Glossary of Formulating Ingredients

This section is meant to serve as a quick guide to the various ingredients we use in our skincare and cosmetic formulations.

This list is a living document that I will update regularly. ♥

agar agar (Gelidium amansii)
Nutrient rich, hydrophilic polysaccharide derived from agarophyte seaweed. Used as an emulsifier, thickening agent and fragrance binder. Added to water phase prior to heating. INCI: gelidium amansii (agar)

Synthetically produced to mimic naturally occurring protein found in the roots/leaves of the comfrey plant. Water soluble occlusive and FDA recognized skin protectant that acts as a humectant and keratin softener (keratolytic). Causes rapid cell regeneration/proliferation and wound healing. May minimize pore size. Dissolve 0.5-2.0% in water phase. Can be gritty if used dry and in too high quantities. Comfrey root extract (contains up to 0.4% allantoin) may be a good natural alternative. INCI: allantoin

aloe vera 200x powder
Processed from the inner fillet of the Aloe barbadensis leaf, removing the pulp and fiber to create a water soluble ingredient. Has a pH of 3.5 to 5.0, making it an effective and natural way to lower a product’s overall pH. Extremely concentrated powder. Recommended usage rate is 0.05-0.5%. 1% added to a product gives the same concentration as pure aloe juice squeezed from a fresh aloe vera plant. INCI: aloe barbadensis leaf juice

beeswax (Cera alba)
Thickener and stabilizer for anhydrous, oil-based formulations. Beeswax adjusts the viscosity of water in oil emulsions and gives structure and imparts shine and hold to cosmetic formulations. Often used in barrier protection formulations such as salves and diaper rash creams. Not an emulsifier by itself but can be combined with 5-7% sodium borate (borax) to make an emulsion more stable. Has a melting point of 142-149 F. INCI: Cera alba (beeswax)

boron nitride
Slip modifier and optical diffuser with a smooth, silky feel and pearly sheen; offers excellent adhesion, some skin whitening, and low friction on the skin. In lipstick, it offers slip, glide, adhesion, a pearly sheen and a little whitening that won’t alter your colors as much as titanium dioxide. Recommended usage rate is 3-7% in foundations, 5-30% in face/body powders, 2-5% in lipsticks and 5-40% in blush or eye shadows. INCI: boron nitride

calcium carbonate (chalk)
An excellent oil absorber and bulking agent with a matte finish. Typical use level 3-15%. INCI: calcium carbonate

candelilla wax (Euphorbia cerifera)
Derived from the leaves of the Euphorbia cerifera shrub native to Mexico and the US. Imparts gloss and hardness to cosmetic products. Used to adjust the viscosity of W/O emulsions. Excellent film forming properties, but can be brittle at higher concentrations. High oil binding capacity and less sticky than beeswax, so balms made with it won’t get any staying power from it. Added to oil phase in formulas requiring emulsification. Melting point of 154-163 F. Typical use level 2-30%. Soluble in alcohol. INCI: euphorbia cerifera (candelilla) wax

carnauba wax (Copernicia cerifera)
The hardest natural wax available, composed of wax esters (85%), free fatty acids, fatty alcohols and resins (15%). Derived from the leaves of a the Brazilian palm tree Copernicia cerifera. Nearly twice as hard as beeswax, and imparts stiffness, gloss, and slip to applications. Reduces stickiness in lipstick formulations. Used in mascara as a volumizing agent and in hair styling products to impart hold. Used in any cosmetic application requiring a formidable barrier agent. Used in water in oil emulsions as a stabilizer and viscosity modifier. Can be brittle in high concentrations. Melting point of 176-187 F. Typical use level 2-40%. Soluble in alcohol. INCI: copernicia cerifera (carnauba) wax

cera bellina wax
Hydrophilic derivative of beeswax in which the free fatty acids have been converted to polyglycerols esters. Much softer than beeswax, and adds a unique gel-like texture to products and imparts a smooth, satin-like glide. Acts as a gelling agent, thickener and pigment dispersion stabilizer in oils. Inhibits crystallization in the oil phase. Also helps with pigment distribution, reduces sweating in solid balms and can function as a co-emulsifier. Great in lip balms, ointments, glosses and lotion bars. Concentrations of 20% or less form a translucent, gel-like product. Melting point of 176-187 F INCI: polyglycerol-3 beeswax

colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa)
Whole oat kernels that have been processed, micronized and pre-solubilized into a particle size capable of forming a homogeneous suspension in water-based products. It’s a soothing addition to cosmetic applications that can help relieve dry, irritated, itchy skin associated with eczema, rashes and other skin conditions. Added to hot or cold water phase. Recommended usage rate is 1-10% in gels, lotions, shampoos, powders and creams, though some sources recommend up to 30%. INCI: Avena sativa (oat) kernel flour

diatomaceous earth
Naturally occurring fossilized remains of diatoms contain 80-90 silicone dioxide, AKA silica. Highly absorbent anti-caking and bulking agent that improves slip in facial powders, foundations, and eye shadows. Food grade DE by definition must contain less than 1% of the jagged crystalline silica, which is the form that that is problematic when inhaled. Possible natural substitute for silica microspheres? INCI: solum diatomeae (diatomaceous earth) clay

emulsifying wax / e-wax NF
A nonionic vegetable-derived self-emulsifying wax and thickener used to create oil-in-water emulsions. In cleansing oils and balms it creates products that self-emulsify on contact with water. Added to oil phase in formulas requiring emulsification. Recommended usage rate is 2-25%. Works reliably at 20-25% of oil phase. INCI: Emulsifying Wax NF

A deeply nourishing fat, rich in CLA and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Contains 53.9–66.8% saturated fatty acids and the majority of the remainder is monounsaturated, resulting in a highly stable fat that is resistant to oxidation. In Ayurveda, washed ghee is said to be the only moisturizer able to penetrate all seven layers of the skin. May improve hyperpigmentation, fine lines, blemishes, stretch marks and inflammatory skin issues such as rosacea, sunburns. May have a catalytic effect on infused herbs, making them more potent.

glucomannan (Amorphophallus konjac)
Water soluble polysaccharide made from the dried tubers of Amorphophallus konjac plant. An effective thickener and co-emulsifier, it creates a transparent gel with skin conditioning and protective properties. A natural carbomer alternative. Maintains viscosity in the presence of electrolytes. Combining 95% glucomannan with 5% xanthan gum (total polysaccharide concentration of 1% in solution) yields a strong gel structure. Add to glycerin prior to emulsifying to minimize clumping. Soluble in alcohol up to 10%. Warm the liquid phase you’re adding the glucomannan to slightly, then stir in glucomannan until you have the desired consistency. Use up to 1 gram to 100 mL liquid to produce a firm but not stiff, stable gel. To create a very firm but elastic thermo irreversible/heat-stable gel, raise the pH to 9-10.5 with a mild alkali, then heat to about 185F for 20 minutes and cool. INCI: glucomannan

Water soluble humectant, solvent and emollient, a byproduct of the soap making process. Recommended usage rate is 2-5% for leave-on products and up to 50% for products designed to be rinsed off. INCI: glycerin

green tea wax (Camellia sinensis)
Byproduct of the green tea decaffeinating (supercritical CO₂ extraction) process. Composed primarily of esters, fatty acids and fatty alcohols. Not structural, but it imparts creaminess, color (dark olive) and fragrance to formulations. Has antioxidant properties. Melting point is 145-167 F. Recommended usage rate is 0.5-4%. INCI: Camellia sinensis (green tea) leaf wax

guar gum (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba)
Non-ionic water soluble sugar polymer (polysaccharide) produced from the seeds of the guar legume (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba). Non-gelling thickener that acts as an emulsion stabilizer, demulcent and light emulsifier. Lather enhancer when combined with surfactants. Film forming, with a smooth and silky skin feel. Can act as an anti-freeze by inhibiting ice crystal growth. High pH. Add to water phase prior to heating or to pre-emulsion oil phase to prevent clumping. Solutions prepared with heat will have a lower final viscosity than the same solutions prepared with cold water and allowed to hydrate slowly. Recommended usage rate is 0.2-2%. Works well paired with xanthan gum (75% xanthan : 25% guar gum). Possible silicone alternative for hair care formulations. INCI: Cyamopsis tetragonoloba (guar gum)

gum arabic (Acacia senegal gum)
Produced from the sap of the African Acacia senegal tree. Composed of polysaccharides (multi-chain starches) and glycoproteins, and has good adhesive and film-forming properties. Enhances stability and suspension properties. Aqueous solutions of gum arabic will gel with the addition of ferric salts, borax, alcohol or sodium silicate. Lather enhancer when combined with surfactants. Can be used as an oil-in-water emulsifier. Lower viscosity than guar or xanthan gums. May work better paired with other gums (i.e. 3 parts acacia to 1 part xanthan). Added to water phase prior to heating. Recommended usage rate is 1-10%. INCI: Acacia gum

hyaluronic acid / sodium hyaluronate
Polysaccharide produced by the bacterial fermentation of plant matter. Hyaluronic acid is manufactured in a variety of different molecular weights. High molecular weight HA is typically between 1.0 and 1.5 million daltons, so it remains on the skin's surface and forms a protective film on the skin, preventing water loss and providing immediate hydration and plumping effects. Low molecular weight HA's molecular size can range from 6,000 daltons (ultra-low) to 50,000 (super-low) to 80,000-110,000 (extra-low) on up to 1.0 million daltons, allowing it to penetrate the skin more easily, reaching deeper layers of the skin. High molecular weight HA is a gelling agent, while the lower molecular weights do not gel. HA can be mixed with a bit of glycerin before adding to water phase to avoid clumping. Recommended usage rate is generally 0.1 to 2% for high molecular weight HA and up to 10% for ultra and super-low molecular weight HA. INCI: Sodium Hyaluronate

jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis)
Lightweight, non-greasy and non-comedogenic carrier oil composed of natural liquid wax esters extracted from the seeds of the Simmondsia Chinensis shrub. Structurally similar to the 25% of human sebum that is made up of wax mono esters. Contains approx. 50-80% eicosenoic acid, 10-25% oleic acid, and 4-20% docosenoic/erucic acid. INCI: Simmondsia Chinensis (jojoba) seed oil

Cholesterol-rich natural wax derived from sheep’s wool containing sterol esters and squalane. Effective moisturizer, softener and occlusive/barrier protectant. May be able to penetrate the upper layers of the stratum corneum providing longer lasting moisturizing than other natural oils. Common use levels in lip products 5-100%, cold process soap 3-6%, lotions and creams 3-5%. INCI: lanolin

lupine protein (Lupinus spp.)
Water soluble blend of peptides sourced from the seeds of the lupine flower (Lupinus spp.) Rich in amino acids, helps to renew outer layers of skin by stimulating production of collagen and elastin. Recommended usage rate is 2-40%. INCI: hydrolyzed lupine protein

magnesium stearate
Salt of stearic acid that improves adhesion, glide, slip and texture. Used in concentrations of 3-10% by weight in a loose powder. INCI: magnesium stearate

MM sericite mica
Magnesium Myristate surface-treated inert earth mineral sourced from areas that have seen hydrothermal alteration. Improves slip, adhesion and dilutes pigments. Light diffusion properties gives a luminous appearance without being sparkly. The addition of the Magnesium Myristate makes the product somewhat better at adhering to the skin than plain sericite. Effectively reduces the appearance of pores and fine lines. Used in mineral cosmetics, foundations, blushes and finishing powders. Recommended usage rate is up to 100% in powdered products. INCI: mica (77019), myristic acid, magnesium hydroxide

Olivem 1000 MB
COSMOS/ECOcert approved, PEG-free, non-ionic, oil-in-water emulsifier and thickener (up to 20-25% including the emulsifier). Wide pH range (3-12) so may be used with acidic ingredients like AHAs. Excellent thickening properties, but the addition of cetearyl alcohol (1% ) or xanthan gum (0.2%) will improve stability. Higher concentrations of Olivem 1000 may produce a “soaping” effect when massaged into the skin, which is mitigated by using an additional co-emulsifier. Olivem 1000 has a liquid crystal structure that is said to mimic the stratum corneum’s natural lipid matrix, creating products with a pleasant skin feel. Manufactured from “certified sustainable” palm oil, per the manufacturer. Recommended usage rates of 1.5-4% for low viscosity (serums and lotions) and 3-8% high viscosity (lotions and creams). INCI: cetearyl olivate (and) sorbitan olivate

Water and alcohol soluble active sourced from a component of honey (d-pantolactone) and is the alcohol analog of pantothenic acid (vitamin b5). Able to penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin, improving hydration by retaining moisture. When used in lotions and creams at up to 3%, DL-Panthenol will help repair and rehydrate dry, damaged skin. Recommended usage rate is 0.5-5%. INCI: panthenol

Ritamulse SCG
ECOcert approved anionic oil-in-water emulsifier up to 25% oil. Also sold under brandnames Ecomulse, Emulsimulse and NatraMulse. Provides conditioning to both hair and skin due to acyl lactylates, which are a product of a reaction between acyl fatty acids and lactic acid. Imparts a soft, conditioned, non-greasy and almost powdery skin feel. Excellent thickening properties. High electrolyte (salt) tolerance. Not compatible with cationic ingredients. Narrow pH range (5-7.5) so not compatible with acidic ingredients like AHAs. Allow emulsion to cool down to at least 120F before adding cool-down phase ingredients or risk curdling the emulsion. Recommended usage rate is 2-10%, typically 3% for milks (plus a bit of a gum for stability), 4% for serums, 5% for lotions and 8% for heavier creams and body butters. INCI: glyceryl stearate (and) cetearyl alcohol (and) sodium stearoyl lactylate

sclerotium gum
Cold water soluble, non-ionic polysaccharide produced by fermentation of the filamentous fungus Sclerotium rolfsii. Used as a thickening and suspension agent with rheological properties and high thermal stability, meaning high temperature has little effect on its viscosity. Effective emulsifier and stabilizer that can produce a crystal clear gel base used at 0.8-1.5% up to 2%. Recommended usage rate for lotions and creams to increase viscosity while maintaining good fluidity, flexibility and pouring properties is 0.25-0.5%. INCI: sclerotium gum

sericite mica
Inert earth mineral sourced from areas that have seen hydrothermal alteration. Improves slip, adhesion and dilutes pigments. Light diffusion properties gives a luminous appearance without being sparkly. Effectively reduces the appearance of pores and fine lines. Commonly used in mineral cosmetics, foundations, blushes and finishing powders. Recommended usage rate is up to 100% in powdered products. INCI: sericite

silk powder
Water soluble powder that adds sheen and light diffusion to makeup products; can absorb or release moisture as the temperature and humidity change. Recommended usage rate is 3-20%. INCI: silk

Proprietary blend of xanthan gum, lecithin, sclerotium gum and pullulan created by Lucas Meyer Cosmetics. A “green” gelling agent that produces a thixotropic mixture capable of keeping pigments/sunscreens/exfoliants fully suspended in oils and emulsions, meaning the product will be thick or viscous, under static conditions, but should flow (become thin, less viscous) when shaken, agitated, sheared or otherwise stressed (i.e. pumped, sprayed or squeezed out of a bottle). Gelling agent, co-emulsifier, stabilizer and suspending agent. Added to the heated water phase or in the post-emulsion cool-down phase. Final viscosity will be reached in 24 hours. INCI: xanthan gum, lecithin, sclerotium gum, pullulan

sodium lactate
Water soluble sodium salt of lactic acid produced by the fermentation of corn or beet sugar. Humectant with a water holding capacity second only to hyaluronic acid, it can improve the skin feel of a formulation and reduce tackiness. Antimicrobial preservative enhancer (but not a stand-alone preservative) and buffering agent. In bar soaps it can facilitate unmolding and accelerate curing times, resulting in harder, smoother bars. Added to hot or cold water phase. Recommended usage rate is 0.5-5% for skin care products and 2-3% in bar soaps. INCI: sodium lactate

Lightweight, non-greasy and non-comedogenic liquid hydrocarbon that is a precursor for plant and animal sterols (including cholesterol, steroid hormones and vitamin D production) that is produced by all plants and animals, including humans. Structurally similar to the natural squalene that makes up 10-16% of human sebum. Typically sourced from plant-based alternatives, such as olives, sugarcane or rice bran and fully hydrogenated to prevent oxidation. Clear and neutral smelling carrier oil with good moisturizing and emollient properties. INCI: squalane

stearic acid
Oil soluble animal or vegetable (usually palm) derived fatty acid that works as an emollient and co-emulsifier and stabilizing agent. Thickens without the weight and waxiness of waxes. Hardens and raises the melting point of formulas without added waxiness. Can give liquid oils a more “buttery” consistency without added waxes. Anionic oil-in-water emulsifier. Added to the heated oil phase. Recommended usage rate is 2-10%. INCI: stearic acid

Stable carrier oil from the fat of cows (or other ruminants) that acts as a thickener and stabilizer, contributing to the stability and structure of formulations. Approximately 50% monounsaturated, 43% saturated, 4% unsaturated (3% “others”). Naturally contains nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Pastured tallow also contains CLA, which has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Forms a barrier that shields skin from environmental stressors and harsh elements. Beef tallow naturally contains 15-25% stearic acid, which contributes to its thickening and stabilizing abilities. Melting point is 95-104 F. INCI: tallow

tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
Oil-soluble, gentle and stable Vitamin C ester. Antioxidant that can increase collagen, inhibit lipid peroxidation and correct hyperpigmentation and age spots. Topical use can mitigate the damaging effects of UV exposure. Recommended usage rate is 1-10%. INCI: tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate

thickening clay
Proprietary blend of Quaternium-90, Sepiolite and Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite produced by TKB Trading, LLC. Marketed as a thickener with rheological properties that is capable of keeping pigments/sunscreens/exfoliants fully suspended in oils and emulsions, meaning the product will be thick or viscous, under static conditions, but should flow (become thin, less viscous) when shaken, agitated, sheared or otherwise stressed (i.e. pumped or squeezed out of a bottle). Add to oils before adding micas and pigments. Recommended usage rate is about 1-3%. INCI: quaternium-90 sepiolite (and) quaternium-90 montmorillonite

titanium dioxide
Inert earth mineral primarily sourced from ilmenite ore. Used as a thickener, opacifying agent and whitening pigment with light scattering properties. Also works as a physical UVA/UVB sunscreen (only slightly less effective than zinc oxides). Better adhesion properties than zinc oxide. Available in water dispersible and an oil dispersible versions. Recommended usage rate is generally 2-25% (~15% in eye shadow, ~10% in foundation, ~25% in blush, up to 40% in foundations/concealers). INCI: titanium dioxide

Varisoft EQ 65®
Natural, COSMOS certified cationic emulsifier derived from stearic acid and combined with cetearyl alcohol. Used for lotions, creams and body butters in which you want a less greasy and smooth skin feel, better slip and low tackiness. Imparts a dry, powdery (velvety) skin feel that is characteristic of cationic emulsifiers. Especially recommended for use in haircare products. Rinses well, increases hair volume and doesn’t weigh hair down as much as comparable products. Recommended usage rate is 0.5% fatty alcohol for every 1% of Varisoft. INCI: distearoylethyl dimonium chloride (and) cetearyl alcohol

xanthan gum
Hot or cold-water soluble anionic sugar polymer (polysaccharide) derived from the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Conditioning with non-gelling thickening properties. Enhances stability and suspension properties. Lather enhancer when combined with surfactants. May increase viscosity in the presence of electrolytes. Compatible with up to 60% alcohol, so it is an ideal thickener for making hand sanitizers. Rheological properties remain stable at a wide range of temperatures. Can act as an anti-freeze by inhibiting ice crystal growth. Add to water phase prior to heating or to pre-emulsion oil phase to avoid clumping. Recommended usage rate is 0.5-2%. In higher concentrations has a tendency to pill and may feel tacky on the skin. Works well paired with sclerotium and acacia gums (50% sclerotium, 25% xanthan, 25% acacia). Possible silicone alternative for hair care formulations. INCI: xanthan gum

COSMOS/ECOcert approved nonionic, hot process oil-in-water emulsifier derived from wheat straw. Imparts a rich, non-greasy, non-tacky skin feel. Best for higher oil concentrations (25-50%). Able to emulsify even the heavier and higher viscosity vegetable oils (including silicones). Exceptionally stable as a stand-alone emulsifier and in a wide range of pH. Sensitive to electrolytes; added salts over 0.4% may break the emulsion. Do not add more than 5% urea. Great for creams, lotions, balms, hair care and cosmetics. Recommended usage rate is 2-8%, typically 4-5% for lotions and up to 8% for heavier creams. INCI: cetearyl wheat straw glycosides (and) cetearyl alcohol

zinc ricinoleate
Oil soluble zinc salt of ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid found in castor seed oil. There is no ricin in zinc ricinoleate, because ricin is water soluble, and not present in castor seed oil. INCI: zinc ricinoleate

zinc oxide
Inert earth mineral produced from zinc ore. Slightly astringent, used as a bulking agent, pigment and anti-chafing skin protectant. Can be an opacifying agent and whitening pigment but is more translucent than titanium dioxide, which does these things more effectively. Also works as a physical UVA/UVB sunscreen. Insoluble but dispersible in water and oils. Recommended usage rate is 5-25%. INCI: zinc oxide

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Copyright © 2023 Redheaded Herbalist. All rights reserved.
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