This list of skincare terms will help you survive the beauty aisle time and time again…

The beauty world is a never-ending pit of products, and with these products come endless ingredients and buzzwords. Make sure you’re clued up on what’s what with our glossary of skincare terms we think you need to know…

Activated charcoal

If ever there was a current beauty buzzword, this would be it! You’ve probably seen this skincare term on face washes, masks and even toothpastes; activated charcoal is a form of carbon that is super absorbent, meaning it will easily soak up dirt, grim, oil (and plaque!) from your pores.


These pesky little guys are clogged pores, and get their colour from the oil, dead skin cells and air pollution that clog them. Gross. Exfoliation is your best bet at keeping them at bay.


This is a protein that is naturally found in the body, and makes skin firm, smooth and tight. At peak collagen levels, it makes up around 80% of the skin, but production slows down with age, which is why we start to get wrinkles, fine lines and saggy skin with age. Products containing ingredients like retinol can stimulate the production of collagen, which is why you’ll see them in many anti-ageing products.

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Double cleanse

The concept comes from the world of Korean beauty, where they use both a cleaning oil and water-based wash to really get in there and clean the face, removing dirt, oil, grim and all kinds of residues.

Free radicals

This term regularly flies around, as do the unstable molecules it refers to. These molecules are triggered by things like sunlight and air pollution. When they are released in the body, they damage our cells, causing dull skin, wrinkles and sagging.

Glycolic acid

You’ll find this in some creams, peels and cleansers as it is a great exfoliating acid. Glycolic acid can dissolve the sticky stuff between our cells, allowing it to loosen those dead skin cells so we can get rid of them without damaging healthy skin.

Hyaluronic acid

While this is found naturally in the skin, you’ll also find it in some pricier serums and creams – and this molecule is all about the moisture. A hyaluronic acid molecule can hold around 1000 times its weight in water, so it keeps your skin hydrated, plump and moisturised.

Related: Science says these are the best anti-ageing skincare ingredients


This is when the skin gets darker patches of discolouration (or if you’re lucky, it’s your tan!), and is basically when too much melanin – the thing that gives skin colour – is released. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by hormones (it is pretty common during pregnancy), UV rays, or even some medicines.


These are chemical preservatives that extend the shelf life of products. They are added in incredibly small amounts, and many studies conclude that they don’t pose a health threat, although there are some people who still choose to avoid them.


Retinol is an incredibly powerful ingredient used to help with fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen and stimulating cell production. You’ll need to consult with your skincare therapist and the product directions carefully for the best way to introduce and use retinol in your skincare regime. And it should not be used when pregnant.


A serum is a highly concentrated product that contains loads of active ingredients and, due to its consistency, is highly absorbable, making it a great skincare booster.