The Thrive Market Skincare Ingredient Glossary

Last Update: May 28, 2024

Do you ever feel like you need a chemistry degree to understand the labels on your favorite serum, mask, or moisturizer? We’re all for looking closely at what’s in your products, so we created this guide to popular skincare ingredients to help you shop with confidence and build a skincare regimen that’s both safe and effective. 

Don’t let the complicated-sounding chemicals scare you; all the skincare and beauty products available at Thrive Market are up to our strict quality standards, and are free of ingredients (like aluminum, mineral oil, sodium laureth sulfate, and parabens) that are thought to be potentially harmful.

Skincare Ingredient Glossary 

AHAs (Alpha hydroxy acids)

What they are: Water-soluble acids sourced from fruits and other plants 

What they do: Provide chemical exfoliation and encourage new skin cell turnover. Some of the most common AHAs used in skincare products are: 

  • Glycolic acid (most common)
  • Lactic acid
  • Citric acid

Use if you… Want to prevent breakouts, fade discoloration from scars or aging, and/or promote collagen production

Find them in: Derma E Anti-Wrinkle Glycolic Acid Cleanser, Andalou Naturals Pumpkin Honey Glycolic Mask


What they are: A group of organic compounds similar to water, but with different chemical properties that make them good for cleansing or removing oil from the skin 

What they do: Though some alcohols are too harsh for use in skincare, not all alcohols are necessarily bad for your skin; alcohols with low molecular weights are too drying and may break down surface layers of your skin, but those with high molecular weights can be beneficial (or at least neutral).

Here’s a breakdown: 

  • Alcohols to avoid in large amounts: Ethanol or ethyl alcohol (the type of alcohol skincare labels refer to when they only say “alcohol”), denatured alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol
  • Alcohols with beneficial properties: Cetyl alcohol (has emollient properties), isopropanol (acts as a mild detergent)

Use if you… Are looking for deep cleansing (from products like toners) or to improve the penetration of other products

Find them in: MyChelle Fruit Enzyme Cleanser

Aloe vera

What it is: The gel-like substance inside the aloe plant

What it does: Hydrates and soothes the skin and offers antioxidant properties

Use if you… Are looking for moisture and hydration, or to soothe sunburn and other skin irritations

Find it in: Kinfield Sunday Cooling Aloe Mist Spray


What they are: A wide category of substances, both natural and man-made, that inhibit oxidation that causes cell damage

What they do: Protect cells from damage caused by free radicals 

Use if you… Want to protect your skin from environmental pressures, such as pollution, sun damage, and aging 

Common antioxidants in skincare include: 

  • Vitamins (like Vitamin C and E)
  • Alpha lipoic acid
  • Amino acids
  • Algae 
  • Caffeine 
  • Fruit extracts

Find them in: Probulin ​​Probiotic Facial Serum, Cocokind Organic Ultra Chlorophyll Face Mask

Argan oil

What it is: An oil sourced from parts of the argan tree 

What it does: Contains fatty acids and Vitamin E and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties  

Use if you… Are looking for moisture, or to soothe irritation or breakouts

Find it in: Acure The Essentials Moroccan Argan Oil


What it is: A substance sourced from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia plant

What it does: Acts as a gentler alternative to retinol 

Use if you… Are looking to combat breakouts or signs of aging, but don’t want the often irritating side effects of retinol 

Find it in: Andalou Naturals Age Defying Rejuvenating Plant-Based Retinol Alternative

BHAs (beta hydroxy acids)

What they are: Oil-soluble acids (primarily salicylic acid)

What they do: Provide chemical exfoliation and remove dead skin cells, as well as work to remove oil trapped inside pores.

Use if you… Have acne-prone skin, sensitive skin, or are looking for gentle exfoliation

Find them in: Thayers Blemish Clearing Pads

Blue tansy

What it is: An oil extracted from the Tanacetum annuum flower 

What it does: Calms and soothes irritated skin with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties

Use if you… Have acne-prone skin, sensitive skin, or issues like dermatitis and eczema 

Find it in: Acure Seriously Soothing Blue Tansy Solid Serum, Cleo + Coco Charcoal Deodorant

Castor oil

What it is: An oil sourced from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant

What it does: Promotes hydration and reduces inflammation, thanks to high amounts of the fatty acid ricinoleic acid

Use if you… Have dry or dehydrated skin or scarring

Find it in: Aura Cacia Organic Castor Oil

CBD (cannabidiol)

What it is: One of 113 cannabinoids found in the hemp plant

What it does: Soothes skin with anti-inflammatory properties

Use if you… Have acne-prone skin, sensitive skin, or issues like dermatitis and eczema 

Find it in: Prima Night Magic CBD Botanical Treatment, 300 mg, Winged Radiance CBD Glow Facial Oil


What they are: Fatty acids found naturally in skin cells; in skincare products, only synthetic ceramides are used

What they do: Help to create a barrier for locking in moisture and protecting from environmental irritants

Use if you… Are looking for added hydration or anti-aging properties 

Find it in: Cocokind Ceramide Serum


What it is: Natural soil material that becomes hard and absorbent after drying. Common types of clay used in skincare products are bentonite and kaolin. 

What it does: Absorbs oil and reduce congestion

Use if you… Have congested skin, blemishes, or excess oil 

Find it in: Annmarie Kaolin Micro Exfoliant, f.a.e. Bentonite Clay

Coconut oil

What it is: An oil sourced from fresh or dried coconut meat 

What it does: Anti-inflammatory properties may soothe certain skin conditions, though its higher comedogenic rating may cause this oil to clog pores

Use if you… Have very dry skin that isn’t prone to breakouts 

Find it in: Cocokind Ceramide Barrier Serum


What it is: The most plentiful protein produced naturally in the body, which is responsible for skin elasticity; in skincare, collagen is sourced from animals, though vegan products are also available in the form of “collagen boosters” sourced from plants

What it does: Plumps skin and supplements the collagen that naturally diminishes as you age

Use if you… Want to smooth fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging

Find it in: Derma E Advanced Peptide & Collagen Moisturizer


What it is: A coenzyme antioxidant in animals and humans; in skincare, it is mostly obtained from animals, though vegan versions sourced from plants are available 

What it does: Energizes cell activity in the skin, which helps to stimulate collagen and reduce damage from free radicals 

Use if you… Are looking for anti-aging, more even skin tone, or to reverse sun damage 

Find it in: Garden of Life Raw CoQ10


What it is: A clear liquid sourced from palm, coconut, or similar oils

What it does: Used in moisturizers and similar products to smooth the skin 

Use if you… Need extra hydration and moisturization 

Find it in: Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream, Ursa Major 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic

Hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate)

What it is: A substance produced naturally by the human body; in skincare, it is synthetically sourced to replace the skin’s natural hyaluronic acid

What it does: Holds large amounts of moisture in the skin, which often diminishes with aging 

Use if you… Are looking for extra hydration, improved elasticity, or to smooth fine lines 

Find it in: Earth Science Hyaluronic Acid Serum


What it is: An extract sourced from the leaves, flowers, and bark of the neem tree 

What it does: Delivers fatty acids and other nutrients to skin to treat breakouts, promote collagen production, and treat dry skin 

Use if you… Have dry or aging skin, or to combat breakouts 

Find it in: Province Apothecary Clear Skin Advanced Spot Concentrate, Alaffia Neem Turmeric Cleanser


What it is: A type of Vitamin B3 

What it does: Stabilizes skin barrier, improves skin surface texture, and offers anti-inflammatory properties 

Use if you… Are prone to breakouts or eczema 

Find it in: Earth Science Azulene Eye Cream


What they are: Short chains of amino acids that make up the structure of cells

What they do: Combat collagen loss due to aging, as peptides make up natural collagen in the skin 

Use if you… Are concerned with collagen loss or signs of aging

Find them in: Derma E Advanced Peptide & Collagen Moisturizer


What it is: A specific type of retinoid, which comes from Vitamin A 

What it does: One of the most commonly used products for anti-aging because it deeply penetrates the skin’s layers to promote cell turnover and prevent collagen breakdown 

Use if you… Have aging or breakout-prone skin 

Rosehip oil

What it is: An oil sourced from the fruit and seeds of the rosa canina rose bush

What it does: Fatty acids, Vitamins A and C, and polyphenols and anthocyanin may help reduce inflammation and target signs of aging

Use if you… Have sensitive or aging skin that needs extra moisture 

Find it in: f.a.e by Thrive Market Organic Rosehip Oil

Shea butter 

What it is: A fat extracted from the nuts of the shea tree 

What it does: Smooths and reduces irritation in skin, as well as provides antifungal properties

Use if you… Need extra moisture, are experiencing redness or irritation, and/or have breakout-prone skin (shea butter is non-comedogenic) 

Find it in: Alaffia Pure Fair Trade Shea Butter


What they are: Synthetic emulsifiers and thickening agents that typically end in “-cone”

What they do: Create a protective barrier over the skin

Use if you… Want to reducing the appearance of scarring, to lock in moisture or other active ingredients

Squalane / squalene 

What it is: Squalene is a substance produced naturally by the oil glands in skin to maintain hydration, though it isn’t very stable when produced in bottled form; in skincare, squalene is hydrogenated to turn it into squalane, a more stable form

What it does: Hydrates skin 

Use if you… Want to plump and hydrate skin and to minimize fine lines 

Find it in: MyChelle Deep Repair Cream

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

What it is: A water-soluble vitamin that is found naturally in bones, skin, muscles; in skincare, it can be sourced from fruits and other plants 

What it does: May help lighten hyperpigmentation and reduce fine lines and other signs of aging 

Use if you… Have dull skin, hyperpigmentation, or scarring, and/or are concerned with combatting signs of aging 

Find it in: Ursa Major ​​Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum, Andalou Naturals Turmeric & C Enlighten Serum

Witch hazel

What it is: An astringent sourced from the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana shrub

What it does: Eases inflammation and soothes sensitive skin 

Use if you… Are looking for a natural toner to cleanse and smooth the skin 

Find it in: Thayer’s Witch Hazel Astringent

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Share this article

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

Download the app for easy shopping on the go

By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive marketing text messages from Thrive Market. Consent not a condition to purchase. Msg & data rates apply. Msg frequency varies. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel.

If you are visually-impaired and having difficulty with our website, call us at 1‑855‑997‑2315

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

© Thrive Market 2024 All rights reserved.