From hyaluronic acid to vegan and vitamin C, we’ve complied together a comprehensive glossary of all the skincare terminology you need to know, so the next time you’re perusing the shopping aisle, you’ll know exactly what buzzwords to look for.
When it comes to finding the right skincare products, it can be a bit of a minefield trying to decipher what a product is for and what ingredient does what. It’s incredibly important to understand what goes in what, as products are designed with specific formulas and are intended to be used for different purposes. From hyaluronic acid to retinol, the key to the right skincare routine is to understand your skin type and identify what works best for you. So, in order to find something that truly caters towards your skin type, we’ve put together a skincare glossary to help you decode key buzzwords and terminology that’s often found on the label of a bottle.

Alcohol free

Alcohol free products don’t contain any harmful alcohols like ethanol/ethyl acid and alcohol denat, which can damage the skin. Toners often contain a high concentration of drying alcohol, so look for products like Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal-Extract Alcohol Free Toner as it’s free of toxic ingredients and works to gently soothe and revitalise skin with pure extracts and whole flowers.


This is skincare that’s formulated specifically to protect the skin against the four major sources of air pollution: industrial pollution, exhaust fumes, household activities and cigarette smoke. Clarins’ UV Plus Anti-Pollution Day Screen Multi Protection SPF 50 is a moisturiser designed to be worn in cities, and provides all-day protection against UV rays, free radicals and pollutant particles.

Cruelty free

Anything with cruelty free on means that it’s a product that’s hasn’t been tested on animals during the production process. Chantecaille’s entire range is cruelty free, and the brand’s Gold Recovery Mask is a hero product that’s powered with blackcurrant seed oil and infused with 24kt gold to intensively tighten and firm skin.

Hyaluronic Acid

This acid is a sugar molecule which increases the skin’s moisture content and is used in skincare products to hydrate and replenish. It’s harnessed in The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, which is a daily treatment designed to penetrate the skin’s layers and enrich a radiant, glowing complexion. Use it before applying your moisturiser.


Natural products are purely derived of plants and botanical extracts. Omorovicza’s legendary Queen of Hungary Mist is a natural product that refreshes tired skin with a sweet neroli and rose scent. Spritz it onto the skin as a post-cleanse toner.


These are products that contain naturally sourced ingredients that are grown without genetic modification or chemical fertilisers. An organic skincare pioneer, Dr Hauschka’s Daily Hydrating Eye Cream is blended with pineapple, marshmallow and calendula to revive and nourish the delicate eye area.

Paraben free

Parabens are a preservative that’s typically used in food or cosmetics to prolong the shelf life of a product by preventing the growth of bacteria and mould, but have harmful effects on the skin and environment. They are labelled on products in their scientific term; bultylpareben, methylparaben and propylparaben are the most common ones to look for. Paraben free therefore refers to products that are formulated without parabens, like Clinique’s iconic Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, which balances moisture levels and provides rich lasting hydration.


Retinol (a.k.a vitamin A) is used to stimulate the renewal of cells, and is often found in anti-aging products. Shiseido’s Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Eye Mask is infused with pure retinol micro-infusion technology to reduce the appearance of wrinkles for a refined appearance around the eyes.

Salicylic Acid

Also known as BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acid), Salicylic Acid provides the skin with anti-inflammatory action and dissolves the substance that causes skin cells to stick together, making it highly effective for targeting breakouts and acne. Dermalogica’s innovation, Age Bright Spot Fader is a two-in-one spot treatment that utilises salicylic acid to clear away breakouts and any marks left behind. Bonus, everything from Dermalogica is cruelty free.

Sulphate Free

Sulphates are detergents or surfactants that are commonly used in shampoo, body wash, cleanser and toothpaste to create a lather to remove dirt and oil. However, they can cause varying levels of skin and eye irritation. BIOEFFECT's EGF Serum is a sulphate free product that harnesses EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) to increase skin thickness and enhance smoothness.


This refers to products that don’t contain any animal or animal-derived ingredients. Refreshing and suitable for the most sensitive of skin, Caudalie's Micellar Cleansing Water is a vegan formula composed of natural ingredients that gently removes make-up and cleanses skin in one step.

Vitamin C

Considered by many as a miracle skincare ingredient, it’s an antioxidant that strengthens collagen synthesis and enhances radiance in skin. Lancer Skincare’s Advanced C Radiance Cream is a smooth, water-free moisturiser that’s formulated with vitamin C and retinol to brighten skin tone and reduce any signs of UV damage.