Skin care terms can be confusing. In this section we endeavour to explain the most common skin care terms and expressions, including the meanings of ingredients you are likely to find on your skin care products. Some of the definitions are provided by the manufacturers listed on this website. The dictionaries are updated frequently! Please scroll down to see other related articles.
Skincare Dictionary of terms
A substance that destroys or inhibits the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Anti-microbial plants commonly used in skin care include: clove, Echinacea, garlic, marigold, myrrh, peppermint, rosemary, sage and thyme.
A substance that prevents or reduces inflammation. Popular anti-inflammatory herbs include: chamomile, marigold and witch hazel.
Astringents contract tissue and reduce secretions. When applied topically, astringents can reduce the appearance of pores and improve skin texture. Astringent plants contain tannins and include: cedar, cypress, mint, raspberry, rosemary, witch hazel, yarrow.
Capable of blocking the pores. The opposite of non-comedogenic.
A substance that soothes irritated or inflamed internal tissue thus relieving pain and discomfort. Demulcent plants often contain a lot of mucilage and include aloe vera, flaxseed and marshamellow.
Emollient ingredients soothe and soften the skin, reinforce its protective barrier, and reduce evaporation from the skin’s surface. Emollients frequently found in skin care product are carrier oils such as apricot kernel oil, almond oil, olive oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil.
Humectant moisturisers attract water into the skin by drawing it form the dermis and the atmosphere. Popular natural humectant ingredients include plant-derived glycerin, lanolin, sugar and honey.
Nervine substances have a therapeutic, calming effect on the nervous system. Nervine plants include: chamomile, lavender, peppermint and rosemary.
Occlusive agents create a physical barrier on the skin’s surface thus helping it to retain moisture. Beeswax and safflower oil are examples of natural occlusive frequently ingredients used in organic skin care formulations.
Describes the capacity of a substance to stimulate microcirculation, which increases the flow of blood into the skin. Plants with rubefacient properties include garlic, ginger, peppermint and rosemary.
Sedatives reduce stress and calm the nervous system. Chamomile and valerian are excellent sedative plants.
Applied externally to treat wounds, abrasions and broken skin. Aloe Vera is a great vulnerary plant, along with golden seal, marigold, myrrh, thyme, witch hazel and yarrow.
Skincare Ingredients Dictionary
Angelica (angelica archangelica)
A tall aromatic perennial herb with pale green, white or purple flowers, native to north and north-eastern Europe, (especially Scandinavia), but cultivated in France and the UK. It was traditionally believed to protect against evil spirits and witchcraft.
Angelsword Bush Flower (lobelia gibbosa)
A wild plant with purple flowers, which grows in the alpine region of Australia. The flower is frequently described as resembling a monk in long purple robes.
Borage (borago officianalis)
A freely seeding annual plant with star shaped flowers, usually blue but sometimes pink or white. The plant was believed to boost courage, and Celtic warriors used to drink borage flavoured wine before battle.
Kakadu Plum (terminalia ferdinandiana)
A slender, small to medium sized deciduous tree with creamy white flowers, which grows wild in Australia. The Kakadu plum has the highest known Vitamin C concentration of any fruit.
Murumuru Palm (astrocaryum murumuru)
A South American palm tree abundant in the Brazilian Amazon. It produces nuts that can be used to create a butter which, in addition to its skincare benefits, can be used to partially substitute cocoa butter in chocolate, helping it to retain its structure better in hot climates.
Frangipani (plumeria rubra)
A tropical plant with white, pink yellow or crimson flowers, native to the Pacific islands, South America and Mexico. It is used in Hawaii to create the famous ‘lei’ garlands.
St John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum)
A perennial herb with yellow flowers, it grows mainly in Europe, Asia and North America. There is a variety of folklore beliefs about this plant, for instance the tradition in England and Germany that girls could use it to predict whether they would marry in the coming year.
Sweet Almond Oil (prunus amygdalus dulcis)
A commonly used carrier oil created from the nuts of the almond tree, originally native to south-western Asia. The amygdalae, two connected sections of the brain that govern emotional reactions, are named after the Latin name for the almond due to their shape.
Witch Hazel (hamamelis virginiana)
A winter-flowering shrub with yellow, orange or red flowers resembling spiders. The common name probably refers to the fact that witch branches were used to create dowsing rods, which ‘magically’ revealed underground water.
Ylang Ylang (canaga odorata)
A tropical tree with yellow flowers, native to Asia. The correct pronunciation is ‘eelang-eelang’.