the Know List
Many personal care companies tell you what ingredients to avoid, but avoid telling you why. In response to empty consumer advocacy full of hot air and hysteria, Beaker is using real, beautiful science to get at what these ingredients do in formulas and on your skin.
In engineering the easiest skincare quiz you’ll ever take we had to dissect hundreds of ingredient lists, one chemical at a time. Patterns emerged, and from these we were able to identify the most likely function (with statistical significance—all our beauty data is rooted in quantitative methods) that any one ingredient plays in a face wash formula. The result is our Know List, a living document that will grow with the data we collect.
Here are 301 common chemicals, and how they most likely function in face wash formulas.
Quick side note: personal care ingredients do not exist in a vacuum. These functional tags assigned to them represent only a generalized categorization. For example, instead of referring to this elephant → 🐘 by its specific subfamily nomenclature “elephantinae,” we refer to it here by its more generalized “mammalia” class. Both are correct tags, but the former is more accurate if only because it’s more specific. In addition, some ingredients have multiple common names and are thus listed multiple times. Beaker is early in our evolution, but we’ll get there. The need to bring trusted transparency to your favorite personal care products is too pressing not to.
(psst let’s go shopping together. download the mobile ingredient app today!)
But first, a brief and altogether over-simplified explanation of the primary functions of chemicals in aqueous gentle face washes and cleansers:
Most gentle cleansers are a relatively simple mixture of surfactants in an aqueous (water) base. Other chemicals are added to stabilize the formula or else create the unique texture and experience that distinguishes one formula from another. For the most part, all gentle aqueous cleansers have similar skeletal structures; it’s these “extras” that determine differences in their effectiveness and your experience.
The (often) aqueous base is generally composed of a primary solvent, namely water, and a mixture of secondary solvents, often glycols or alcohols. Once surfactants are stabilized in a solvent base, rheology modifiers are added, often to thicken the formula close to the final texture.
The “harshness” of these surfactants (i.e. their ability to pick up surface dirt and oils) is mitigated by the addition of co-surfactants, emulsifiers, and other polymers. (As a rule of thumb, a formula with more than one surfactant is likely to be more “gentle” than a similar formula with only one surfactant.) The primary role of emulsifiers, however, is to keep any oil-phase ingredients perfectly suspended and stable within the aqueous phase. Film formers may help increase a formula’s stability, or may be added to alter the formula’s texture.
Emollients are added to create texture; they’re responsible for the “silkiness” or “slip” of a formula, or what the formula feels like in your fingers, rather than what the formula does on your face. Essential oils are common emollients, though they may be added purely for fragrance, or as a claimed topical “benefit,” due to the hundreds of bioavailable components they may contain.
Gentle cleanser also contain moisturizers—chemicals that either bring water to your skin’s surface (humectants) or prevent water from evaporating from your skin’s surface (occlusives). Emollients often double as occlusives.
Colorants and fragrances are added at the end purely for aesthetics. In face wash formulas their levels are normally low enough so as to not significantly modify the formula’s performance, though additional co-surfactants and stabilizers/suspending agents may be added to decrease the fragrance's ability to either evaporate quickly out of the formula or disrupt the surfactant micelle structures.
Preservatives and pH adjusters are added to ensure formulas remain safe for skin and free of microbes.
Achillea Millefolium Extract: topical "benefit"
Acrylamide/Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate Copolymer: rheology modifier
Acrylates Copolymer: rheology modifier
Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer: rheology modifier
Acrylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer: rheology modifier
Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract: topical "benefit"
Allantoin: topical "benefit"
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract: secondary solvent
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice: secondary solvent
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder: topical "benefit"
Althaea Officinalis Leaf/Root Extract: essential oil
Ammonium Hydroxide: pH adjuster
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate: surfactant
Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate: rheology modifier
Amyris Balsamifera Bark Oil: essential oil
Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Oil: essential oil
Annatto (CI 75120): colorant
Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil: essential oil
Arachidyl Alcohol: rheology modifier
Arachidyl Glucoside: rheology modifier
Ascorbyl Palmitate: topical "benefit"
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract: topical "benefit"
Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour: topical "benefit"
Behentrimonium Methylsulfate/Cetearyl Alcohol: surfactant
Behenyl Alcohol: rheology modifier
Bentonite: rheology modifier
Benzoic Acid: preservative
Benzyl Alcohol: secondary solvent
Beta-Glucan: topical "benefit"
Betaine Salicylate: topical "benefit"
Bisabolol: topical "benefit"
Bulnesia Sarmientoi Wood Oil: essential oil
Butoxydiglycol: rheology modifier
Butylene Glycol: secondary solvent
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter: rheology modifier
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter Extract: rheology modifier
C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate: secondary solvent
C13-14 Isoparaffin: rheology modifier
Caesalpinia Spinosa Gum: rheology modifier
Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Camellia Sinensis Leaf Powder: topical "benefit"
Camellia Sinensis Leaf Water: secondary solvent
Cannabis Sativa (Hemp) Seed Oil: essential oil
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride: emollient
Caprylyl Glycol: preservative
Carbomer: rheology modifier
Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract: secondary solvent
Carrageenan: rheology modifier
Cassia Angustifolia Seed Polysaccharide: moisturizer
Centaurea Cyanus Flower Water: secondary solvent
Ceramide 1: topical "benefit"
Ceramide 3: topical "benefit"
Ceramide 6-11: topical "benefit"
Ceramide NP: topical "benefit"
Cetearyl Alcohol: emulsifier
Cetyl Alcohol: emulsifier
Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose: rheology modifier
Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract: secondary solvent
Cholesterol: topical "benefit"
Chonrus Crispus (Carrageenan) Extract: rheology modifier
Chrysanthemum Parthenium (Feverfew) Flower/Leaf/Stem Juice: topical "benefit"
Citric Acid: preservative
Citrus Aurantium Amara (Bitter Orange) Flower Water: topical "benefit"
Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil: essential oil
Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange Peel) Oil: essential oil
Cocamide MEA: surfactant
Cocamidopropyl Betaine: surfactant
Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine: surfactant
Cocamidopropylamine Oxide: co-surfactant
Coconut Acid: emollient
Coconut Alcohol: emollient
Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil: moisturizer
Cryptomeria Japonica Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Cucumis Melo Cantalupensis Fruit Extract: topical "benefit"
Cymbopogon Martini Oil: essential oil
Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil: essential oil
Decyl Glucoside: surfactant
Dehydroacetic Acid: preservative
Di-PPG-2 Myreth-10 Adipate: surfactant
Diazolidinyl Urea: preservative
Dicaprylyl Ether: emollient
Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate: preservative
Dipotassium Phosphate: preservative
Dipropylene Glycol: secondary solvent
Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate: co-surfactant
Disodium EDTA: preservative
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate: surfactant
Disteardimonium Hectorite: rheology modifier
Ethoxydiglycol: secondary solvent
Ethyl Hexanediol: preservative
Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil: essential oil
FD&C Yellow No. 5 (CI 19140): colorant
Glycerin: primary solvent
Glyceryl Caprylate: preservative
Glyceryl Caprylate: emollient
Glyceryl Oleate: emulsifier
Glyceryl Stearate: emulsifier
Glyceryl Stearate Citrate: emulsifier
Glyceryl Stearate SE: emulsifier
Glycine Soja Oil: essential oil
Glycol Distearate: emulsifier
Glycol Palmitate: emulsifier
Glycolic Acid: primary solvent
Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride: rheology modifier
Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract: topical "benefit"
Hexylene Glycol: preservative
Hyaluronic Acid: moisturizer
Hydrogenated Polydecene: emollient
Hydrolyzed Caesalpinia Spinosa Gum: rheology modifier
Hydrolyzed Silk: topical "benefit"
Hypericum Perforatum Extract: topical "benefit"
Imidazolidinyl Urea: preservative
Isopropyl Alcohol: rheology modifier
Isopropyl Myristate: emollient
Jojoba Esters: emollient
Kaolin: rheology modifier
Lactic Acid: topical "benefit"
Lactobacillus/Portulaca Oleracea Ferment Extract: topical "benefit"
Lauric Acid: emulsifier
Lauryl Glucoside: co-surfactant
Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil: essential oil
Lecithin: topical "benefit"
Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate: topical "benefit"
Levulinic Acid: preservative
Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil: essential oil
Linoleamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate: co-surfactant
Linoleic Acid: emollient
Linolenic Acid: emollient
Macrocystis Pyrifera (Kelp) Extract: topical "benefit"
Magnesium Aluminum Silicate: stabilizer/suspending agent
Mangifera Indica (Mango) Fruit Extract: topical "benefit"
Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil: essential oil
Melia Azadirachta Seed Oil: essential oil
Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil: essential oil
Methyl Gluceth-10: surfactant
Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate: emulsifier
Methyl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer: film former
Mimosa Tenuiflora Bark Extract: topical "benefit"
Mineral Oil: emollient
Montmorillonite: rheology modifier
Myristic Acid: emollient
Nelumbo Nucifera Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Niacinamide: topical "benefit"
Octyldodecanol: secondary solvent
Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Flower Extract: topical "benefit"
Olea Europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Olive Oil PEG-7 Esters: emollient
Olive Oil Polyglyceryl-6 Esters: emollient
Ormenis Multicaulis Oil: topical "benefit"
p-Anisic Acid: preservative
Palmitic Acid: emollient
Panthenol: topical "benefit"
Pantolactone: topical "benefit"
PEG-100 Stearate: emulsifier
PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate: rheology modifier
PEG-150 Distearate: emulsifier
PEG-20 Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate: emulsifier
PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate: rheology modifier
PEG-40 Glyceryl Cocoate: emulsifier
PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides: emulsifier
PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil: emulsifier
PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate: emulsifier
Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil: essential oil
Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate: emulsifier
Pentylene Glycol: preservative
Phospholipids: topical "benefit"
Phytic Acid: topical "benefit"
Phytosphingosine: topical "benefit"
Pinus Palustris Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Piper Nigrum (Pepper) Fruit Oil: essential oil
Poloxamer 184: surfactant
Poloxamer 188: surfactant
Polyacrylate-33: rheology modifier
Polyethylene: rheology modifier
Polyglyceryl-10 Myristate: emulsifier
Polyglyceryl-2 Caprate: emulsifier
Polylactic Acid: rheology modifier
Polylysine: topical "benefit"
Polyoxyl 40 Stearate: emulsifier
Polyquaternium-10: rheology modifier
Polyquaternium-39: rheology modifier
Polysorbate 20: co-surfactant
Polysorbate 60: co-surfactant
Polysorbate 80: co-surfactant
Potassium Acrylates Copolymer: rheology modifier
Potassium Hydroxide: pH adjuster
Potassium Phosphate: pH adjuster
Potassium Sorbate: preservative
PPG-20 Methyl Glucose Ether: stabilizer/suspending agent
Propylene Carbonate: rheology modifier
Propylene Glycol: primary solvent
Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil: essential oil
Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Shell Powder: topical "benefit"
Pueraria Lobata Root Extract: topical "benefit"
PVP: film former
Quillaja Saponaria Bark Extract: topical "benefit"
Retinyl Palmitate: topical "benefit"
Rice Oil Glycereth-8 Esters: emollient
Rosa Centifolia Flower Oil: essential oil
Rosa Damascena Flower Water: topical "benefit"
Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil: essential oil
Saccharomyces Ferment: topical "benefit"
Salicylic Acid: topical "benefit"
Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Salvia Sclarea (Clary) Oil: essential oil
Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract: topical "benefit"
Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Oil: essential oil
Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil: essential oil
Sea Salt: pH adjuster
Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil: essential oil
Soapberry (Sapindus Mukurossi) Peel Extract: topical "benefit"
Sodium Benzoate: preservative
Sodium Caproyl Methyltaurate: surfactant
Sodium Chloride: pH adjuster
Sodium Coceth Sulfate: co-surfactant
Sodium Cocoamphoacetate: surfactant
Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate: co-surfactant
Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate: surfactant
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate: surfactant
Sodium Dehydroacetate: preservative
Sodium Gluconate: preservative
Sodium Glycolate: rheology modifier
Sodium Hyaluronate: moisturizer
Sodium Hydrolyzed Potato Starch Dodecenylsuccinate: rheology modifier
Sodium Hydroxide: pH adjuster
Sodium Isethionate: co-surfactant
Sodium Laureth Sulfate: surfactant
Sodium Lauroamphoacetate: co-surfactant
Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate: co-surfactant
Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate: surfactant
Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate: surfactant
Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate: co-surfactant
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: surfactant
Sodium Levulinate: preservative
Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate: co-surfactant
Sodium Methyl Oleoyl Taurate: co-surfactant
Sodium Methyl Stearoyl Taurate: co-surfactant
Sodium PCA: topical "benefit"
Sodium Phytate: preservative
Sodium Polyacrylate: rheology modifier
Sodium Trideceth Sulfate: surfactant
Sorbitan Palmitate: emulsifier
Stearic Acid: emollient
Stearyl Alcohol: emulsifier
Styrax Japonicus Branch/Fruit/Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"
Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer: rheology modifier
Sucrose Palmitate: surfactant
Sucrose Polysoyate: emollient
Sucrose Stearate: surfactant
Superoxide Dismutase: topical "benefit"
Symphytum Officinale Root Extract: topical "benefit"
t-Butyl Alcohol: moisturizer
Tetrasodium EDTA: preservative
Titanium Dioxide: colorant
Tocopheryl Acetate: preservative
Triethanolamine: pH adjuster
Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate: preservative
Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract: topical "benefit"
Water: primary solvent
Xanthan Gum: rheology modifier
Zea Mays (Corn) Starch: rheology modifier
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