We at the Beauty Brains thought you might like to know a little more about those skin products you use. Let’s talk lotions – in three easy parts! Part 1, what ingredients are used in lotions; Part 2, how are those ingredients mixed together; and Part 3, how do lotions work on your skin.
First, let’s point out that there are many many types of lotions. There are face lotions, hand lotions, and body lotions. There are creams, milks, serums – for day use and night use. To keep is simple, for the purpose of this post we’ll discuss a typical dry skin body lotion (like Vaseline Intensive Care Total Moisture)
Here are the main categories of cosmetic ingredients that a lotion like this would use:
The most widely used lotion ingredient is water, which is the solvent for the rest of the ingredients as well as a moisturizing agent. Deionized water is typically used to ensure the products purity.
Skin Moisturizing agents
The main purpose of the product is to moisturize, so it’s not suprising that there are a large number of ingredients to perform this function. In general, they work in two different ways – which we’ll discuss in Part 3. Some examples from Vaseline include glycerin, petrolatum, and dimethicone.
Skin Lotion Emulsifiers
Lotions primarily owe their magical moisturizing properties to their ability to deposit oily materials on the skin. Because oil and water ingredients don’t like to mix , lotions use ingredients called emulsifiers to help them combine. Common emulsifiers include Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Glycol Stearate, and Sodium Stearoyl 2 Lactylate.
“Emollient” is just a fancy way to describe an ingredient that helps the lotion spread and that makes skin feel smooth and lubricated. Esters like Isopropyl Palmitate are used for this purpose.
Lotion Thickeners and Stabilizers
Because the oil and water soluble ingredients tend to separate over time, thickeners and stabilizers are added to the lotion to help hold it together better. Commonly used thickeners include natural materials like guar, gum arabic, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, and cellulose as well as synthetic acrylic polymers, like Carbomer.
Preservatives are added to the formula to ensure the product doesn’t become contaminated by bacteria, mold, or yeast. Common preservatives include parabens and urea derivatives. Vaseline uses Methylparaben, DMDM Hydantoin, and Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.
Skin Lotion Color
A variety of dyes maybe added to lotions to impart a pleasing color. In the vast majority of lotions, the dye has no functional purpose at all – it’s just there to make the product look nice. There are some lotions that are designed to give your skin color – these include higher levels of special dyes and pigments or reactive compounds like DHA used in sunless tanners.
Control agents are added to the formula to help adjust its physical properties. For example, an acid or base may be added to raise or lower the pH. Vaseline has Disodium EDTA, Triethanolamine, and Lactic Acid.
The type of fragrance used in lotions is important for a couple of reasons. First, it has to smell appealing to you or you won’t like the product. Too much or too strong of a fragrance and it will clash with your perfume; too little or too weak of a fragrance and you may smell some of the chemical odor of the product. Second, the fragrance must be non-irritating because it will be in contact with your skin for a long time. And third, the fragrance should support the image of the product – if it’s a cucumber melon lotion, it should probably smell like cucumber or melon.
Marketers frequently add featured ingredients to their formulations to make them more appealing or to support a certain marketing story. For example, lotions that are marketed as “natural” products will typically feature more botanical extracts, even though these extracts don’t necessarily make the product work any better. And “sciency” sounding lotions will contain long chemical names like “Hydroterilium” that sound like they MUST be doing something, even though they’re probably not. The main purpose of these kinds of ingredients is to make the product more appealing. In Vaseline you’ll find Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E Acetate), Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate), Avena Sativa Kernel Protein (Oat), Glycine Soja Oil (Soybean), and Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil (Sunflower).
That concludes the list of ingredients used in a typical body moisturizer; next time we’ll talk about how those chemicals are turned into a lotion.