A-Z of Beauty Jargon

The world of beauty can be a very confusing place, full of complex jargon and branding designed to baffle you into parting with your money.

This A-Z is designed to help you navigate the world of beauty and figure out exactly what you’re putting on your skin…

A is for Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian philosophy and type of alternative medicine, which aims to guide people so they can live a healthier lifestyle. Ayurvedic products have been springing up all over the place such as supplements, massage oils and beauty products made of herbs, minerals and metals, some of which should not be used without the instruction of a practitioner.

B is for Brow Gel 

Brow Gel is used as a final grooming step for eyebrows to keep them in place. It works just like a clear mascara, keeping the brows in shape and should be used after eyebrow pencil.

C is for CC Creams

We all know what BB Creams are right? A ‘BB Cream’ or blemish balm is a light foundation that also includes healing properties such as anti-inflammatory serums to make skin look younger. The difference with a CC or ‘colour correcting’ cream is that they address issues such as redness or sallowness (they usually contain light-diffusing particles). 

D is for Dry Shampoo 

Dry Shampoo is a powder used to absorb dirt and oil on the hair and scalp for use between hair washes. Sold in a can, it is applied as a spray and forms a powder which needs to be brushed through the hair (lots of people use talcum powder instead).

E is for Eau de Toilette 

These words are written on the side of most of the bottles we spray on our bodies, but what does it actually mean? A direct translation is ‘toilet water’, you can see why they use the French can’t you? Eau de Toilette is a weak, diluted perfume whereas Eau de Parfam has a higher percentage of oils, sometimes up to 20%.

F is for Foaming Cleanser 

Cleansing your skin is very good beauty practice. Foaming cleansers are just cleansers which come out of the bottle already foaming. Many of these contain sodium laureth sulfate, a detergent which make lots of foam, which we have been conditioned to think equals being clean, it doesn’t!

G is for Gotu Kola

You may have seen Gotu kola on the back of bottles in your bathroom, it is a common ingredient of  skin creams, lotions, hair conditioners and shampoos. Gotu kola comes from the perennial creeping plant, Centella asiatica which is a member of the parsley family, native to India, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Africa, Australia, China, and Indonesia.

H is for Hypoallergenic 

This is a term made up by the cosmetics industry with no medical definition. The term is used to refer to cosmetics which are claimed to cause fewer allergic reactions, but the cosmetic companies are not required to meet any regulations or do any testing to use this label.

I is for Illuminators 

With all the highlighting, shadowing and contouring going on in the trend pages of magazines, it is easy to get confused. Illuminators are used on the cheekbones and under the brow to reflect light and give the impression of glowing skin.

J is for Jojoba Oil 

The beauty industry loves an exotic sounding oil to add to their ‘natural’ products. Jojoba oil is used in body and face creams, shampoos and conditioners as a replacement for whale oil. The oil is the liquid produced from the Jojoba shrub which is native to Arizona, California and Mexico.

K is for Kohl

It has been said that Kohl is where the beauty industry started. Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic and mascara’s great grandmother, traditionally made by grinding lead sulfide and other ingredients.

L is for Leave in Conditioner 

We all know how to use conditioner, but people get confused by leave in conditioners and the differences between the two products. Normal conditioners are very dense and contain oils that we wash out, leave in conditioners use ingredients such as glycerin instead of oils which can prevent frizz and make the hair more manageable.

M is for Microdermabrasion

A very expensive cosmetic treatment in which the face is sprayed with exfoliant crystals of aluminium dioxide to remove dead epidermal (skin) cells.

N is for Non-comedogenic

A term which applies to creams and oils which do not block pores. The theory behind this cosmetic industry term is that products which do not block pores are less likely to lead to acne.

O is for Ombré

If you weren’t paying attention to beauty trends two years ago, it’s likely that you woke up one morning to find a large number of women walking around with two tone hair. Ombré or dip dyed hair, where the hair gets lighter gradually from root to tip,  was a huge trend a few years ago, and ombré nails, clothes and accessories still appear on the catwalk.

P is for Parabens 

Parabens are man-made chemicals which are used as preservatives, and also have bactericidal and fungicidal properties, meaning that they increase the shelf life of products. Parabens can be found in shampoos, moisturisers, shaving gels, make-up and even toothpaste. They recently caused panic in the industry because of their links to breast cancer and early puberty in girls.

Q is for Quaternium-7

A toxic substance which causes the release of formaldehyde. A 2009 report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics entitled No More Toxic Tub,  presented laboratory results showing that many baby care products are contaminated with this hyper-toxic ingredient. Best avoided, just in case.

R is for Retinol 

Retinol is one of the animal forms of vitamin A. Retinoic acid, confusingly called Tretinoin in cosmetics, is used in acne cream.

S is for Shellac 

Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes, which are dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a high-gloss varnish. Shellac is usually applied in a salon and provides up to 14 days flawless non-chipping nail varnish.

T is for Tinted Moisturiser 

Many people use tinted moisturiser in the same way as foundation, for sheer coverage. Tinted moisturiser, though, is less likely to dry out the skin and only has a slight hint of colour.

U is for Urea

Urea is a compound found in urine which is used in beauty products as an antibacterial preservative, and can be found in most of the products in your bathroom, especially hair removal creams.

V is for Vajazzle

*sigh* beauty novices always ask me about this term which has even made it into the Oxford Dictionary. A vajazzle is an object which “adorns the pubic area (of a woman) with crystals, glitter, or other decoration”. Just. Don’t. Google. It.

W is for White Petrolatum

A close relative of petroleum jelly, white petrolatum is made from crude oil. Petroleum jelly is used to prevent moisture loss, in hair grooming and skin lubrication. White petrolatum and petroleum jelly have close relationships with non-renewables, along with unconfirmed reports linking them to breast cancer.

X is for Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a type of fermented glucose which thickens substances, and is used throughout the beauty and food industries. Should be avoided by anyone with a wheat allergy.

Y is for Ylang Ylang

Another exotic sounding ingredient that beauty companies love. Its scientific name is Cananga odorate and it originates in the Philippines. The essential oil from the plant is used in aromatherapy, and is believed to relieve high blood pressure and regulate sebum levels. 

Z is for Zinc Acetate

Zinc Acetate is another ‘beauty baddie’. Although, as with most of these ‘bad’ ingredients, there is no absolutely conclusive evidence against them. This substance can have a negative impact on the immune system and can cause asthma attacks. Zinc Acetate is often used in acne treatments and nappy creams. Check your labels before buying!

Related Articles:

Lifting the Lid on Parabens

Demystifying BB Creams


Beauty Baddies: http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/health_and_beauty/1061951/the_a_to_z_of_beauty_baddies.html

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