The best ingredients to look out for before you buy a beauty product

Find beauty labels difficult to decipher? Rachel Marie Walsh reveals the extracts she likes in beauty products.

Flowers have a language all their own, thanks to the Victorians’ issues with emotional repression, and this must have resulted in all manner of miscommunications.

Say what you like about our stilted techno-exchanges: a bouquet of peonies (which could denote shame, romance, shyness or family honour) was surely more frustrating than an emoji-based text.

Cosmetic ingredients lists can be just as confusing, packed with words (usually Latin) that bear little or no resemblance to the great extracts we seek. A Vitamin C serum, for example, helps brighten winter-dull skin.

When you check the packaging to see if the formula contains as much as the brand promises (ingredients are listed in descending order of concentration), however, you won’t be able to tell without understanding that in beauty-ese Vitamin C is ascorbic acid… or sometimes ascorbyl palmitate or ascorbyl stearate.

Retinol is so widely used now that most of us know it is Vitamin A, but how about tocopherol (Vitamin E)? Or astaxanthin extract (a carotenoid and potent antioxidant)? 

Choosing the right products for your skin is hard enough without having to check their contents in a dictionary. And such a dictionary does exist. 

These exotic names are part of an international nomenclature, the Inventory of Cosmetics Ingredients, which aims to provide consistency and transparency to consumers through ingredients identified by a single name, regardless of the product’s national origin (this is actually nice, why should English be beauty’s first language?).

The Inventory’s handbook contains more than 16,000 ingredients names for the US, the EU, China, Japan and many other countries.

Ingredients are freely searchable at and, and once you are familiar with commonly-used ingredients it is easier to recognise the slightly-altered names of their compounds and chemical cousins.

Skincare is not so different from brand to brand, and often the latest thing is simply established ingredients in a new combination.

Some ingredients really are rarely used, and below are products that make ample use of extracts I like but don’t often come across.

Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin)

Nude Skincare ProGenius Omega Treatment Oil, €76

I did go on about black cumin before, when I reviewed Sunday Riley’s excellent Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil, €80 at SpaceNK, but it has such a wonderful effect on eczema and other atopic conditions that it deserves a second shout-out.

Black cumin is an anti-inflammatory and helps to calm aggravated patches. It is also proactive in healing and repairing the weakened moisture barrier that leaves eczema-sufferers so vulnerable to environmental aggressors. 

Nude backs it up with other comforting antioxidants like sweet almond, apricot and jojoba. This oil is extremely rich and a little goes a long way.

The price is off-putting but you can buy bottles of pure black cumin oil cheaply and mix a few drops with your moisturiser (or barrier cream, if you use one every few hours on your eczema). Try Fushi Black Cumin Organic Oil,€13.31 at

Centaurea Cyanus (Cornflower)

Niod Voicemail Masque, €35.10 at 

The best ingredients to look out for before you buy a beauty product

Cornflower is both the prettiest shade of blue and a potent anti-inflammatory. You may have noticed it’s used in eye drops, as it is safe for super-sensitive areas.

Cornflower water is a gentle antioxidant that reduces redness. In skincare it usually enriches eye creams (which are a waste of money, unless you have combination skin and your eye area is texturally different from the rest of your face), so I am very pleased to see it in Niod’s overnight mask.

Note that this treatment is called ‘Voicemail’ because its two product developers kept missing one another’s calls while working on it.

As the mask’s purpose is to remedy impaired skin-cellular communication, they thought the name fit. 

It seeks to replenish skin by backing up the star ingredient with hyaluronic acids and several antioxidant plant-extracts. This mask is too emollient for oily/ combination skin, but leaves normal-to-dry types radiant.

Epigallocatechin Gallate (Tea Catechin)

Korres Black Pine Firming, Lifting & Antiwrinkle Serum, €47 at 

The best ingredients to look out for before you buy a beauty product

Oily types can benefit from this lotion-like serum. Epigallocatechin Gallate is an active element of black, green and white tea. A potent antioxidant, it has soothing and reparative benefits for your skin whether you drink it or apply it topically.

While this product cannot literally ‘lift’ the skin, Korres uses peptides that support fresh collagen development, as well as lightweight water-binding ingredients that diminish the appearance of fine lines. The formula is mildly fragranced, which may irritate very sensitive skin.

Curculigo Orchioides Root (Golden-Eye Grass)

Hylamide Booster Sensitive Fix Advanced Calming Complex, €24.99 at 

The gentle antioxidant powers of golden-eye grass help reduce sensitivity and redness. 

Its effects are similar to that of turmeric (another pacifying free-radical fighter) and this serum compounds them with hyaluronic acid, hibiscus and tamarindus indica seed, another rare ally in skincare’s war on free radicals. The formula is water-light and suits all skin types.

Dry skin will requires an extra rich moisturiser or facial oil, but this is a hero product for rosacea sufferers looking to calm their complexion before applying makeup.

Aleurites Moluccana Seed (Candlenut)

PerriconeMD Chia Serum, €80

The best ingredients to look out for before you buy a beauty product

Chia is not the most prevalent ingredient in this serum, but this is often the case with product names. What chia it has is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids ( alpha-linolenic acid). 

Like all fatty acids, which supports skin’s natural moisture barrier and feels very comforting. Perricone’s backs it up with lots of excellent antioxidant extracts, including candlenut oil.

This is frequently used in deep-conditioning hair treatments and with good reason, as it is extremely emollient and comprised of three essential fatty-acids. 

It has a calming effect on skin and combined with meadowfoam seed oil, another major ingredient, imparts radiance and a temporarily plumped appearance. I suggest using it as an alternative to silicone-heavy primers if you have extremely dry skin.


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