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Ultimate guide to the ingredients in cosmetics (I)

Ultimate guide to the ingredients in cosmetics (I)

Sunday, 17 January 2021


Cosmetics have been used for humans for a long time, for more than 10000 years. For example, women in Egypt used a substance containing powder galena (lead sulfur, PbS) to darken the eyelids and Cleopatra used to take milk baths to clarify her skin.

By 3000 B.C. people in China painted their fingernails with colour according to their social status. In Greece, women used lead carbonate to show pale face. Some indigenous tribes from Africa and Australia used, and still use, clay to paint their faces and bodies.

Nowadays in our occidental culture, cosmetic is a big business with brands creating continuously new products.



What a cosmetic is

A cosmetic is a product designed to be applied to any external part of the body (including mouth and teeth) to produce a change in our external aspect. In other words, a cosmetic is a product that, when applied to our body, produces an action as clean skin, increase the beauty, modify our external appearance, with no effect over the organism structure or function.

They can be classified depending on the effect they produce as:

  • Hygienic. Remove impurities from skin or hair (soap, shampoo, dentifrice,….)
  • Decorative. Help to hide imperfections and increase beauty (makeup, nail polish,…)
  • Protectors. Help to protect our skin against external factors (humectant, sunscreen,…)
  • Corrective. Produce a cosmetic correctio (hair removal)
  • Dermocosmetics. This group treat more serious problems and should be used only by expert’s advice.



Cosmetics’ Textures

Independently of the functionality of the cosmetic, the form we can find them differ from product to product. That is what we call as Texture. Each texture has a different ingredient ratio.

Most common textures are:

  • Aqueous solution ( hydrophilic). They are liquid cosmetics in which the ingredient in higher quantity is the solvent, where other ingredients are solved. Water is the most common solvent as in toner, foam, cleanser or essence but other solvents are also popular as alcohol in perfumes.



  • Oleic solution (lipophilic). They are oily products where the main ingredient is a component with a high oil affinity. It is the case of balm cleanser or facial oil.



  • Gel. Semi-solid product with a texture similar to jelly. They are a liquid product with an added gelling compound. This component forms a gel that suspends the liquid components. They are, for example, some shower gel and cleansers.



  • Emulsion. Example of that is the typical creams. They are a mixture of an aqueous and an oily component mixed by an emulsifier. The texture depends on the aqueous/oily ratio.



  • Suspension. A solid ingredient is suspended in a liquid solvent. Viscosity for this type of products is very high. An example of this type of products is the liquid makeup.



  • Spray. They consist in a liquid stored at high pressure with a gas which sends the liquid out as small droplets. It is the case of some fixing spray or deodorants.



  • Solid. Nothing to say about solid, I think everybody knows what a solid is. Any powder makeup is in solid form.



Clasification of Ingredients

All this type of cosmetics has a long list of ingredients that most of the time we don’t know what they are and why they are in the formula.

If we carefully read the INCI for any cosmetic, we can realize that the neverending list of strange names contains ingredients which are part of one of the following groups:



  • Functional Ingredients. They are the component that produces the main effect the product claim. Most of the time they have an awful smell or texture and sometimes if used in great amounts, can produce secondary effects or reactions. I already published a post about Functional Ingredients.
  •  Excipients. They act as a vehicle to deliver the functional ingredient. They are responsible for the cosmetic texture (gel, serum, cream,…)
  • Additives. Their function is to preserve the cosmetic longer time, improve physical characteristics or smell.


One ingredient can have more than one function in the formulation and can be part of two or more groups. For example, glycerin is normally an excipient but can also act as a functional ingredient.


I don’t want to make the post excessively long. In part II, we will e talking about the most common function of ingredients and which type of ingredients we can find in the different makeup products.

 You can download all this information by clicking in the image bellow.


See you then,. In the meanwhile, feel free to ask about any doubt and tell me what do you think about this type of posts.


Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.

I love beauty and skincare, try new products, and share my opinion with you. All my knowledge comes from years of experience and reading articles. I have dry skin, Fitzpatrick type IV, warm undertone, and my main concern is hyperpigmentation. Keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you. We are all different and products can have different results on your skin. Want to talk? Email me at contact@irenebeautyandmore.com

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