botanicals, herbs and essential oils can cause irritation and allergies to some people. 
  9. Organic(有機): there is no legally regulated in UK while USDA provides guidelines for organic labelling in cosmetics: 95% of its ingredients must be certified, “organic-derived” products needs only contain 70%. However, as same as “natural”, there is no guaranteed to be safe for all people to use. 
  10. Fragrance free(冇香料): Fragrance can cause allergies and irritations to some people. Therefore, reading the ingredient list carefully is a must. 
  11. Free from chemicals(冇化學物質): well, this label can be totally ignored because everything is made from chemicals.
  12. Vegan(素食者適用): it can simply a marketing term, no regulation or legal binding definition for a vegetarian or vegan product. 
  13. Preservative free(冇防腐劑): if a product contains water, it is very likely to has a preservation. We can’t avoid adding it in order to prevent the growth of bacteria and extend the shelf-life. And natural preservatives might not be as the same effective/safe as the synthetic one. 
  14. Cosmeceutical(醫藥成份): FDA has no regulation on this but it makes sense that if a product which has drug or medical benefits, then it would be drug, not cosmetics. 

Based on the above clarifications, you will discover that what you think it’s good to your skin might not be necessarily suitable for your skin type. If you know what the ingredient types are the “MUST” components to make a “SAFE” skincare product, then the rest are just for enhancing the appearance of the products itself or simply marketing claims but not for you. 

This article is just the summary of what I have learnt from my cosmetic science course and my extra readings. It might not be adequate for you to understand the whole development of skincare/cosmetic products. I am more happy if you can share your thoughts to me too. If you want to read more and know the whole ingredient list which are used and approved by the worldwide. 

You can visit  INCI list: http://webdictionary.personalcarecouncil.org/jsp/Home.jsp


read the following books:

  1. Skincare Bible by Dr Anjali Mahto
  2. The Little Book of Skin Care by Charlotte Cho
  3. 化妝品原料 劉綱勇著

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