This glossary of skincare words explains  the technical jargon used by natural skincare formulators like myself.  I’ve tried to explain things in plain English.

It will be helpful when you’re trying to figure out what next new beauty product to try out.


It’s written for women who want to know more about what they are putting on their skin without having to become chemistry boffs.

To me, it’s easy now (or easier!)  but it wasn’t always, so here’s a little help. My definitions are gleaned from personal experience, not textbook rehash. Enjoy.

Skincare Glossary

Aromatherapy- the art and science of using essential oils to relax the mind, heal the body and restore the senses. In France, essential oils are prescribed by medical doctors. In the UK, Canada and US we associate aromatherapy with massage, candles and beauty products.  I hold an Aromatherapy Diploma  (2003 – London). Read my story here.

Balms are products made without water or watery components.  They’re made from waxes, butters and plant oils. They can be soft, to use on the face or delicate skin, or stiff for a tube eg to use on the lips. Balms are often mis-advertised as ‘face creams’

CO2 extracts are plant extracts created with low pressure, low heat and CO2 gas. They’re expensive but extract more of the plant’s active goodness.

Ecocert – a certification body for natural and organic cosmetics.  (I prefer to buy Ecocert ingredients)

Essential oils are fragrant /pungent oils extracted using steam distillation.  Huge quantities of herb are used to extract a few drops. They are always diluted except for lavender used by the drops for emergencies. The French use essential oils medicinally and they’re part of the tools used by qualified medical doctors. In the USA and UK aromatherapy is used mainly for body massage and providing a pleasant scent to household and beauty products.

Fragrance – free – written a short article about this! Read it here

Hydrolat is the fragrant water from distillation. They may be termed floral waters or hydrosols. Most hydrolats are the waste water from distillation and often discarded due to the cost to transport and the short shelf life. The best quality hydrosol is produced for its own sake, at lower temperatures with a higher concentration of actives.  There are fakes where essential oils are solubolised into tap water. Hydrosols are mild enough to use undiluted on skin and for children. They have a short lifespan and are often preserved with citric acid or potassium sorbate to extend shelf life. Distillation in copper adds a natural protection against moulds and can affect the chemistry bringing out new hues eg the blue within yarrow hydrosol.

A moisturiser is a product made with oil and water designed to reduce water loss and improve skin hydration. It will have some system of preservation to keep it safe to use. There are natural methods to keep a moisturiser safe to use and these include controlling the pH, water activity, exposure to air and light, single use sachets and modern extracts that have skin beneficial properties as well as preservative-like actions. In the ‘olden days’ face creams were held together with beeswax or boraz – and their texture and skin feel were often cloying, heavy and um… well, cloying and heavy.

‘Oil free’ moisturiser etc is a concept targeted for teens or those with oily skin.  It sounds a great idea except even teens need oils to rebalance their skin. It was created to maximise on the fat/oil fear so many women have. Our skin needs ‘good fats or oils’. Think omega threes… I too experimented with ‘oil free’ when my skin was oily, so I’ve been there and done the stupid things!

Organic – food or ingredients produced by natural farming methods. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.

Rosewater  is produced by steam distillation. There are varying grades/qualities and plenty of fakes. Often rose flavour/synthetic factory produced scent is added to water. The most expensive grades are hydrosols which are produced as the main product of distillation. Most commercial rosewaters are the dregs or leftovers from the extraction of rose essential oil. Glow Skincare uses only single estate rose hydrosol in Heart of Eternity, It’s ridicously expensive but I insist on the very best. If you want cheap, go elsewhere.

Serum can be water, oil or water and oil based. A serum  is more concentrated than a moisturiser which means that you use it in smaller doses, typically by the drop. Whether it is used before or after your moisturiser depends on the type of serum, your skin type, how many products you are using.

Sebum is our body’s natural moisturiser and consists of a mix of squalane, cholesterol and fatty acids. Sebum protects our skin from attack. It provides a home for our skin’s micro flora, the biome, without which our skin is open to invasion by pathogens. A skin stripped of sebum or oil is vulnerable and your body will compensate by making more! What you eat affects the sebum produced so be cautious about fried foods and fake fats.


Ok, so what word would you like defined next? Drop me an email.

Oh yes, a quick word from our sponsors…

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Got time for another article? I recommend this one:

My Natural First Aid Kit