September 27, 2023
What Do All of Those Unpronounceable Words on Your Products’ Ingredient Lists Mean?

When on a time, Allure ran information columns by our favorite splendor execs. In celebration of our 30th anniversary, we’re bringing again the tradition — but this time the pro is: us (we have figured out a large amount above the yrs). Send your burning (or itching, or in any other case infected) inquiries to [email protected], and we may possibly respond to them in an upcoming story. 

“I never obtain a natural beauty product without examining the component listing initially: I know my glycolic from my salicylic, my glycerin from my squalane. But there are continue to words I can’t make heads or tails of. What unpronounceable superhero ingredients really should I be hunting out for?”

Though I see the wisdom in Michael Pollan’s suggestions to not try to eat anything you can’t pronounce, that rule doesn’t really use to evaluating labels on serums and shampoos. (Unless you are eating your serums and shampoos, and you should do not do that.) In splendor formulation, a 25-letter word is often just a chemical title for a really efficient brightener or moisturizer. And following 12 many years at Attract, a couple of of them do roll off my tongue. But to thoroughly respond to your question, I also achieved out to some of our favorite cosmetic chemists. Behold, the supreme unpronounceable glossary.

Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate

This aluminum salt, which has the magic contact for making dry legs smooth, “is 1 of my beloved ingredients for body care because it can choose a lotion, cream, or even a thick balm stuffed with oils and butters from greasy to comfortable and matte without compromising on moisturization,” claims cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos.


I am often on the hunt for glowier skin, and now I know that I must be looking for words ending in this suffix, which signifies a negatively billed ion of vitamin C — one particular of skin care’s greatest brighteners. “Vitamin C’s are anti-oxidants, but most degrade swiftly, like apples turning brown. How efficient are they if you don’t stabilize them?” asks beauty chemist Ginger King rhetorically. “Ascorbates are stabilized forms of vitamin C’s. The only other stable one is 3-o-ethyl-ascorbic acid.”


When irritated skin desires TLC, it is wonderful to know about azulenes. “These parts of critical oils have been extensively researched for their anti-inflammatory properties,” states Dobos, whose preferred is guaiazulene.

Behentrimonium Chloride

A speedy deal with for dry hair and scarf-induced gnarls, this “quaternium compound is antistatic, which also can help with detangling and prevents flyaways,” suggests King. She would like to set the record straight on a single issue: “Quaternium compounds are excellent for detangling, but quaternium-15 is a preservative and formaldehyde donor. It can be a black sheep in the very good quat spouse and children.”

Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohols

“We imagine of alcohol as the stuff we drink, which includes the chemical ethanol. But to a chemist, an alcohol is any compound with a hydroxyl group attached to a carbon atom,” points out Dobos. “They can have vastly distinct properties.” That suggests not all alcohols are drying. Cetyl and stearyl alcohols, for illustration, are waxy solids identified as fatty alcohols, best for building the loaded, creamy textures we want in our moisturizers and conditioners. A lot more evidence: Glycerin, 1 of the ideal moisturizers available, is a polyol, a style of liquor with various hydroxyl groups.


If you enjoy cooking with garlic but dislike smelling like a restaurant, you want cyclodextrins. Claims Dobos: “They are a course of polysaccharides — chains of sugar molecules — that are significantly useful in dry shampoos for capturing disagreeable odors.”


For fewer frizz, additional glow, “dimethicone is your friend,” suggests King. “It is a linear silicone that coats hair, and it is not risky. There are problems about cyclic silicones acquiring volatility problems that could lead to inhalation that may perhaps not be risk-free. Granted, there are several so-referred to as silicone solutions, but none of them actually operate properly.” (Attract has also earlier noted that cyclic silicones could accumulate in the drinking water offer, which raises environmental considerations.)

Isoamyl Laurate

Consider the presence of this fatty acid your coverage coverage that a moisturizer will do its job fantastically, without having emotion large or pilling. Says King: “This is a extremely pleasant, nongreasy emollient that can help clean out skin and has a fast absorption.”

Linum Usitatissimum Seed Oil

The 3-syllable phrase for this component is “flaxseed oil,” and of all the pure oils shown on pores and skin-care labels, King specially loves to see this a single: “It has a higher quantity of omega-3 fatty acids to moisturize and tranquil skin and it is not overly greasy, like other all-natural oils.”

Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 and Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5

Some of the most successful skin-care components are peptides — amino acid chains — and these two best King’s listing for firming and brightening, respectively. A palmitoyl, she provides, is a “peptide that is hooked up to palmitic acid for greater penetration.”

Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

Whether you want to preserve new highlights or stay clear of frizz, seem for this in a shampoo. It is a gentler surfactant than sulfates, suggests Dobos, which means you get all the sudsing without the need of stripping color.

Synthetic Fluorphlogopite

These sleek, transparent white flakes are created in a lab to resemble natural mica — and to make lids, cheeks, and lips radiant. “Artificial fluorphlogopite has far better sparkle than natural mined mica,” states Dobos, “and does not have the troubles with unsafe and unethical [child] labor procedures related with [some of the mining of] its natural counterpart.”


If you might be on the hunt for mascara or eyeliner that won’t smudge, or lipstick or basis that will not likely fade, then you want to uncover this silicone resin on ingredient lists. “It is like Saran Wrap, but with a comfortable, adhesive assets,” claims King. “It forms a permeable film, still has a nice, tender sense, and helps make make-up prolonged-donning, water-resistant, and transfer-proof.”

This story initially appeared in the August 2022 challenge of Allure.