Norwood Clinic:

Terminology of Skincare

Have you ever been reading an article and they start throwing in ingredients and skincare terminology that you’ve never heard of? Well worry no more, we’re giving you a breakdown, explaining all the keywords and phrases you need to know.


A condition is ‘acute’ when is has arisen suddenly and manifested with intense severity.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

Water-soluble acids found in nature or synthesized in the laboratory. The most common AHAs used in the cosmetic industry are glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid.

Anticipated Reactions

Initial skin reactions associated with certain products indicating a normal response. These reactions include redness, dryness, itching, stinging, burning, irritation, flaking, and peeling.

Barrier Function

A key sign of skin health, as skin with a compromised barrier, will become dehydrated and function less effectively. Skin with a healthy barrier experiences a reduced rate of surface moisture loss, or transepidermal water loss (TEWL).

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

An optimal, oil soluble exfoliant for oily, acne-prone skin.


A common term for “open comedones” or non-inflammatory acne.


A family of waxy lipid molecules composed of sphingosine and a fatty acid. Ceramides are found in high concentrations within the cell membrane and comprise the bulk of the lipid layer, which holds the skin’s cells together in a firm, smooth structure. They maintain the moisture-retention ability of the skin. A decrease in the level of ceramides results in the skin becoming dry and hard, leading to fine lines and wrinkles and an impaired barrier function.


The main component of connective tissue and the most abundant protein in humans, comprising of 25-35% of the body’s protein content. Fibroblast cells create collagen, a key protein component that gives skin its structural firmness.


A clogged hair follicle (pore) in the skin. Keratin combines with oil to block the follicle. A comedone can be open (blackhead) or closed by skin (whitehead).


A closed, encapsulated pocket of fluid deep in the dermis.

Dehydrated Skin

Skin that has lost water.

Dermal Stabilization

An essential component of the ZO® Skin Health Principles™, the purpose of which is to increase skin’s tolerance and resistance to damaging factors that cause skin ageing. In dermal stabilization, the primary concerns are the epidermis, papillary dermis, circulation, collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans.

Disease-Specific Agent

A topical product recommended in treatment protocols when addressing a skin disease or disorder such as acne, rosacea, etc.

Dry Skin

Known as xerosis cutis lacks both oil (skin lipids) and water. Has multiple causes, including barrier function imbalances that result in increased trans-epidermal water loss leading to skin dehydration. Climatic factors such as dry, arid conditions and wind can also cause skin dryness.


Protein that accounts for the elasticity of the skin. Elastin functions in connective tissue together with collagen. Whereas collagen provides rigidity to connective tissue, elastin allows many tissues in the body to resume their shape after stretching or contracting.


A complex mixture of agents specially designed to make the external layers of the skin (epidermis) softer and more pliable. They increase the skin’s hydration (water content) by reducing evaporation.

Epidermal Stabilization

An essential component of the ZO® Skin Health Principles™, the purpose of which is to increase skin’s tolerance and resistance to damaging factors that cause skin ageing. In epidermal stabilization, the primary concerns are the epidermis and its disorders.


The outer, nonvascular, non-sensitive layer of the skin. Protects the body from foreign substances entering the skin and water loss from the skin.


Redness of the skin or mucous membranes.


Ingredients used for physical and chemical exfoliation of the stratum corneum.

Fractionated Melanin

A compound designed to be used topically as an additional defense. It absorbs from the blue-violet region of the visible light spectrum shielding the skin from cell damaging highenergy visible light (HEV).

Free Radicals

An atom or group of atoms with at least one unpaired electron and is therefore, unstable and highly reactive. In animal tissues, free radicals can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases. Free radicals can be produced by sunlight, toxins, cigarette smoke, air pollution and stress.

Glycolic Acid

An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), originally derived from sugar cane but later successfully synthesized. It has the lowest molecular weight of all the AHAs, allowing it to penetrate more deeply. Performs multiple functions when used in skincare products. Medical studies have proven its effectiveness in treating fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and photo-damaged skin.

Growth Factors

Substances that are capable of stimulating cellular maturation, proliferation and cellular differentiation.

High-Energy Visible (HEV) Light

A form of light believed to cause long-term skin damage as significant as UVA and UVB combined. HEV damage is insidious and long-term. While there may be no immediate signs such as redness or swelling, repeated exposure over time can lead to premature aging and even cancer.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

Boosts skin’s moisture content and helps prevent moisture loss. Found in high concentrations in the skin, hyaluronic acid provides continuous moisture to the skin by binding up to 1,000 times its weight in water.


A skin-bleaching agent that inhibits the production of melanin. It is used for lightening melasma, freckles, age spots and other skin hyperpigmentation concerns.


Darkening of an area of skin caused by increased melanin production.


A protective attempt by an organism to remove injurious stimuli such as pathogens, damaged cells or irritants followed by the initiation of the healing process. While acute inflammation is essential, chronic inflammation is damaging. It causes cellular dysfunction, alteration of skin texture, true sensitivity, dyschromia, poor response to treatment, poor healing, and accelerated ageing.

Jojoba Esters

The hydrogenation product of jojoba oil. Jojoba esters are commonly used as emollients due to their remarkable similarity to the natural oils produced by the human skin and its high oxidative stability.


Skin debris

Lactic Acid

Member of the alpha hydroxy acid family. Naturally derived from sour or fermented milk. The commercial production of lactic acid is typically done by the traditional fermentation of natural carbohydrates. Commonly used in skincare to hydrate and improve skin textures. Lactic acid promotes exfoliation of the outer-surface of the skin by breaking down the desmosome bonds that hold skin cells together.


Small spherical vesicle consisting of a phospholipid bilayer. Liposomes are used as vehicles for active ingredients. Because the liposome wall is very similar to the cell membrane, liposomes can effectively transport and deliver active ingredients into the skin.


A dark brown to black pigment produced by cells in the skin known as melanocytes. It gives color (pigment) to hair, skin and iris of the eyes and also helps protect the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.


Melanin-producing cells located in the basal layer of the skin’s epidermis.

Natural Skin Cycle

The time it takes for keratinocytes to form, mature, and exfoliate from the stratum corneum (on average, six weeks).

Natural Skin Exfoliation

The independent shedding of dead cells from skin surface that allows epidermal renewal and activity.


Solid, raised areas in or under the skin that are larger than 0.5 centimeters.

Optical Diffusers

Cosmetic powders that work by combining light emission and visible-light scattering properties. The emitted light illuminates shadowed areas of wrinkles while the light diffusion aids in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and other skin imperfections.


A solid raised lesion that has distinct borders and is less than one centimeter in diameter. A papule has distinct borders and it can appear in a variety of shapes.


A chemical compound containing two or more amino acids coupled by a peptide bond. Peptides can serve as messengers to stimulate specific cellular activity.


The ageing process of the skin attributed to continuous, long-term exposure to ultraviolet light.


Small, inflamed bumps on the skin filled with fluid or puss.


Any natural or synthetic form of vitamin A.


One of several forms of vitamin A. It is converted to other forms of vitamin A, such as retinal (retinaldehyde) and retinoic acid. When applied topically, retinol is converted into retinoic acid, which is the form of vitamin A that is needed to stimulate biological activity. Retinol promotes exfoliation and epidermal renewal, stimulates collagen synthesis and helps even skin tone.

Rosacea (Acne Rosacea)

A chronic inflammatory condition located at the “flush” areas of the face such as nose, cheeks, chin and forehead. May cause redness, prominent blood vessels, swelling or hyperplasia (increase in size of the tissue). Also, may present with papules and pustules associated with acne.

Salicylic Acid

This beta hydroxy acid is an effective keratolytic (exfoliant) and is known for its antimicrobial effects. Unlike alpha hydroxy acids, salicylic acid can penetrate into the pore, which makes it an excellent choice for acne treatment. It is a derivative of aspirin and also provides anti-inflammatory properties.


An essential component of the ZO® Skin Health Principles™, the purpose of which is to increase skin’s tolerance and resistance to damaging factors.


A mineral found abundantly in sandstone, clay, glass and granite, as well as in parts of plants and animals. In cosmetics it is used as an absorbent powder and thickening agent.


Derived from a natural substance called silica (basic sand). Silicone’s unique properties provide a smooth application and a silky feel on the skin. It fills in uneven texture and fine lines, which helps create a smooth and flawless look. Silicones also provide a protective cover on skin, which can help skin retain moisture and stay hydrated.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

A sunscreen rating scale indicating how much time one can expose their skin to the sun before burning.


Ultraviolet rays responsible for the signs of aging because they are able to penetrate deep into the surface of the skin, damaging the cells beneath. The wavelength of UVA rays is 320-400 nm.


Ultraviolet rays responsible for sunburns. These burning rays are most linked to the formation of skin cancer. The wavelength of UVB rays is 280-320 nm.

Vitamin A

A group of unsaturated nutritional organic compounds that includes retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and several provitamin A carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Vitamin A is essential in skin health restoration. It helps promote exfoliation and epidermal renewal, stimulates the production of collagen and helps even skin tone.

Vitamin E

Also known as tocopherol, vitamin E is a very effective lipid-based antioxidant. Helps to remove free radicals and ensures that oxidative damage is decreased by disrupting the chain reaction caused by the free radicals. In addition to its antioxidant properties, vitamin E helps to hydrate the skin and promote healthy skin repair.