• Skincare Terms & Ingredients

    I hope this glossary of skin care product ingredients and terms will help you familiarize yourself with some of the terms used in our blog as well as terms used by our staff in our skin care treatments.

    Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

    – Fruit acids found in plants that remove dead and damaged surface cells through exfoliation, making skin appear smoother and feel softer. They may help the appearance of fine lines. Other types of alpha hydroxy acids include glycolic acid, lactic acid, madelic and malic acid.


    – Substances that slow or stop free-radical damage to cells. There are many different types of antioxidants as they are found abundantly in the nature. Many vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, and E have antioxidant properties. Coenzymes, such as alpha-lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 also contain antioxidants, as do many plant-derived compounds. Other names of antioxidants found in skin care include ferulic acid, phloretin and citric acid.

    Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

    – The main beta hydroxy acid used in skin care products is salicylic acid. It is used particularly for acne, to prevent the formation of comedones (plugs) in the pores.


    – Ceramides are a type of fat (lipid) that is found in many cell membranes (the outer cover). When they are put on the skin in the form of a cream, they help to seal the spaces between the dead cells in the outer skin layer (stratum corneum). This helps the skin to retain moisture better and that’s useful for dry skin or patients with eczema.

    Coenzyme Q-10

    – Found mostly in the mitochondria (energy factories) of cells and it is a natural antioxidant. While positive effects of oral supplementation have been shown for other organ systems, there is no proof that putting it in low concentrations in skin care products has any effect that is superior to current products like other antioxidants or retinoids (Vitamin A cousin). However, the marketing is potent.

    Copper Peptide

    – Products containing this compound are interesting because they contain 3 amino acids (tripeptide) bound to a copper molecule. They were originally studied in rats and found to improve wound healing. Studies of wound healing in humans haven’t been as impressive yet. Several studies show that, in skin creams, it may perform as well as Vitamin A creams (retinoids) or Vitamin C but the studies were small and sometimes performed by doctors being paid by the company. In my opinion, the jury is still out.


    – Skin care products that break down and remove the dead, keratinized cells that naturally build up on the skin’s surface. Glycolic Acid – A type of alpha hydroxy acids that removes part of the outer dead layer of skin (stratum corneum). Helps to unclog pores and create a smoother skin surface (glow). It may also stimulate some collagen production in the upper layer of the dermis. Lotions with glycolic acid act as an exfoliating agent.

    Green Tea Extract

    – An antioxidant in the flavonoid/polyphenol group. While the benefits of green tea are known, there is some limited but intriguing evidence that topical preparations with a high enough concentration may be beneficial as an antioxidant, and therefore anti-aging. I don’t know of any studies in skin that give evidence for an anti-skin cancer effect for these products.

    Hyaluronic Acid

    – An acid that occurs naturally in the skin and helps to retain moisture especially in the spaces between cells. Hyaluronic acid serum and hyaluronic creams are used in moisturizers and other skin care products to lubricate and protect the skin.


    – This chemical has become controversial in recent years. Often referred to as a bleaching cream it really doesn’t bleach anything. It acts by turning off a key enzyme in the production of pigment (melanin) in the skin. It is found in a 4% concentration in prescription creams like Triluma but can be specially compounded at higher concentrations. Don’t use it if you are pregnant.

    Kojic Acid

    – A mild, skin lightening ingredient used in skin creams, especially in Asia. It is a product of a fungus and a byproduct of the fermentation process used to make rice wine. It is not as effective as hydroquinone, unfortunately.


    – The building blocks of proteins, peptides are a string of amino-acids. Used in skin creams, they have still NOT been proven to have an effect equal to the gold standard, retinoids. I do not know of any controlled, double-blinded studies to support the marketing claims. It’s difficult to know yet if these compounds will prove to make visible changes in skin.

    Retinoids, Retinols, Retinyl Palmitate

    – They increase skin cell turnover, normalize cells damaged by UV radiation, and induce collagen formation among many other things. Derived from vitamin A, retinoids and retinols are also highly effective in treating acne. Retin-A and Renova are prescription products you can get from your dermatologist. Still the gold standard for antiaging creams. They reduce wrinkles and fine lines over time, reduce brown spots and have been proven to help prevent the formation of precancerous growths (actinic keratoses). There is 20 years of research to support these claims.

    Salicylic Acid

    – Effective treatment for skin prone to breakouts and acne. It is found in both washes and lotions. It is a beta-hydroxy acid. Like alpha hydroxy acids, salicylic acid is helpful in acne treatment to prevent formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads). It is also a mild exfoliant.

    Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

    – An antioxidant which protects skin from the sun by neutralizing free radicals. Vitamin C also promotes some collagen production. This may reduce the appearance of fine lines slightly. Lastly, vitamin C serums have been proven to reduce skin discoloration due to sun damage. Other forms of Vitamin C serum and vitamin C acid include L-Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Ester-C, and several others. The most effective Vitamin C formulations are serums containing 15-20% L-ascorbic acid. Overall vitamin C, in the right concentration, is one of the best topical antioxidants available.

    Vitamin E

    – An antioxidant used to prevent free radical damage which protects the skin from the sun damage. Its main effect in serums/creams is to stabilize and augment the antioxidant activity of Vitamin C.