Antioxidant: is a molecule that inhibits, or stops, the oxidation of other molecules. They occur naturally in plants, animals and plant based foods like vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate. Our own bodies also naturally produce a complex system of antioxidants to combat oxidation or the chemical reactions that create free radicals.
Emollients: are waxy lubricating agents that contain a mixture of compounds used to soften, smooth and hydrate the skin. They also contain occlusive properties, meaning they provide a layer of protection which helps prevent water loss. There are a variety of emollient ingredients including plant oils, mineral oils, shea butter, cocoa butter, triglycerides, stearates and fatty acids like lanolin.
Emulsifier: are substances that stabilize or prevent emulsions from separating, like the combination of oil and water.
Free radicals: are ions or molecules that have an unpaired electron which causes them to be highly chemically reactive towards other substances, including our skin cells. They attach and bind themselves to other molecules which changes the chemical structure and results in damage or destruction of the original molecule.
Thankfully, we’ve evolved to create important defenses (i.e. antioxidants) to protect our cells and especially our DNA from free radicals.
Humectant: is a substance that attracts water molecules (usually from the deeper layers, like the dermis), to the epidermis or upper layer of the skin. By doing so, it prevents dryness and maintains the skin’s suppleness.
One of the most well-known humectants is glycerin which naturally occurs in all lipids (i.e. fats), including our own skin. Note that a lot of humectants have emollient properties, while not all emollients have humectant properties. A combination of the two make for the best moisturizers.
Sebum: is a complex oily mixture of glycerides, fatty acids, wax, squalene and cholesterol that’s produced by the sebaceous glands. Except on our palms and soles, these glands are found all over our body with the highest concentration found on our back, forehead and chin (around 2,600 to 5,800 sebaceous glands per square inch).
Sebum is vital to our skins health. It provides a layer of protection from bacteria and fungi as well as reducing water loss from the inside but also providing a waterproof shield from the outside. We need just the right amount of sebum for optimal protection, however, too much can lead to clogged pores and eventually acne.
Polyphenols (also known as phenolics): are naturally occurring phytochemicals or micronutrients that are found abundantly in fruit, vegetables, red wine, tea, plant oils to name but a few. They influence and contribute to the bitterness, astringency, color, flavor, odor and oxidative stability of the food or liquid.
Phytochemicals are important because they have potent antioxidant properties which helps protect cells from free radicals.
They also have a range of other positive biological effects like inhibiting angiogenesis (growth of blood vessels that feed tumors), reducing inflammation and promoting normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels.