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Rating Ingredient
Good

saccharide isomerate

Good water-binding agent and emollient for skin.

Best

saccharides

Categories: Skin-Replenishing
Average

Saccharomyces calcium ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of calcium ions. It has no known benefit for skin.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Average

Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Saccharomyces, from the Latin, literally means “sugar fungus,” and is the scientific name for the...

Categories: Skin-Replenishing
Average

Saccharomyces copper ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of copper ions. There is no known benefit for skin,...

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Saccharomyces iron ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of iron ions.

Categories: Antioxidants
Good

Saccharomyces lysate

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Saccharomyces magnesium ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of magnesium ions.

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Saccharomyces manganese ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of manganese ions.

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Saccharomyces officinarum ferment

Derived from the sugarcane plant. Glycolic acid is also derived from sugarcane, but sugarcane...

Categories: Plant Extracts
Average

Saccharomyces potassium ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of potassium ions.

Categories: Antioxidants
Good

saccharomyces selenium ferment

An ingredient created by the fermentation of the Saccharomyces yeast with the mineral selenium.

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Saccharomyces silicon ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of silicon ions.

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Saccharomyces zinc ferment

Extract of yeast fermented in the presence of zinc ions.

Categories: Antioxidants
Best

safflower seed oil

Emollient oil derived from the safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) plant.

Average

sage extract

Plant used most often to enhance the flavor of foods. Like all plant extracts, sage...

Good

salicin

Best

salicylic acid

Also called beta hydroxy acid (BHA), this multifunctional ingredient addresses many of the systemic causes of acne.

Good

Salix alba extract

Good

Salix nigra (willow) bark extract

Best

Salvia hispanica (chia) seed oil

Non-fragrant plant oil whose seeds are a rich source of fatty acids...

Poor

Salvia officinalis

Good

Sambucus canadensis

Good

Sambucus cerulea

Blue elderberry. May have antioxidant properties for skin.

Good

Sambucus nigra

When taken orally, this has antioxidant properties (Source: Journal of Agricultural Food...

Good

Sambucus nigra fruit extract

When taken orally, this has antioxidant properties (Source: Journal of Agricultural Food...

Poor

sandalwood oil

Fragrant oil that can cause skin-sensitizing reactions...

Average

Santalum album seed extract

Latin name for sandalwood extract, which is used in cosmetics as a fragrance. It can have...

Good

Sapindus mukurossi peel extract

A plant extract that is a natural source of saponin...

Good

Saponaria officinalis extract

Good

saponin

Group of natural carbohydrates, found in plants, that have considerable potential...

Good

sarcosine

A synthetic amino acid derivative that functions as a skin conditioning...

Categories: Hydration
Good

Sargassum filipendula extract

Poor

sausurrea oil

Also called costus oil. Volatile oil and fragrant component used in cosmetics; it can be a skin...

Average

Saxifraga sarmentosa extract

Categories: Plant Extracts
Poor

sclareolide

Fermented from clary sage and used as a fragrant component in cosmetics.

Best

Sclerocarya birrea

More commonly known as marula oil, Sclerocarya birrea oil is a non-fragrant plant oil that's a rich source...

Good

sclerotium gum

Used as a thickening agent in cosmetics.

Good

Scutellaria baicalensis extract

Poor

SD alcohol

Categories: Sensitizing
Poor

SD alcohol 40-2

Denatured alcohol used as a solvent. It can be drying and sensitizing to skin when one of the main...

Categories: Sensitizing
Good

sea buckthorn

Berry extract that grows on a shrub-like tree. Sea buckthorn is believed to have several topical...

Good

Seamollient

Trade name for an algae extract.

Average

sea salt

Can be effective as a topical scrub, but if left on skin it can increase skin sensitivity to UVB...

Categories: Scrub Agents, Sensitizing
Good

seaweed

Group of sea plants (scientific name: algae) of all sizes and shapes, and having a gelatin-like...

Best

sea whip extract

Extract from a creature that inhabits coral reefs, known for its soothing properties...

Categories: Skin-Soothing
Good

sebacic acid

Used as a pH adjuster.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Best

selenium

Mineral considered to be a potent antioxidant...

Categories: Antioxidants
Average

Serenoa serrulata extract

Good

sericin

Scientific name for silk protein.

Good

serine

Good

sesame oil

Emollient oil similar to other nonfragrant plant oils.

Categories: Plant Extracts, Emollients
Good

Sesamum indicum

Categories: Plant Extracts, Emollients
Good

sesquioleate

Used in cosmetics as a thickening agent and emollient.

Best

shea butter

Shea butter is a plant lipid extracted from the karite tree that is used as an emollient in cosmetics.

Categories: Plant Extracts, Emollients
Average

Siegesbeckia orientalis

Chinese herb (also known as St. Paul’s wort) for which there is no research showing that it has any...

Categories: Plant Extracts
Good

silanetriol

Categories: Uncategorized
Good

silica

Mineral found abundantly in sandstone, clay, and granite, as well as in parts of plants and...

Good

silica dimethyl silylate

Used as a slip and suspending agent.

Categories: Silicones, Slip Agents
Good

silicate

Inorganic salt that has potent absorbing and thickening properties.

Good

silicone

Substance derived from silica (sand is a silica). The unique fluid properties of silicone give it a...

Good

silk

Categories: Antioxidants
Good

silk powder

Synthetically derived powder used as an absorbent and slip agent.

Categories: Absorbent, Slip Agents
Good

silk protein

Protein substance (also called sericin) formed by converting silk, which is the soft, lustrous...

Categories: Antioxidants
Good

siloxane

Good

silt

A sediment obtained from various bodies of water. Silt’s absorbent nature helps it function to...

Categories: Absorbent
Poor

silver

Metallic element that in cosmetics can have disinfecting properties; however, prolonged contact can...

Categories: Sensitizing
Average

silver chloride

An inorganic salt that has no known function in cosmetics.

Categories: Sensitizing
Best

silver tip white tea leaf extract

Best

Silybum marianum extract

Good

simethicone

Mixture of dimethicone with silica; related to silicones, but used as an antifoaming agent.

Categories: Silicones, Slip Agents
Best

Simmondsia chinensis

Best

skin-replenishing ingredients

These are skincare ingredients that help enrich skin’s surface, drenching it with revitalizing hydration and keeping it there.

Categories: Skin-Replenishing
Best

skin-restoring ingredients

Skincare ingredients that nourish skin’s surface in a way that helps transform it on many levels...

Good

skullcap extract

Herbal extract from Scutellaria baicalensis that has antioxidant soothing properties...

Good

slip agent

Term used to describe a range of ingredients that help other ingredients spread over the skin and...

Categories: Slip Agents
Good

slippery elm bark

Can be a skin-soothing ingredient.

Poor

soap

True “soaps” are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and are not required to list...

Good

soapberry extract

Extract from the tree Sapindus saponaria. The berries contain a good amount of Saponins.

Good

soapwort

Plant from which is derived an extract with detergent cleansing properties.

Good

sodium acetate

The sodium salt derived from acetic acid, it serves as a buffering agent when used in small amounts.

Categories: Uncategorized
Good

sodium acrylate/acryloydimethyl taurate copolymer

Synthetic polymer used as a stabilizing and suspending agent and as a thickening agent.

Best

sodium ascorbate

Categories: Antioxidants, Vitamins
Best

sodium ascorbyl phosphate

Stable, water-soluble form of vitamin C that functions as an antioxidant...

Good

sodium benzoate

Salt of benzoic acid used as a preservative.

Categories: Preservatives
Good

sodium bicarbonate

A synthetic inorganic salt more commonly known as baking soda. It has many functions in cosmetics, including pH adjuster, buffering agent, and abrasive, such as in face or body scrubs.

Average

sodium bisulfite

Used in acid-type permanent waves to alter the shape of hair. It is less damaging than alkaline...

Categories: Sensitizing
Poor

sodium borate

Categories: Sensitizing
Poor

sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate

Can be derived from coconut. Used primarily as a detergent cleansing agent, but is potentially...

Good

sodium carbomer

A blend of sodium (salt) and carbomer that functions as a stabilizer and film-forming agent.

Poor

sodium carbonate

Absorbent salt used in cosmetics; it can also be a skin sensitizer.

Categories: Absorbent, Sensitizing
Good

sodium carboxymethyl beta-glucan

A carbohydrate ingredient with a gel-like texture, it functions as a binding agent and texture...

Good

sodium cetearyl sulfate

A mixture of stearyl and cetyl sulfate that funtions as a surfactant.

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium chloride

More popularly known as common table salt. Used primarily as a binding agent in skincare products...

Categories: Scrub Agents
Best

sodium chondroitin sulfate

Derived from natural mucopolysaccharides, it functions as a skin-softening agent and helps...

Categories: Skin-Replenishing
Good

sodium citrate

Used primarily to control the pH level of a product, this ingredient also has antioxidant and...

Good

sodium cocoamphoacetate

A gentle cleansing agent derived from coconut fatty acids. It functions as a cleansing agent and...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Poor

sodium cocoate

Used as a cleansing agent primarily in soaps. It can be drying and sensitizing for skin.

Good

sodium cocoyl amino acids

The salt form of amino acids...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium cocoyl glutamate

A cleansing agent derived from coconut oil. This ingredient is also used to help soften (remove...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium cocoyl isethionate

Derived from coconut, it is a mild detergent cleansing agent.

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium dehydroacetate

Organic salt used as a preservative.

Categories: Preservatives
Good

sodium dilauramidoglutamide lysine

A plant-derived ingredient that helps replenish skin and hair...

Good

sodium hexametaphosphate

Salt with multiple functions in cosmetics. It can act as a detergent, an emulsifier, a texturizer,...

Best

sodium hyaluronate

The salt form of skin-replenishing ingredient hyaluronic acid.

Best

sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer

A modified form of skin-replenishing hyaluronic acid attached to a polymer structure

Average

sodium hydroxide

Also known as lye, it is a highly alkaline ingredient used in small amounts in cosmetics to...

Good

sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Derived from amino acids and used as a skin- and hair-softening agent, and to a lesser extent as...

Categories: Preservatives, Hydration
Good

sodium lactate

Sodium salt of lactic acid. Used primarily as a hydrating and buffering agent (to adjust a...

Categories: Miscellaneous
Average

sodium lactobionate

White, crystalline powder used to synthesize other chemicals. May function as a preservative in...

Categories: Preservatives
Good

sodium laureth-13 carboxylate

Used primarily as a detergent cleansing agent. 

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium laureth sulfate

Can be derived from coconut; it is used primarily as a detergent cleansing agent. It is considered...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium lauroamphoacetate

Mild surfactant also used as a lather agent.

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium lauroyl lactylate

Used as an emulsifier and mild thickening agent in cosmetics. In higher concentrations, it...

Good

sodium lauroyl sarcosinate

Surfactant known (and used) for its foam-boosting properties.

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate

A gentle cleansing agent that may be derived from coconut or made synthetically.

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Poor

sodium lauryl sulfate

Versatile ingredient composed of several non-volatile alcohols. Functions primarily as a surfactant...

Average

sodium metabisulfite

Reducing agent that alters the structure of hair. It can also be used as a preservative in...

Good

sodium methyl cocoyl taurate

Mild surfactant.

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium methyl taurate

Mild surfactant often combined with...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sodium myreth sulfate

Detergent cleansing agent similar to sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium laureth sulfate...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Poor

sodium palmate

A soap ingredient created by the salts of acids derived from palm oil. May be naturally-derived or...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Poor

sodium palm kernelate

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Best

sodium PCA

PCA (pyrrolidone carboxylic acid) is a natural component of skin that is also a very good...

Categories: Skin-Replenishing
Good

sodium PEG-7 olive oil carboxylate

A mild surfactant formed by reacting fatty acids from olive oil esters from polyethylene glycol...

Good

sodium phytate

The salt form of the corn-derived plant component phytic acid, used as a chelating agent in...

Categories: Miscellaneous
Good

sodium polyacrylate

A synthetic polymer with multiple functions, including film-forming agent, stabilizer, absorbent,...

Average

sodium salicylate

Salt form of salicylic acid (BHA). Because it is not the acid form of salicylate (i.e., salicylic...

Categories: Miscellaneous
Poor

sodium silicate

Highly alkaline and potentially sensitizing mineral used in cosmetics...

Categories: Sensitizing
Good

sodium stearoyl lactylate

A synthetic or animal-derived ingredient...

Average

sodium sulfite

Reducing agent that alters the structure of hair. It can also be used as a preservative in cosmetic...

Categories: Preservatives, Sensitizing
Poor

sodium tallowate

Sodium salt of tallow.

Poor

sodium thioglycolate

A synthetic ingredinet that functions as a reducing agent in cosmetics, most typically hair-removal lotions...

Categories: Sensitizing
Good

sodium trideceth sulfate

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Average

Solanum lycopersicum extract

Good

Solanum tuberosum extract

Extract that is more commonly known as potato starch. Used as a thickening agent and texture enhancer in cosmetics.

Good

solvent

Describes a large group of ingredients, including water, that are used to dissolve or break down...

Categories: Miscellaneous
Good

Sonojell

Trade name for petrolatum.

Categories: Skin-Soothing, Emollients
Best

soothing agent

Any ingredient that reduces certain signs of sensitivity in skin...

Categories: Skin-Soothing
Good

sorbic acid

Preservative derived from mountain ash berries or manufactured synthetically. Sorbic acid is used...

Categories: Preservatives
Good

sorbitan oleate

Synthetic or animal-derived ingredient used as an emulsifier and cleansing agent.

Good

sorbitan sesquioleate

Good

sorbitan stearate

Used to thicken and stabilize cosmetic formulations.

Good

sorbitol

Can be created synthetically or derived from natural sources. Similar to glycerin, it is a...

Best

soy extract

Potent antioxidant and soothing agent for skin...

Best

soy isoflavones

Best

soy oil

Emollient oil similar to all nonfragrant plant oils.

Poor

spearmint oil

Fragrant, volatile oil that can cause skin sensitivity.

Best

SPF

Categories: Miscellaneous
Best

sphingolipids

Sphingolipids are complex lipids (fats) that function as skin-replenishing and conditioning ingredients...

Best

Spiraea ulmaria

Good

spirulina

Best

squalane

Best

squalene

Oil derived from shark liver or from plants (usually olives). It is a natural component...

Good

St. John's wort

Contains several components that are harmful to skin in the presence of sunlight (Sources: Planta...

Poor

star anise

Good

steapyrium chloride

Antistatic agent used in hair-care products.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Good

stearalkonium chloride

Antistatic ingredient used in hair-care products to control flyaways and aid in helping a brush or...

Categories: Miscellaneous
Good

stearalkonium hectorite

Used as a suspending agent.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Good

stearates

Good

steareth-20

Derived from the benign fatty ingredient stearyl alcohol, this functions primarily as a surfactant...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

stearic acid

Fatty acid used as an emollient and emulsifier...

Good

stearyl alcohol

Fatty alcohol used as an emollient and to help keep other ingredients intact in a formulation.

Good

stearyl dimethicone

Stearyl dimethicone is a synthetic skin-conditioning agent that's a siloxane polymer...

Categories: Silicones, Slip Agents
Best

stearyl glycyrrhetinate

The fatty acid form of the skin soothing glycyrrhetinic acid, which is derived from licorice.

Good

stearyl methicone

Silicone polymer used as a skin-conditioning or occlusive agent.

Good

stearyl stearate

A plant-based wax prepared with natural fatty acids combined with synthetic fatty alcohols.

Poor

styrax benzoin

Categories: Preservatives
Good

styrene/acrylates copolymer

Synthetic polymer.

Good

sucrose

Monosaccharide that has hydrating properties for skin.

Average

sugarcane extract

Ingredients like sugarcane extract, fruit extracts, mixed fruit extracts, and milk solids may claim...

Categories: Plant Extracts
Good

sulfates

Sulfates are a group of ingredients that have many consumers worried but in truth, misinformation, not sulfates, are the actual problem...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Poor

sulfur

Disinfectant agent that can be a potent skin sensitizer...

Categories: Sensitizing
Best

sunflower seed oil

Non-volatile plant oil used as an emollient in cosmetics.

Categories: Plant Extracts, Emollients
Best

sun protection factor

Most commonly seen as SPF, it is a number that is assigned to a product that identifies its ability...

Categories: Miscellaneous
Best

superoxide dismutase

Enzyme considered to be an antioxidant...

Categories: Antioxidants
Good

surfactant

Shortened term for surface active agent. Surfactants degrease and emulsify oils and fats and...

Categories: Cleansing Agents
Good

sweet almond

Most often used in its oil form, this ingredient is expressed from almonds. Also used as an...

Categories: Emollients, Plant Extracts
Good

sweet almond oil

Emollient, non-fragrant plant oil.

Categories: Emollients
Poor

Symphytum officinale extract

Good

synthetic beeswax

An artificial form of beeswax composed of a mixture of alcohol esters...

Good

synthetic wax

A wax derived from a mixture of various oils. It functions as a binding and stabilizing agent.

Poor

Szechuan peppercorn

From a plant native to Szechuan Province in China. It grows on trees, and so differs from black...

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!