What Do All of Those Unpronounceable Words on Your Products’ Ingredient Lists Mean?

The moment upon a time, Attract ran tips columns by our beloved beauty professionals. In celebration of our 30th anniversary, we’re bringing back the tradition — but this time the expert is: us (we’ve discovered a large amount about the yrs). Send out your burning (or itching, or normally infected) queries to [email protected], and we could answer them in an impending story. 

“I under no circumstances invest in a elegance product with out examining the ingredient listing first: I know my glycolic from my salicylic, my glycerin from my squalane. But there are even now text I are not able to make heads or tails of. What unpronounceable superhero ingredients need to I be looking out for?”

Though I see the knowledge in Michael Pollan’s advice to not take in nearly anything you are not able to pronounce, that rule won’t actually implement to assessing labels on serums and shampoos. (Until you happen to be eating your serums and shampoos, and you should never do that.) In splendor formulation, a 25-letter term is usually just a chemical name for a remarkably efficient brightener or moisturizer. And after 12 yrs at Allure, a handful of of them do roll off my tongue. But to absolutely remedy your issue, I also attained out to some of our beloved beauty chemists. Behold, the final unpronounceable glossary.

Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate

This aluminum salt, which has the magic contact for earning dry legs easy, “is a single of my favored substances for overall body treatment because it can just take a lotion, product, or even a thick balm loaded with oils and butters from greasy to tender and matte without compromising on moisturization,” suggests beauty chemist Kelly Dobos.


I am generally on the hunt for glowier skin, and now I know that I ought to be on the lookout for terms ending in this suffix, which means a negatively billed ion of vitamin C — one of pores and skin care’s very best brighteners. “Vitamin C’s are anti-oxidants, but most degrade rapidly, like apples turning brown. How helpful are they if you will not stabilize them?” asks cosmetic chemist Ginger King rhetorically. “Ascorbates are stabilized types of vitamin C’s. The only other steady just one is 3-o-ethyl-ascorbic acid.”


When irritated pores and skin demands TLC, it really is wonderful to know about azulenes. “These elements of essential oils have been thoroughly examined for their anti-inflammatory houses,” suggests Dobos, whose most loved is guaiazulene.

Behentrimonium Chloride

A rapid fix for dry hair and scarf-induced gnarls, this “quaternium compound is antistatic, which also allows with detangling and prevents flyaways,” states King. She would like to set the file straight on one particular issue: “Quaternium compounds are superior for detangling, but quaternium-15 is a preservative and formaldehyde donor. It is really a black sheep in the very good quat loved ones.”

Cetyl and Stearyl Alcohols

“We feel of liquor as the stuff we drink, which incorporates the chemical ethanol. But to a chemist, an liquor is any substance with a hydroxyl team hooked up to a carbon atom,” explains Dobos. “They can have vastly unique homes.” That means not all alcohols are drying. Cetyl and stearyl alcohols, for instance, are waxy solids referred to as fatty alcohols, great for making the rich, creamy textures we want in our moisturizers and conditioners. Extra proof: Glycerin, just one of the finest moisturizers readily available, is a polyol, a style of alcohol with numerous hydroxyl teams.


If you appreciate cooking with garlic but loathe smelling like a restaurant, you want cyclodextrins. States Dobos: “They are a course of polysaccharides — chains of sugar molecules — that are especially valuable in dry shampoos for capturing uncomfortable odors.”


For less frizz, extra glow, “dimethicone is your buddy,” says King. “It is a linear silicone that coats hair, and it is not risky. There are worries above cyclic silicones getting volatility concerns that could guide to inhalation that could not be safe. Granted, there are many so-referred to as silicone solutions, but none of them truly get the job done very well.” (Attract has also previously reported that cyclic silicones may perhaps accumulate in the water supply, which raises environmental concerns.)

Isoamyl Laurate

Take into account the existence of this fatty acid your insurance policies plan that a moisturizer will do its work superbly, without having feeling major or pilling. Claims King: “This is a incredibly wonderful, nongreasy emollient that will help clean out skin and has a rapid absorption.”

Linum Usitatissimum Seed Oil

The 3-syllable time period for this component is “flaxseed oil,” and of all the all-natural oils shown on skin-care labels, King specially enjoys to see this a person: “It has a significant total of omega-3 fatty acids to moisturize and quiet pores and skin and it’s not extremely greasy, like other natural oils.”

Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4 and Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5

Some of the most successful pores and skin-care ingredients are peptides — amino acid chains — and these two top rated King’s record for firming and brightening, respectively. A palmitoyl, she provides, is a “peptide that is attached to palmitic acid for better penetration.”

Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

No matter if you want to preserve new highlights or stay away from frizz, search for this in a shampoo. It is a gentler surfactant than sulfates, suggests Dobos, which usually means you get all the sudsing with no stripping coloration.

Artificial Fluorphlogopite

These easy, clear white flakes are manufactured in a lab to resemble all-natural mica — and to make lids, cheeks, and lips radiant. “Artificial fluorphlogopite has greater sparkle than natural mined mica,” claims Dobos, “and will not have the difficulties with unsafe and unethical [child] labor techniques linked with [some of the mining of] its natural counterpart.”


If you are on the hunt for mascara or eyeliner that will never smudge, or lipstick or basis that will never fade, then you want to uncover this silicone resin on component lists. “It is like Saran Wrap, but with a smooth, adhesive assets,” claims King. “It sorts a permeable movie, however has a good, soft truly feel, and tends to make make-up extended-wearing, h2o-resistant, and transfer-proof.”

This tale initially appeared in the August 2022 challenge of Attract.