Beaker Presents

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

Anhydroxylitol: moisturizer

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: surfactant

Betaine Salicylate: topical "benefit"

Bisabolol: topical "benefit"

Bulnesia Sarmientoi Wood Oil: essential oil

Butoxydiglycol: rheology modifier

Butylene Glycol: secondary solvent

Butylparaben: preservative

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"

Ceteareth-33: emulsifier

Cetearyl Alcohol: emulsifier

Cetyl Alcohol: emulsifier

Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose: rheology modifier

Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract: secondary solvent

Chlorphenesin: preservative

Cholesterol: topical "benefit"

Chonrus Crispus (Carrageenan) Extract: rheology modifier

Chrysanthemum Parthenium (Feverfew) Flower/Leaf/Stem Juice: topical "benefit"

Citric Acid: preservative

Citronellol: fragrance

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

Coco-Betaine: surfactant

Coco-Glucoside: 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

Diethoxydiglycol: preservative

Diglycerin: moisturizer

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

Ethylhexylglycerin: preservative

Ethylparaben: preservative

Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"

Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil: essential oil


FD&C Yellow No. 5 (CI 19140): colorant

Fragrance: fragrance


Geraniol: fragrance

Glucose: moisturizer

Glycereth-26: moisturizer

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

Glycolipids: moisturizer

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"

Hydroxyacetophenone: preservative

Hypericum Perforatum Extract: topical "benefit"


Imidazolidinyl Urea: preservative

Isobutylparaben: preservative

Isohexadecane: emollient

Isopropyl Alcohol: rheology modifier

Isopropyl Myristate: emollient


Jojoba Esters: emollient


Kaolin: rheology modifier


Lactic Acid: topical "benefit"

Lactobacillus/Portulaca Oleracea Ferment Extract: topical "benefit"

Laureth-4: emulsifier

Laureth-7: emulsifier

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

Limonene: fragrance

Linalool: fragrance

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

Methylparaben: preservative

Methylpropanediol: moisturizer

Mica: colorant

Mimosa Tenuiflora Bark Extract: topical "benefit"

Mineral Oil: emollient

Montmorillonite: rheology modifier

Myristic Acid: emollient


Nelumbo Nucifera Leaf Extract: topical "benefit"

Niacinamide: topical "benefit"


Octanediol: preservative

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

Phenoxyethanol: 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

Polyacrylamide: emulsifier

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

Propanediol: moisturizer

Propylene Carbonate: rheology modifier

Propylene Glycol: primary solvent

Propylparaben: preservative

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

Sorbitol: moisturizer

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

Tocopherol: preservative

Tocopheryl Acetate: preservative

Triethanolamine: pH adjuster

Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate: preservative


Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract: topical "benefit"


Water: primary solvent


Xanthan Gum: rheology modifier

Xylitol: moisturizer

Xylitylglucoside: moisturizer


Zea Mays (Corn) Starch: rheology modifier


1,2-Hexanediol: preservative

2-Oleamido-1,3-Octadecanediol: co-surfactant

join our insta community. it’s so cool even the nerds are doing it.