The Ultimate A-Z Glossary Of Beauty Terminology |
With new beauty terms and ingredients popping up daily, it’s easier than ever to get confused with what and how things work. To strip it back, we’ve devised your ultimate beauty cheat sheet, so you never have to query popular phrases or ingredients again...
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A Is For…Ampoules

Already a staple in South Korean skincare routines, ampoules are a high-potency booster for your skin and their consistency is similar to that of a serum. Packed with actives, they work double-time to shrink spots and blur fine lines, and they’re pretty effective as their molecule size is smaller than that of a serum, meaning they can penetrate much deeper into the dermis. Typically used as an addition to the rest of your skincare, you can find formulas that brighten, hydrate, refine and exfoliate – the options are now endless.

Find it in: Niod Lip Bio-Lipid Concentrate

B Is For…Bakuchiol 

Meet your new plant-based retinol alternative. It’s a bit of a mouthful but so worth having on your radar, especially if you find traditional retinol takes its toll on your skin. Derived from a plant extract (psoralea corylifolia for anyone who fancies a Google), bakuchiol offers the same skin benefits of your usual vitamin A, without any sensitive, reddening effects. The plant has extensive and impressive skincare results and is shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It has recently soared in popularity thanks to people seeking out gentler (and vegan) formulas, and it's suitable during pregnancy, too – unlike most retinols. 

Find it in: The Inkey List Bakuchiol 

C Is For…CC Creams

Despite them being around for years, there’s still some confusion over CC creams and what their job actually is. Containing SPF, they’re technically a clever spinoff of BB creams, but their biggest difference is their skin-brightening benefits (hence the colour correcting), which work to improve redness, dullness, sallowness and more. Think of them as a reliable alternative to foundation, offering flawless coverage without the need for a laborious routine.

Try: IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Illumination SPF 50+

D Is For…Dermatologically Tested

Another one that often sparks confusion, this simply means that the product was reviewed by a dermatologist – someone that specialises in treating the skin, hair and/or nails – and is more often than not, approved by them. It doesn’t mean anything more than that and is often a sign of good things.

E Is For…Enzymes 

These often remain under the radar but are actually key for exfoliating the skin. Working to unglue the bonds between dead skin cells, enzymes get to work without disrupting your pH (unlike some heavy-duty scrubs) as they’re gentle, yet equally effective at brightening and toning. You can now find them in everything from melting cleansers to gel masks and serums.

Find them in: Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel

F Is For…Ferulic Acid

A powerhouse antioxidant, ferulic acid can help slow the ageing process by reducing the effects of damaging free radicals on the skin. It’s also thought to protect against sun damage, as well as regenerating damaged skin. It’s best avoided by very sensitive skin types and most effective when applied directly to the skin in a serum.

Find it in: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum

G Is For…Glycolic 

Seen on hundreds of skincare labels, glycolic is an acid that’s great for clearing and evening out the skin, as well as ridding you of excess pigment and smoothing fine lines. Derived from sugar cane, it’s relatively gentle and has been used by dermatologists and experts for decades – in fact, it’s actually the most popular and most studied AHA. The key thing is to keep an eye on percentages in your products – eight to ten per cent is said to be the safest concentration and can be well-tolerated by anybody.

Find it in: REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask

H Is For…Hyaluronic Acid

This naturally-occurring molecule is right up there in the anti-ageing stakes – it works to lubricate the connective tissues in your skin, keeping pores plump and hydrated. Our own reserves reduce as we age, so applying this ingredient topically is vital for preserving a youthful glow.

Find it in: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum

I Is For…Inflammation

Symptoms of inflammation in the body can be numerous and vague, ranging from fatigue to headaches – and your skin is no exception. Triggered by poor nutrition, pollution, sunlight and stress, dermatologists agree inflammation is the real culprit behind pretty much every skin issue, including wrinkles.

Fight it: What you eat really does matter – gluten, dairy and processed foods as well as excessive sugar and alcohol are the biggest offenders. Book in for a food intolerance test; unless you know what foods to remove from your diet, they’ll continue to inflame your body.

J Is For…Jojoba

Similar in structure to the skin’s natural oil, jojoba oil penetrates skin deeply to hydrate without clogging pores. If you struggle with blemishes and acne, make a beeline for this ingredient, which mimics the skin’s natural sebum and tricks it into stopping over-production of oil. It can even help to heal acne scars, too.

Find it in: MV Organic Skincare Pure Jojoba

K Is For…Keratin 

Keratin is a natural ingredient of human hair and is now commonly found in products to smooth, add shine and de-frizz even the curliest of hair. You’ll also find it’s used in Brazilian blow-dries (keratin treatments) for the same effects. 

Find it in: Kerastase Discipline Keratin Thermique Crème

L Is For…Lactic Acid

Extracted from milk, lactic acid belongs to the AHA family, but is known for being extremely gentle, despite being a great exfoliant. It breaks down dead skin and often has other hydrating properties to help brighten and even-out skin tone. It may cause sensitivity in some, but this is quite rare due to the soothing formula it usually comes in.

Find it in: January Labs Daily Brightening Tonic 

M Is For…Mandelic 

Similar to lactic, this is again another effective exfoliant, though it’s worth noting that its larger molecule size (it’s twice as big as glycolic acid) means slower penetration into the skin. While this might sound undesirable, it actually makes it more tolerable for very sensitive skin types and works on everything from discolouration to post-acne marks – just expect the results to appear over time, rather than instantly.

Find it in: Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel

N Is For…Niacinamide

A form of vitamin B3, niacinamide helps to strengthen the skin’s outer layers, improve elasticity and curb redness and irritation. Those with acne-prone skin should seek it out, as well as those concerned with anti-ageing, as it has been shown to boost levels of plumping fatty acids in the skin.

Find it in: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

O Is For…Olaplex

Relatively new to the market, Olaplex is a treatment that works to permanently rebuild the damaged bonds in your hair that are often broken during the chemical process of colouring your strands. But its benefits don’t stop there – all hair types can use it to hydrate, boost shine and reduce frizz while keeping strands in peak condition in between salon visits. 

Find it in: Olaplex No4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo & No 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner

P Is For…Paraben-Free

Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in beauty products. The idea is they prolong the shelf life in many health and beauty buys by preventing the growth of mould and bacteria within them. However, these parabens can also enter the body through the skin, and studies have linked them several times to cancer – hence why new formulas are now slowly becoming paraben free. When it comes to studying labels look out for (and avoid) butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben – all strong types of paraben. It is however important to note that in general, the percentage of preservative in formulations is very small.

Find paraben-free formulas in: e.l.f. cosmetics; Evolve skincare; Davines haircare; Burt’s Bees

Q Is For…Quercetin

With both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, quercetin is a skincare ingredient that fights and neutralises free radicals (the main cause of ageing), as well as protecting skin from damaging sun-rays. 

Find it in: Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Concentrate Radiance Booster

R Is For…Retinol

Also known as vitamin A, retinol isn’t actually an acid. It works to promote skin renewal and enhance collagen production (which starts to decline in your 30s). As well as blurring fine lines and softening wrinkles, it can also reverse UV damage – but be cautious, retinol is one of the most potent ingredients to hit skincare, so make sure you’re opting for a low percentage, especially if you’re on the sensitive side. Look to 0.3% for minimal irritation, this will still have a significant impact on your skin.

Find it in: Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil

S Is For…Sulphate-Free

Sulphates are frequently found in shampoos, body washes, face cleansers and toothpastes but also in household cleaners, too. While powerful, they are known for washing away the natural anti-microbial peptides and proteins that sit in our hair and scalp, stripping them of vital moisturiser. They can also cause major irritation and follicle stress, so it’s good to look out for brands that use sulphate-free formulas. Generally speaking, try to avoid the following on bottles where possible: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS); Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES); Sodium Lauryl Sufoacetate and Sodium Lauroyl Taurate.

Find sulphate-free formulas in: Kerastase; Pureology; Kiehl’s; John Masters and Virtue haircare

T Is For…Topical

This is usually a term used when dermatologists are referring to applying product to a certain area of the skin. For example, when you apply spot treatment or exfoliator topically, it means you’re focusing on one area only.


The two ultraviolet rays that reach from the sun to the earth’s surface, UVA and UVB rays are bad news for your skin. Over exposure can cause photo-damage and sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer. At the same time, UV radiation can trigger a loss of skin elasticity, thinner skin, wrinkles, dry skin, broken capillaries, freckles and liver spots.

Take action: It’s nothing new, but wear an SPF daily to safeguard your skin.

V Is For…Vegan-Friendly 

If a beauty product claims to be vegan friendly, this means that it doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients. This includes – but isn’t limited to – beeswax, lanolin, collagen, gelatin, carmine and albumen. You should also look out for the leaping bunny logo as this means it’s free from any animal testing, too. 

Find vegan-friendly formulas in: Inika; Nailberry; Clarins; Tropic; Neal’s Yard; Yope; BareMinerals

W Is For…Water-Free

When you look at your skincare (or beauty products) ingredient list, chance are you’ll find aqua at the top, which is essentially, a fancy word for water. Due to the conscious-beauty trend continuing to grow, more and more brands are formulating products with zero, or very little, water in order to up their environmental credentials. Set to be a huge trend for 2020 and beyond, you can expect to see a slew of water-free products hitting the shelves. The key benefits for skin? Botanicals and oils are used as water replacement, which are not only more potent, but aid in producing plumper, smoother skin. 

Find water-free formulas in: de Mamiel; Farmacy; The Inkey List; Pinch of Colour; Evo

Z Is For…Zinc Oxide

In its most natural state, zinc oxide is a white, powdery mineral and one of the key ingredients in your sun cream. It’s often compared against chemical SPF formulas as it has a reputation for being chalky, however it’s worth making the switch if you can. Not only are they lighter in texture, zinc oxide formulas create a protective barrier and deflect UV rays more effectively – they’re also proven to reduce acne with dermatologists regularly recommending it for its anti-inflammatory benefits.

Find it in: REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30

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