A Glossary Of Popular Skincare Words And What They Actually Mean

Peptides, antioxidants, AHA and the vitamins explained.
Now you'll know what it means when you see #biodynamic and #actives on Instagram.
Now you'll know what it means when you see #biodynamic and #actives on Instagram.

Serums burst onto the mainstream beauty scene around a decade ago, though it's only now that people are really getting their head around what they do and how they fit into their skincare routine (before face cream, if you're still not sure).

So now you'll have seen that serums (and cleansers, moisturisers and any skincare product, really) feature fancy buzzwords like antioxidants, peptides and a whole plethora of other vitamins and acids on the packaging, which can make the whole skincare routine even more confusing.

To help you pick the right products for your complexion we've compiled a glossary of popular buzzwords and what they mean.


"Actives refers to the key ingredients in a product. These main ingredients are what provide the benefits to the skin, such as hydrating, soothing and firming properties," Kim Thomasson, Education Manager, Comfort Zone (Australia) told The Huffington Post Australia.

Thomasson is a qualified beauty therapist with more than 25 years industry experience, so she's seen a lot of buzzwords come, and some go. Comfort Zone is an Italian skincare brand based on science with a cult following, and is now available in Australia.


"Free radicals are aggressors such as smoking, pollution, stress and the sun. They have an ageing affect on our skin. Using skincare products that contain antioxidants protects the skin against free radicals, slowing down the ageing process," Thomasson said.


"Our skin is exposed to daily pollution, climatic conditions, sun exposure and sometimes illness, and this often leads to the skin appearing dull or uneven. Skincare products with a brightening effect remove dullness and pigmentation, brightening the skin's complexion," Thomasson said.

Another term used is 'whitening', though these products essentially perform the same task (and don't bleach the skin, contrary to some beliefs).

Hyaluronic Acid

This ingredient is able to hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water and has been called 'the fountain of youth'. It is most often found in serums and face creams.

"Hyaluronic acid is found in abundance in the skin when we are young and is responsible for keeping our skin hydrated, smooth and plump. As you get older it is essential to use products that contain hyaluronic acid to create a more youthful complexion, assisting with smoothing and plumping the skin," Thomasson said.

Glycolic Acid

"Glycolic acids can be obtained from many sources such as natural sugar cane, apples, milk, citrus fruits. When used on the skin it dissolves the bonds that hold our dead skin cells together, creating an exfoliating action, leaving the skin hydrated, soft, smooth and supple," Thomasson said.

It is most often found in cleansers and face washes.


These two types of acid are used for chemical exfoliation. They are most often found in face washes or liquid wipes, sheet masks and sometimes serums.

"AHA stands for 'alpha hydroxy acid' and it is found naturally in the form of sugar cane, milk, apples and citrus fruits. BHA stands for 'beta hydroxy acid' that can be found naturally in algae and willow bark. With different size structures, these acids work topically and deeper in the skin, dissolving the bonds that hold our skin cells together, hence exfoliating the skin and leaving the skin feeling smooth, soft and supple," Thomasson said.

Vitamin A

"When Vitamin A is used on the skin it treats a number of conditions such as fine lines and ageing as well as pigmentation. Products that contain vitamin A encourage skin cells to behave in a more youthful state, leaving the skin feeling refreshed and smooth," Thomasson said.

A word of warning, though. Products containing vitamin A (or Retinol) are often quote strong, so it's wise to start slow. Use them every second night but never in the day as they make your skin more susceptible to damage from UV rays. It is most often found in serums.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has a similar effect on the skin to vitamin A. It is most often found in serums ans creams.

"Vitamin C has high antioxidant properties and stimulates collagen production, providing a rejuvenating and brightening benefit to the skin. Skincare products that contain vitamin C protect against ageing and discolouration of the skin," Thomasson said.


"Biodynamic ingredient formulations are made from organic ingredients while also being in tune with nature," Thomasson said.

In addition to being organic, these ingredients are harvested in a particular way according to the tide and lunar calendar.


"When a product states it is non-comedogenic it refers to the formulation not having a clogging effect on the skin, therefore assisting in the prevention of pimples, whiteheads and blackheads," Thomasson said.


Peptides are molecules containing amino acids, and amino acids make up a large proportion of the cells in our body.

"Peptides are anti-ageing heroes, when used in skincare products they reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," Thomasson said.