The composition of cosmetics: what to pay attention to when choosing

Every consumer of cosmetics has made a mistake at least once when choosing. Therefore, it is not surprising that most people are confused when choosing the right tool. This applies to both pharmacy beauty products and premium products. Knowledge about the action of cosmetics ingredients will help you choose really effective and safe products.

Cosmetics composition: basic components

Studying the composition of a cosmetic product, you may notice that the list of ingredients is sometimes divided into two categories: active and inactive. At first glance, this may seem illogical: why should companies spend money on inefficient components? In fact, inactive ingredients, as a rule, serve to deliver other elements of the product formula — in other words, these are the basic ingredients.


A typical product will contain from 5 to 50 ingredients. On average, a woman uses from 2 to 15 care and hygiene products per day, therefore, according to research, in combination with perfumes, women apply about 515 chemicals to the skin daily.


But what exactly do we put on the skin? What do these long names mean in the list of ingredients and what effect do these substances have? Although the formula of each product is unique, most cosmetics contain a combination of at least some of the following main ingredients: water, emulsifier, preservative, thickener, emollient, dye, flavor and pH stabilizers.


Let's look at these basic ingredients in more detail.



Water forms the basis of almost all types of cosmetics, including creams, lotions, deodorants, shampoos and conditioners. It plays an important role by acting as a solvent for other ingredients and forming emulsions for the desired consistency.


The water used in the formulation of cosmetics is not ordinary tap water. It should be ultra-pure, that is, free of microbes, toxins and other substances. Therefore, the label may indicate that it is distilled, purified or just water.



The term "emulsifiers" refers to any ingredient that helps prevent the separation of dissimilar substances, such as oil and water. Many cosmetics are based on emulsions — small drops of oil dissolved in water, or small drops of water dissolved in oil. Since oil and water do not mix, regardless of the intensity of agitation, emulsifiers are added to change the surface tension between water and oil. As a result, a homogeneous and well-mixed product with a uniform texture is created. Emulsifiers used in cosmetics include polysorbates, laureth-4 and potassium cetyl sulfate.



Preservatives are important ingredients. They are added to cosmetics to prolong its shelf life and prevent the growth of microorganisms that can spoil the product. Since most microbes live in water, the preservatives used must be water-soluble. Preservatives used in cosmetics can be natural or synthetic (artificial) and act differently depending on the formulation of the product. Some will require a low level of about 0.01%, while others will require a level of up to 5%.


The most popular preservatives include parabens, benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid).


Products without preservatives have a shorter shelf life. Therefore, any changes in the appearance, feel or smell of the product may indicate that it has deteriorated.



Thickeners give products an attractive consistency. There are four different chemical families of thickeners:


Lipid thickeners at room temperature are usually solid. They are diluted and added to cosmetic emulsions to give the formula the necessary density. Examples include cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, and Carnauba wax.


Thickeners of natural origin. These are polymers that, by absorbing water, cause the product to swell and thus increase its viscosity. Polymers include hydroxyethyl cellulose, guar gum, xanthan gum and gelatin.


Mineral thickeners are also natural — they absorb water and oils to increase viscosity. Popular mineral thickeners include magnesium aluminum silicate, silicon and bentonite.


Synthetic thickeners. They are often used in lotions and creams. The most common synthetic thickener is considered to be a carbomer - a polymer of acrylic acid, which swells in water and is used to form transparent gels. Other examples include cetyl palmitate and ammonium acryloyldimethyltaurate.



Regardless of the effectiveness of a cosmetic product, no one will want to use it if it smells unpleasant. Consumer research shows that smell is one of the key factors in making a decision about buying and/or using a product.


Chemicals, both natural and synthetic, are added to cosmetics to create an attractive fragrance. Even "odorless" products may contain masking flavors to hide the odors of other chemicals.


The word "fragrance" is often used by manufacturers in a broad sense. One of the flavors in the list of ingredients of a product may contain dozens or even hundreds of chemical compounds not included in the list that were used to create an individual smell.


Often the composition of the fragrance is a trade secret, so manufacturers do not list its individual ingredients on the packaging.


What chemicals in cosmetics are "harmful"

There is a general short list of "bad" ingredients. They belong to one or more of the three main categories:


irritants or allergens;


potential endocrine disruptors are substances that can mimic the natural hormones of our body and interfere with the normal transmission of signals by these chemical intermediaries;


potential carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).


Irritants and allergens in cosmetics:

methylisothiazolinone (MI)


methyl chlorisothiazolinone (MCI)


vitamin A derivatives






oil distillers




Potential endocrine disruptors: triclosan









petroleum distillates


butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)


boric acid


sodium borate




placenta extract


parabens and phenoxyethanol.


Many studies confirming a direct link between these compounds and hormonal dysregulation have been conducted on animals, not on humans. In addition, the substances studied were taken in higher doses than people usually receive with the help of cosmetics or personal hygiene products. Some human studies have linked an increase in the level of these chemicals in urine or blood with a violation of the endocrine system. However, it is difficult to interpret whether measurements of these chemicals in body fluids are related to exposure to cosmetics or personal care products.


Potential carcinogens:





coal tar ingredients


petroleum distillates.


The association of industrial use of coal tar products with cancer has been established (for example, in chimney sweeps). However, products made from this resin have been used topically in dermatology to treat psoriasis and eczema for many years without any increase in the incidence of skin cancer or internal cancers. Highly refined petroleum distillates, such as personal care products or cosmetics, do not appear to cause cancer.


11 ingredients to avoid in skin care cosmetics

1. Parabens

Parabens are most widely used as a preservative in cosmetics. This is one of the most common ingredients found in cosmetics today.


Propylparaben is often found in "perfumery" products, for example, perfumes.


Butylparaben is an ingredient of the fragrance, a preservative. It is used to mask the natural smell of the ingredient.


Isobutylparaben is used as a preservative in foods.


Methylparaben is an aromatic ingredient, preservative.


Polyparaben is an aromatic ingredient, preservative, fragrance.


2. Carbon Black

This black pigmented powder is most often found in eyeliner, mascara and so on. It is he who gives them a rich black color. This carbon black has been added to the list of banned toxic ingredients recently, but is still found in many cosmetic products.


Products containing the following ingredients: D&C Black No. 2 (CI 77266), acetylene soot, duct soot, furnace soot, lamp soot and thermal soot.


3. Vaseline

Vaseline is often found in lotions and skin care products and is used as a moisturizer.


Properly purified petroleum jelly, also known as mineral oil, is not harmful to health. Unfortunately, most mineral oils are usually not cleaned properly, which creates the potential for the harmful effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). As a rule, vaseline / mineral oil is included in balms, lotions, lip products and makeup remover.


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