Skincare Glossary

Acid Mantle is a microscopic film that covers the epidermis and has a slightly acidic pH. It is formed by natural secretions of sebum and sweat, and provides a protective barrier between your skin and the outside world.

Acne is a specific clinical disease that should not be mistaken for ordinary spots. The cause of acne is thought to be hormonal (testosterone) the prime suspect. However, why it should cause the characteristic thickening of the epidermis around blocked pores or the resulting inflammation is still a mystery. Treatment should be prescribed by a doctor, and backed with over the counter spot-control skincare products.

Adipocytes are the cells that store fat beneath the dermis.

Age Spots (or Hyperpigmentation) occurs as a result of long-term exposure to UV rays, and can be a feature of prematurely aged skin, as well as a natural part of the ageing process. They are most commonly found on the backs of the hands and the face, where the skin is constantly exposed to UVA rays. Age spots can be avoided by daily use of a moisturising cream containing UVA and UVB screens . Once in evidence, the appearance of affected areas can be minimised by the regular use of a Vitamin E moisturiser

Allantoin A derivative of certain herbs, allantoinis used in skin care products for its healing and soothing properties.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) or fruit acids now appear in all kinds of skin care products. AHAs are derived from various natural ingredients including, malic acid(from apples), glycolic acid (from sugar), lactic acid (from sour milk) and tartaric acid (from wine). Their effect on the skin is to accelerate its natural process of exfoliation by dissolving the intercellular ‘glue’ that bonds dead skin cells together. According to the manufacturers, this results in revealing the newer skin beneath , and reducing the depth of existing lines and wrinkles.

Amino Acids sometimes described as the body’s ‘building blocks’, amino acids are what proteins are made of, and they are abundant in the stratum corneum where they help attract and retain moisture.

Antioxidants are substances used in skincare which have been found to neutralise the effects of free radicals. Usually betacarotene ( a stable form of Vitamin A), and Vitamins C & E . The FDA in the US has recognised the important role played by retinoic acid (a vitamin A derivative) in the treatment of wrinkled skin, but the ability of all other vitamins to penetrate far enough into the epidermis to be effective, is still a matter of debate.

Basal layer is the area at the very base of the epidermis where skin cells are manufactured and sent on their journey to the stratum corneum. En route they die and harden, so that by the time they reach the surface they form a tough barrier between you and your potentially hazardous environment.

Benzoyl Peroxide is a strong substance available in some pharmacy licensed skin care formulas for the treatment of acne.

Betacarotene (see Anti – Oxidants)

Beta-Hydroxy Acids are related to alpha hydroxy acids, and work have a similar effect , accelerating the skins natural turnover. BHAs are lipid soluble, and can therefore penetrate into the follicles and remove dead skin cells more effectively, and with less potentrial for irritation and trans-epidermal water loss, according to the manufacturers using them. Salicylic acid is a BHA.

Blackheads (also called comedones) occur when a plug of dirt, debris and sebum blocks the pores. The top of this plug is in contact with the air and oxidises forming a blackened ‘cap’ that is clearly visible. After years of actively discouraging the squeezing of blackheads, many skincare experts are now claiming that it is best to remove the plug by placing gentle pressure on each side of the pore, or by using a blackhead removal strip. Some skincare products are described as ‘non-comedogenic’, meaning they will not clog the pores and cause blackheads.

Ceramides are moisture rich lipids found naturally in the skin’s intercellular cement. They help define its structure and hold moisture within the epidermis, contributing significantly to its barrier function. In skin creams they are used in the maintenance of mature, dry skin, in which ceramide levels are depleted.

Collagen together with elastin forms the network of cells that holds the skin together and give it shape. In young skin collagen supplies deplete with age, and this natural process results in loose, sagging skin.

Comedones (see Blackheads)

Dermititis (see Eczema)

Dermis is the layer beneath the epidermis. It houses essential blood vessels that keep the epidermis stocked with the nutrients it needs to function properly.

Dermocosmetics literally cross the boundary between skin care and medicine. This new category has evolved thanks to advanced research and development by skincare manufacturers.

Desquamation is the rate at which old skin cells are shed from the stratum corneum. When we accelerate this process via the skin care routine, we call it ‘exfoliation’.

D-Panthenol (see Pro – Vitamin B5)

Dry Skin is a common condition characterised by a tight, uncomfortable feeling across the skin, and occasional flaking of dry, dead cells. Dry skin occurs when developing skin cells are not stocked with sufficient lipids to complete their journey to the epidermis. If your pores are invisible, even when viewed in a magnifying mirror, then your skin is probably dry. Treatment is readily available in the form of dry skin specific cleansers, moisturisers and specialist treatments.

Eczema is a specific medical condition in which the epidermis is painfully dry. It is also scaly, flakey cracked and can become infected or inflamed. Eczema can occur anywhere on the body, but is particularly common on the hands, scalp and feet. Tiny, itchy, pus filled blisters may occur, which soon burst and crust over, While eczema often occurs as an allergic reaction, to nickel in jewellery for example (when symptoms are often described as Dermatitis) there is often no obvious trigger, and an increasing number of babies are now born with the condition. Treatment should initially be prescribed by a doctor, but thereafter can usually be controlled with over the counter emollient therapy; a strict, ongoing skincare programme designed to replace the lost lipids in the epidermis.

Elastin is often considered in conjunction with collagen, as together they give skin its youthful bloom. Elastin fibres are long and elastic, enabling the skin to spring back into position whenever it is pulled out of shape. However, these fibres weaken with age, and elastin degeneration is fundamental to loose, sagging texture of older and prematurely aged skin.

Enzymes are relatively new anti ageing ingredients. Natural active molecules, these enzymes dissolve the skin’s surface layer of dead cells, while leaving the newer cells beneath untouched (one disadvantage of AHAs is their tendency to cause irritation to this emerging layer)

Epidermis is the top layer of skin, from the basal layer where new cells are produced to the horny cells of the stratum corneum.

Exfoliation refers to the practice of removing the surface layer of dead skin cells from the stratum corneum, which can make the complexion appear dull and sallow. Exfoliation can be achieved with a manual facial scrub, or topical ingredients such as AHAs, but when this process occurs as part of the skin’s natural rate, it is described as ‘desquamation’.

Free Radicals are cells damaged by external aggressors (such as pollution , U.V. light and smoking) which are incomplete at a molecular level and are considered responsible for many adverse reactions in the body, from premature skin ageing to the development of cancer. In terms of skincare, free radicals attack collagen and elastin fibres, and affect the balance of lipids.

Greasy Skin occurs when the sebaceous glands produce excess sebum, resulting in unwanted shine as well as blackheads and spots. Treatment is with facial washes, toners and mattifying moisturisers specifically formulated for greasy skin.

Horny Layer comprises dead skin cells and is the outermost layer or surface of your skin. The horny layer comprises flat; overlapping cells that were born on the basal layer approximately 28 days ago. They are constantly being shed and replaced from below with the next generation of dead cells.

Humectants are moisturising ingredients that attract moisture from the surrounding atmosphere to the surface of the skin. Examples include glycerine, urea, sorbitol and squalene.

Hyaluronic acid is a component of the skin’s connective tissue. When used in skin care formulas it helps the skin absorb and retain water

Hyperpigmentation (Age Spots)

Langerhans cells are mobile cells that patrol the epidermis zapping ‘alien’ invaders from bacteria and microbes that could cause infection, to abnormal cells that could lead to the development of skin cancers. They also rush to the site of cuts to protect the skin from bacterial invasion and help heal the wound.

Lipids are fatty molecules that keep skin cells plump and healthy.

Liposomes are not actually ingredients themselves, but a means of delivering active ingredients to the lower layers of the epidermis. These ‘carriers’ are microscopic, hallow spheres constructed from material which matches that of the skin itself. When the sphere reaches its destination, it fuses with the skin cells, releasing its contents deeper than they could penetrate on their own.

Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for determining your skin, hair colour, and also for protecting your epidermis from UV damage. Special cells called melanocytes produce it. Your skin has a constant melanin content, with Afro – Caribbean skin having the highest concentration and Caucasian skin the lowest.

Melanocytes are basal layer cells that produce melanin.

Nanospheres these are the latest in liposomes type technology, they are smaller and thus more effective at delivering treatments deeper into the skin.

NMF stands for Natural Moisturising Factor and refers to any moisturising ingredient which is found naturally in the skin. Hyaluronic acid, Sodium PCA and linolenic acid are well known examples.

Oily Skin (see greasy skin)

Oxygen is used in some skin care formulas to improve cellular turnover and microcirculation.

Pores Looking closely at your skin you will see that it is covered with tiny holes. These are your pores, which act as ducts for sweat and sebum.

Pro-Vitamin B5 (D-Panthenol) is derived from vitamin B and is used in cosmetic products from shampoo to colour cosmetics, as a skin conditioner and moisturiser.

Psoriasis is a clinical disease distinct from eczema, but often not dissimilar in appearance. Symptoms include widespread scaling, flaking, itching and yellowish pus, although there are many different form of the disease, which can occur anywhere on the body. A doctor should prescribe treatment.

Rashes can be due to an allergic reaction, either to a topically applied product, jewellery, or a food allergy, but they can indicate a more serious medical condition and should never be dismissed. Any rash that develops soon after eating, is accompanied by other symptoms or does not fade must be investigated immediately.

Rosacea takes the form of an intense red patch across the cheeks, forehead and nose. It is often accompanied by acne, but can occur in isolation. A doctor should initially prescribe treatment, but cover-up concealer products can be recommended.

Sebaceous Glands are situated just beneath the skin’s surface, and there is one for every dermal pore on your body. They manufacture and excrete sebum.

Sebum is the slightly acidic oil produced by your sebaceous glands. It provides essential lubrication for the outermost surface of the skin, and contributes to the protective acid mantle. However, excess sebum can cause greasy skin and blackheads.

Sensitive Skin reacts badly to many skin care formulations, making selection of suitable products problematic.

SPF Sun protection factor, the extent to which a skin cream will protect your skin from the sun, expressed in multiples of the skin’s own protective capacity.

Spots are distinct from blackheads because they occur under the skin, and do not form the blackened plug characteristic of comedones. Ordinary spots are the result of localised inflammation beneath the skin, and can be topped with a white head of pus. Unless the spots are widespread or inflamed (which indicates the presence of acne) treatment usually involves spot control formulations.

Stratum Corneum is the outermost layer of the skin’s structure; the very surface of your skin. It comprises flat, overlapping cells that were born in the basal layer approximately 28 days ago. They are constantly being shed and replaced from below with the next generation of dead cells.

Sub-cutaneous fatty layer is the name given to the cushion of fat cells beneath the dermis that help keep you warm in low temperatures, and protect your skin from the outside world.

Tea tree oil is extracted from an Australian plant. It has remarkable antiseptic skin-caring qualities and is used to treat both dry and greasy skin conditions.

Transepidermal Water Loss refers to the phenomenon wherein moisture evaporates from the surface of the skin.

Vitamin E also known as tocopherol, this anti-oxidant substance has profound effect on the skin, stimulating and complementing its natural regenerative processes.

Vitiligo is a condition where colour pigment in the skin gradually fades creating white patches which either remain as small, coin-sized blotches or spread over the entire body. While medical advice should be sought initially, sufferers can use camouflage cosmetics to disguise their condition.