Medico Beauty Skincare Glossary of TermsThe skin is the largest organ of the body. With exposure to weather changes, chemicals and the foods we consume, it’s a great indicator of overall health. Here we bring you our comprehensive glossary of skin terminology. From skincare through to chemicals, through to medical conditions.
Found in many nail-polish removers, acetone is a strong-smelling solvent that works by softening and dissolving the polymer molecules in polishes, gels, and acrylics. It’s very drying to skin and nails, so many removers also contain glycerine moisturisers to counteract its affects.
Often thought to affect young people (average age 11 – 30) as they go through hormonal changes, this is not the case. Adult acne also touches up to 70% of the adult population. Physical manifestations include blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and/or cysts; and lesions, thought to result from the accumulation of keratin proteins, bacteria and oil in hair follicles.
Present in all living organisms, Adenosine is a molecule that plays a critical role in regulating blood flow and providing cells with usable energy. When applied topically, the ingredient can smooth and firm the skin, repair sun damage, and relax wrinkles.
This is a gelatinous sugar molecule derived from sea algae. It has mild anti-oxidant properties and is used as a thickener in makeup, skin-care products, and shampoo.
ALCOHOL (SD ALCOHOL)
Undrinkable ethyl alcohol has many uses in skin care. It delivers other ingredients into the skin and drives them deeper down. In toners and acne products, it can help dissolve oil and temporarily tighten pores. When added to certain moisturizers, like gel-based lotions, it makes them less tacky and helps them dry down faster on the face.
Soothing, water-absorbing algae extract is frequently found in hair and skin products to thicken or make application easier. It's also found in the filmy coating evident in some face masks and peels.
A blend of algae extracts developed and trademarked by the biotech company Solazyme, its main claim to fame is that it firms and brightens skin, whilst minimising wrinkles.
A substance that has an opposite reaction to an acid, it’s capable of neutralising it. This would apply in the case of beauty products like skin toner. Always choose one appropriate for your skin type.
Known for its soothing properties, this chemical moisturises and encourages cell turnover.
A foreign substance that has the capability to trigger allergic reactions: includes pollen, dust mites, animal dander, certain foods, insect venoms, antibiotics, and substances such as latex and rubber.
An acquired sensitivity to a substance with a resulting allergic reaction i.e. redness, itching and/or swelling.
An extremely soothing liquid that carries the same pH balance as the skin, it’s also an effective healing agent.
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS (AHAS)
These chemicals loosen the fluid that binds surface skin cells together. In turn, this allows dead skin cells to be whisked away. This glue gets denser the older we get, thus slowing down the process of natural cell turnover that reveals younger skin. AHAs are a particularly useful ingredient in anti-aging creams and cleansers.
ALPHA LIPOIC ACID
This fatty acid is found in all cells in the body contributes to skin's smoothness. It dissolves in both fat and water, enabling it to penetrate well into all parts of skin cells.
The skin is supported by collagen and elastin – and amino acids for the building blocks of the proteins that make them up. When skin ages or is exposed to UV light or external toxins, this reduces the level of amino acids in the body – thus, creams containing amino acids may help restore them.
Histamine is a chemical released by the body in an allergic reaction that contributes inflammation. Antihistamine is the medicine used to counteract this i.e Benadryl and hydroxyzine (Atarax). Many may cause drowsiness.
Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. They are molecules produced when the body breaks down food, or by exposure to external toxins like tobacco smoke or radiation. Antioxidants are substances (like vitamin C) that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals.
This fast-absorbing, vitamin E-rich extract is a beauty favourite for its ability to moisturize without clogging pores. It also reduces the appearance of fine lines, smooths hair and strengthens nails.
A critical building block of skin collagen and hair keratin, synthetic versions of this wound-healing amino acid are found in anti-aging topical products (as well as sports drinks and oral supplements).
This peptide is marketed as ‘Botox in a cream; because of its apparent ability to temporarily prevent tensing of facial muscles.
Airway disease characterized by recurrent breathing problems.
An agent that is capable of temporarily shrinking and contracting skin tissue (like a face toning liquid).
Also known as l-ascorbic acid, this topical form of antioxidant vitamin C increases collagen production, brightens the skin and helps to stem damage from free radicals, making it a popular anti-aging ingredient.
Also called eczema, this is a chronic, recurring inflammatory skin disorder. Usually it first appears in babies or very young children and may last through adulthood.
Atopic dermatitis (commonly called eczema) forms part of what is known as the atopic triad, which also includes hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma..
Thinning of the skin.
A chemical found in sunscreens, it absorbs UVA rays to reduce their penetration into the skin. However, it does not protect against UVB rays.
A natural component of wheat, barley, rye, and the yeast that lives on human skin. Used in topical rosacea and acne treatments, synthetic versions help kill bacteria living in pores, whilst also reducing inflammation. It's also used to lighten melasma patches and other hyperpigmented areas.
An acne medicine that kills pimple-causing bacteria and exfoliates pores. It can be found in concentrations up to 10 % in products purchased over the counter.
BETA HYDROXY ACID (BHA)
One of the most common BHAs, salicylic acid, is found in many acne washes, creams, and peels. BHAs are chemical exfoliants which can smooth fine lines (and even pigmentation). They also penetrate deeply into pores, dissolving sticky plugs of sebum and dead skin
Small amounts of this B vitamin are found in carrots, almonds, milk, and other foods. Aside from helping the body process fats and sugars, oral biotin is important for regulating hair and nail growth. Shampoos and conditioners containing it claim the ingredient reduces hair breakage and increases elasticity.
For centuries, this floral-scented chamomile extract has been used topically as a moisturizer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial product.
A skin blemish that forms when the sebum (oil) draining from a pore becomes blocked by a clump of dead skin cells. Its colour results from the sebum's pigment, which darkens when exposed to air.
Used to treat facial wrinkles, Botox is the trademark name for one of the forms of botulinum toxin. Botox paralyzes facial muscles, making it difficult to frown, thus softening or eradicating wrinkle lines. This is a temporary treatment that typically lasts between 3 – 5 months.
A form of alcohol that draws water from the air, making it a lightweight moisturising agent. The ingredient is commonly found in makeup removers as a solvent—as well as in makeup, where it thins formulas, helping them glide on more easily.
Produced in the leaves and seeds of various plants, it can also be produced commercially in a lab. Commonly used in cellulite creams and eye creams, it constricts blood vessels, reducing redness and puffiness.
Also called L-carnitine. An amino acid that ids the conversion of fat into energy when naturally present in the human body. The ingredient is often found in cellulite and eye creams. There is little clinical data supporting its long-term effectiveness, although its anti-inflammatory activity can temporarily smooth puckering and puffiness.
This naturally occurring amino-acid pairing stems inflammation and free-radical activity, helping to level it as our bodies age and decline. Some research indicates that oral supplements and topical creams containing it can stave off premature wrinkling, collagen breakdown, and thinning of the skin.
A broad term - it refers to how cells send information and receive information. Increasing numbers of skin creams contain ingredients (like etinol, carnosine, and peptides), which claim to bind to receptor sites, encouraging cells to behave like younger, healthier versions of themselves.
Naturally occurring in sebum (skin's oil), these fats hold together the cells of the epidermis to reinforce the skin's protective barrier.
Fatty alcohols that stabilise creams and cleansers, they create a silky feeling.
Popular in cleansers and creams for sensitive skin, this moisturising botanical is known for calming inflammation while combating free-radical damage.
Found in many fruits, the antioxidant alpha hydroxy acid acts as a natural preservative. When used in peels, masks, and washes, it brightens and exfoliates the upper layers of the skin, encouraging new collagen formation.
COENZYME Q10 (UBIQUINONE)
Also referred to as CoQ10, it’s an anti-oxidant. Levels in the skin decline with age and UV exposure, therefore it’s added to many anti-ageing products to improve the skin’s texture and preserve skin cell function.
A strong antioxidant, this plant extract is an expensive, patented ingredient that is not widely available (you'll find it in Priori Skincare and RevaléSkin)
A fibrous protein in the skin that gives it firmness. When the collagen fibres are stretched or strained, the skin loses its elasticity and the area wrinkles and sags. Collagen is used in skin care products because of its moisture-binding properties.
Another word for blackheads. These appear more in skin that is prone to acne.
A semi-solid mixture of oil and water (mostly oil) intended for topical use only.
A broad term for a pore, or hair follicle, that's blocked by sticky dead skin cells and the sebum that can't drain properly. When the follicle remains open, the sebum's pigment darkens from air exposure, forming a blackhead. When P. Acnes bacteria invade the clogged pore, the resulting inflammation creates a whitehead.
Found in many anti-aging formulas, these amino acids help to heal wounds, protect collagen from free-radical injury, soothe inflammation, and promote new collagen formation.
When a plug of dead skin cells, sebum, and P. Acnes bacteria lodges deep inside a pore, it creates a tender, pus-filled bump that sometimes ruptures the pore wall, spreading to surrounding tissue.
An advanced skin health restoration process that targets the deeper layers of skin. Using a combination of advanced skin techniques to resolve skin concerns such as premature ageing or pigmentation issues, without compromising the health or integrity of the epidermis.
Dermal Infusions - A modern and advanced approach to traditional chemical peels. Using purified acids and encapsulated Vitamin A, plus antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients to increases the skins natural renewal process.
A medical condition where the skin becomes red, swollen, and sore and can sometimes develop small blisters. Dermatitis results from direct irritation of the skin by an external agent or an allergic reaction to it.
The connective tissue layer under the epidermis. It consists of blood vessels, nerves, glands and hair follicles.
A slippery form of silicone that hydrates and protects the skin; often found in oil-free moisturizers.
Shorthand for dimethylaminoethanol. Produced by the human brain, it’s also found in sardines and other small fish. Oral and topical forms claim to protect skin-cell membranes from free-radical damage, while firming, smoothing and brightening the complexion.
Like Botox, another injectable form of botulinum toxin that combats wrinkles by paralysing underlying muscles.
A skin condition displaying redness, itch, bumpiness, and scaling (see atopic dermatitis)
The ability of your skin to ‘stretch’ and spring back. As we age, the skin loses its elasticity – especially evident in areas such as the backs of hands, breast tissue, inner thighs and underarms.
Elastin is the protein that provides the skin with its elasticity.
Any ingredient that increases water levels in the epidermis. Synonym: moisturizer.
Chemicals that bind together ingredients in skincare products (such as cetyl alcohol).
The outermost layer of the skin where skin cells are formed, mature and die. Contains Epidermal cells.
This nonablative device offers two settings that can be used together or separately: One remodels and stimulates collagen growth deep in the dermis, using infrared light and radio frequency (RF). The other selectively heats portions of the upper dermis with fractionated RF, fading wrinkles, fine lines, and acne scars while evening skin tone.
This device claims to tighten and contour the arms, legs, abdomen, jaw line, and regions around the eyes. It works by directing radio-frequency heat one to three centimetres under the skin.Reviews from dermatologists are mixed.
An ingredient or product that is used to remove, or exfoliate, dead cells from the skin’s surface.
The act of removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface.
A plant-derived antioxidant that reduces sun damage and helps stabilise vitamins C and E in skin-care products.
A plant extract, it reduces redness, fights free radicals, and calms inflammation.
These cells produce the collagen and elastin responsible for keeping skin pliant and springy. Plentiful in connective tissue throughout the body, including the dermis Topical retinoids ramp up collagen production in fibroblasts.
A term used to describe when the itching and redness of eczema gets worse.
Present in all plants, this class of antioxidant phytochemicals is especially abundant in deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables, along with coffee, nuts, and seeds.
The deep, narrow, tube-like channel in which a hair grows. The opening of the channel on the skin surface is the pore.
The generic term for natural and/or synthetic compounds used to scent products. Blends are typically considered trade secrets and can contain numerous ingredients but mainly oils and alcohols. Rather alarmingly, none of these have to be revealed on the label. Fragrance is the number-one cause of allergic reactions in skin-care products.
A laser that creates microscopic injuries to the skin that stimulate the body's natural wound-healing process, producing new collagen.
Helioplex is the trademarked name of a sunscreen technology that combines avobenzone with a stabilising ingredient called oxybenzone to offer protection from both UVA and UVB sunlight.
This class of moisturizing ingredients pulls water from the atmosphere into the top layer of the skin.
A sugar molecule found naturally in the skin, it increases skin's moisture content and prevents water loss. It can hold 1,000 times its weight in water and is typically found in expensive creams and serums.
The trademarked name for a four-step exfoliating treatment offered at spas and dermatologist offices. The facial includes a gentle acid peel, vacuum pore extraction, a moisturizing cocktail of hyaluronic acid and antioxidants, and a take-home kit of topical treatments.
To add moisture. In terms of skincare, this would be through the application of a moisturising cream or fluid.
Available without a prescription in strengths up to 2 percent (4 percent in prescription formulas), it inhibits pigment production to lighten dark spots.
Often triggered by UV light exposure, a wound, illness, hormonal changes, or certain drugs, this darkening of the skin might appear as a uniform tan, melasma (patches of discoloration), or an isolated acne scar.
A product or substance formulated to reduce the chance of allergic reactions to it. This is done by excluding or avoiding the ingredients that are most likely to cause problems. It doesn’t mean that an allergic reaction is not possible – only less likely.
Any substance that influences the immune system; a substance or process capable of modifying functions of the immune system.
Typical signs of inflammation include pain, itchiness, warmth, redness, and loss of function in the afflicted area of the body. Inflammation is a natural response to injury or abnormal stimulation by a physical, biologic, or chemical agent.
INTENSE PULSED LIGHT (IPL)
A machine that emits many wavelengths of light—as opposed to lasers, which use just one concentrated beam—to remove hair or erase acne, dark spots, wrinkles, spider veins, and more. While gentler and less expensive than lasers, it isn't always as effective.
Similar in structure to skin's natural oil, it penetrates skin to hydrate without clogging pores.
The trademarked name of a gel made from hyaluronic acid that's injected into wrinkles and lips to restore lost volume.
JUVÉDERM VOLUMA XC
Made of hyaluronic acid, a water-absorbing sugar molecule found throughout the human body, and spiked with the anesthetic lidocaine, this injectable gel filler is FDA-approved for restoring lost volume in the cheeks.
A claylike mineral that absorbs oil and damps down shine.
A hydrating compound found in plants that encourages cell division. A popular anti-aging ingredient it’s thought to reduce wrinkling whilst evening up skin tone and texture.
These red bumps on the legs and the backs of arms occur when sticky cells within the hair follicle clump together to form a plug, red bumps on the legs and backs of arms are the result. The plug prevents them from being whisked away through routine exfoliation. This common condition, believed to be genetic. It can be minimised but not cured with lactic acid creams or scrubs.
A tough, fibrous protein found in the surface cells of the skin, hair and nails.
Especially popular in Japan, this skin lightener has been proven to be effective at blocking the production of new melanin in the skin. However, it can also cause skin irritation when used in higher doses.
Used to diminish oil and soothe skin, this is derived from sea algae.
Offered by beauty salons and clinics, laser treatment is used for several reasons, including removal of unwanted tattoos, hair or skin pigmentation (dark spots). Also used in treatment of wrinkles and spider veins, it uses concentrated beams of intense varied light colours to target the problem areas. Treatment is usually offered as a course over several weeks or months.
Delivering pulses of heat just below the epidermis, this treatment stimulates collagen production, reduces wrinkles, and minimises redness.
Much less intense than lasers or IPL, many LED devices can be used at home. These hand-held devices emit a narrow range of light under specific wavelengths – all designed to target different issues. I.E. blue light kills bacteria known to cause acne.
The fatty substances that help bond skin cells together and strengthen the skin. Lipids also help skin retain moisture.
When consumed orally or applied topically, this red pigment (which is abundant in tomatoes, watermelon, carrots, and even chicken) acts as an antioxidant to protect skin from sun damage.
The pigment produced by the skin cells known as melanocytes. The amount and size of the melanin granules is what determines the skin’s colour, or skin tone. Melanin is also a natural defence against ultraviolet radiation.
These melanin producing cells are best known for the protective pigment they bring to the skin and hair, although they can be found in small amounts in the inner ear, heart, brain and eyes too. On the flip side, they can also form moles and cancerous melanomas. UV light exposure, hormonal changes, certain medications, illness, and lasers are all factors that can affect melanocyte activity.
While the cure rate is high when caught early, unchecked cases of melanoma can spread to internal organs, causing it to be the deadliest of all skin cancers. Malignant moles tend to have asymmetrical or irregular borders, uneven colour, and/or a rapidly changing appearance. While genetics and immune disorders increase risk, a history of sun- or tanning-bed exposure is the most preventable cause.
Originally derived from mint plants, this cooling agent is found in some lip balms, toners, and shave gels, mainly in synthetic form. It's also used topically to relieve minor aches, stings, and itch.
This stabilizing sunscreen ingredient is a very effective chemical filter for protecting the skin from aging UVA lightm when used in combination with other ingredients. Originally sold only in Europe, Mexoryl SX was approved by the FDA in 2006.
Performed by dermatologists and beauticians, this is all about removal. The top layer of skin is exfoliated by using a wand to sprays on and then vacuum off extremely fine aluminium-oxide crystals. A newer form of the technology uses a vibrating diamond tip in place of the crystals.
An ingredient used in only a few high-end skin-care lines, this claims to inhibit the production of something called matrix metalloproteinase (or "MMPs"), enzymes that increase the breakdown of collagen and lead to skin damage.
A form of vitamin B3, it strengthens the skin's outer layers, improves elasticity, and curbs redness and irritation.
A product that minimizes the potential to cause acne.
Ingredients in a product that serve to thicken the mixture, and slow down the evaporation of water from the skin's surface.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These essential fatty acids maintain the function of cell membranes throughout the body, preserving cells' ability to take in nutrients, dispose of waste, and hold onto water. In the epidermis, this can translate to smoother, more supple, hydrated skin. Omega 3 is found in herring, mackerel, wild salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and olive oil.
Also known as benzophenone-3, this chemical sunscreen absorbs mainly UVB rays, which is why it is combined with UVA-absorbing filters (like avobenzone) to create broad-spectrum sunscreens.
A B vitamin that moisturizes and strengthens both skin and hair.
Used to protect cosmetics against the growth of bacteria and fungi. These controversial ingredients include methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben and have been shown to possess weak eostrogen-like properties. However, the FDA allows their use at very low levels in cosmetics ( .01 to .3 percent) in cosmetics.
A trademarked class of sunscreen ingredients that absorbs specific wavelengths of UVB and UVA light, minimising photo damage to the skin.
A purified by-product of petroleum, this thick, odourless, and colourless substance coats the skin to hydrate and prevent water loss and is used in standard (i.e., not oil-free) moisturizers. It can clog pores and cause acne in those who are prone.
The darling of the beauty industry, these tiny protein fragments are included in products to stimulate collagen growth and skin repair.
This refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity of a solution or substance. If the pH of a product is too different from the pH of the skin it could damage the skin. It is estimated that the ‘natural’ skin surface pH is on average 4.7.
Found naturally in apples, this chemical enhances the activity of other skin-care ingredients that reduce sun damage.
Refers to accelerated signs of aging, which are caused by overexposure to sunlight.
PHOTOTHERAPY (ULTRAVIOLET THERAPY)
Therapeutic use of ultraviolet light.
A chemical known as a plasticiser. Often used in nail polishes to increase flexibility and in some shampoos and cleansers to carry fragrance. They are controversial due to a possible links to
1) disruption of the human endocrine system 2) increased breast cancer risk.
Also called phytochemicals. Consuming or topically applying these beneficial compounds in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and other edible plants helps prevent the damaging inflammation and free-radical activity that comes from UV exposure and other environmental insults.
Extracts of this fruit maintain moisture in the skin and act as an antioxidant, protecting against UV damage that can lead to wrinkles and skin cancer.
A filler made from hyaluronic acid. Used to ‘plump out’ lost volume in the skin in problem areas such as around the mouth and cheeks. It’s especially effective for plumping the lips.
An antioxidant found in grapes, it neutralizes free radicals to protect skin cells from damage.
First approved by the FDA for the treatment of acne, Retin-A was eventually found to fight signs of aging by speeding up exfoliation, repairing skin on a molecular level, and boosting new collagen production.
A word used to describe all vitamin A derivatives found in skin care.
A beta hydroxy acid that removes excess oil and dead cells from the skin's surface. It's used in non-prescription cleansers, moisturisers, and treatments for acne-prone skin in concentrations of 0.5 to 2 percent.
The skin’s own oil, that acts as a natural moisturiser. Sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands and secreted through the hair follicles. Over-activity can produce spots, acne and the appearance of ‘greasy’ skin.
A skin-care product that contains high concentrations of active ingredients and claims superior penetration of the skin's surface when applied.
SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE
Found in the majority of products where a ‘foaming action’ or lather is needed. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate cuts through oil to generate lather. This ingredient is often cited as a potential cancer risk, although it’s as yet unproven.
A mild skin brightener that contains vitamins and proteins. A natural ingredient that also blocks the transfer of pigment from pigment-making cells to surrounding skin cells.
A fat that binds together ingredients in creams and cleansers enabling them to have a silky texture.
Glucocorticoid steroids are used as anti-inflammatory treatment for eczema. These steroids can be topical (used directly on the skin) or oral. They are not the same as anabolic steroids that are sometimes used by athletes.
Outermost layer of the epidermis, composed of non-living protein.
Stretch marks. Usually caused by rapid weight loss, or child-bearing.
These cleansing agents remove dirt and oil and are responsible for creating lather. They can be either synthetic or from natural sources, like coconut or palm oil. With over 100 types, they're found in facial cleansers, body washes, shampoos, and shaving creams. All types have the potential to dry and irritate the skin. There is also an environmental issue, especially with palm oil, as its extraction necessitates huge damage to the environment.
Systemic refers to something that involves the whole body.
T cells (also known as T lymphocytes), are a type of white blood cells involved in rejecting foreign tissue, regulating immunity, and controlling the production of antibodies to fight infection.
Used by doctors this machine penetrates radio waves into the deepest layers of the skin to generate heat that stimulates the formation of new, firming collagen .
A mineral in sunscreens that shields the skin from UVA and UVB rays.
Relating to the surface of the skin; a medication applied to the skin.
These are the rays doctors warn us to beware of! UVA rays damage the skins collagen and elastin, causing signs of ageing. They also increase the risk of skin cancer and are constant throughout the year. Sunbeds also produce these harmful rays.
The high-energy wavelength of ultraviolet light that leads to darkened pigment in the form of tanning, freckles, and age spots—plus, of course, sunburns. They are strongest in summer months.
Vitiligo is a long-term condition that causes pale, white patches to develop on the skin due to the lack of a chemical called melanin.
A term to describe the flow characteristics of a product. Also commonly used to describe how thick or thin a liquid is.
VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID)
An antioxidant that boosts collagen production and inhibits pigment formation.
VITAMIN E (TOCOPHEROL)This moisturizing antioxidant protects against free-radical damage
Often used as a vehicle to deliver other ingredients into the skin. Water in areas where it’s naturally soft is more beneficial.
YERBA SANTA EXTRACT
This herb has been known to soothe mild skin irritations.
A mineral in sunscreen that prevents UVA and UVB light from entering skin and doing damage.