Decipher the INCI: Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum

Decipher the INCI

Decipher the INCI: Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum

Welcome back to Decipher the INCI, where we go through the ingredients of a Q+A product top to bottom so you know exactly what you're using on your skin, literally! I heard your requests, and landed on fan favourite Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum for our deep dive this week. Just like with out Peppermint Daily Cleanser Edition, James, our Head Chemist provided his expertise, as well as our new Assistant Development Chemist, Faye. 

If you haven't checked out our top tips for a quick deciphering, you can do so here! 

But first, the INCI...

Aqua (Water), Propylene Glycol, Betaine, Sodium Hyaluronate, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Caprylyl Glycol, Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Levulinate, Glyceryl Caprylate, Sodium Anisate, Sodium Hydroxide, Xanthan Gum.

The Base

Aqua (Water). No surprises here! All of our serums are water-based, rather than silicone-based, to ensure easy absorption and a lovey light feel. And Hyaluronic Acid is all about hydration, so water is a must.   

The Actives

Sodium Hyaluronate. If that second word was sounding familiar, you'd be on the right track! Although this isn't just the technical name for our titular ingredient, but specifically the sodium salt of Hyaluronic Acid. Don't worry, it's not as bad as the sounds of putting salt on your skin. If you've ever done a little research into Hyaluronic Acid, you'll know that molecular weight is an important factor when looking for effective results. A large molecular weight is going to struggle to absorb because your skin barrier can filter it out, a medium weight penetrates easily to work in your epidermis (the middle layer of your skin), and a light weight can go even deeper. Pure Hyaluronic Acid has a high molecular weight, so you're only likely to get skin smoothing and surface layer results, whereas the extracted sodium salt has a medium weight, hence the reason we prefer to use it.

Hyaluronic Acid's special power is how it binds moisture from the environment and draws that moisture into your skin for deep hydration. That's why it's important to apply this serum to a damp face!

Biosaccharide Gum-1. Hello hard worker. Biosaccharide Gum-1 has something called S.M.A.R.T performance, which is an acronym for Soothing, Moisturising, Anti-ageing, Restructuring, Touch. When your skin is irritated or stimulated by things such as climate or pollution, you experience something called neurogenic inflammation (where your nerves decide the area is inflamed), but this special ingredient inhibits those nerve signals to soothe your skin. The moisturising comes from Biosaccharide Gum-1 having very similar qualities to Sodium Hyaluronate, so you feel hydrated long term. 

In our bodies is a protein called sirtuin 1, which are also known as 'youth proteins' because of their role in DNA repair and protecting against oxidative stress, but unfortunately both age and weathering can take their toll. Biosaccharide Gum-1 stimulates sirtuin-1 to keep signs of aging at bay (anti-aging) and your skin cells living longer, healthy and strong (restructuring). This ingredient also stimulates cell renewal, something that does slow down as we age. 

Finally, touch. Not only does the inclusion of Biosaccharide Gum-1 make our serum silky smooth, it spreads nicely and soaks in without any stickiness or shininess on your skin. You will have a softer complexion with this smarty. 

The Solvents

Propylene Glycol.  There are two types of Propylene Glycol, synthetic and organic. Don't worry, we use the latter! A solvent is responsible for helping the actives absorb well into the skin, which is exactly what you want for Hyaluronic Acid to work its wonders. 

The synthetic Propylene Glycol has gotten a bad rap in the past for not only drawing in the goodies, but also the baddies on your skin. But so long as you're cleansing properly, you've got nothing to worry about. 

The Moisturisers

Glycerin.  If you checked in with our last 'Decipher the INCI', I explained how Glycerin is a humectant which (like Hyaluronic Acid), draws moisture from the atmosphere into your skin. It's a household name for a reason, Glycerin is an amazing moisturiser!

Betaine.  You might have checked out our blog on Betaine, but we'll get a little more technical here. This ingredient is known as an Osmoprotectant, which means it is an osmolyte (an organic compound that influence biological fluids) that protect your skin cells from stress, whether that be UV damage or dehydration, for example by controlling the balance of water in your cells. Betaine also strengthens your skin barrier, and has both a short and long term effect on visual skin moisturisation, and has you covered even if you forget to apply your Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum for one or two days! 

The Stabilisers

Sodium Hydroxide.  You might know this one better at Caustic Soda. It's a versatile alkali, which means it easily dissolves in water, and is versatile for many different types of formulas, making it a great choice for an effective pH stabiliser. 

Lactic Acid. Traditionally, Lactic Acid has been derived from sour milk, which doesn't sound particularly nice does it? We use a non-dairy and vegan alternative, which is made from GMO-free maize. Whilst you might find Lactic Acid in a chemical exfoliant or peel, in very small doses it works as another pH stabiliser. So if you can't use a Lactic Acid product on your skin due to sensitivity, a product using it for this function will be absolutely fine. 

The Viscosity Regulators

Xanthan Gum. This ingredient makes sure the formula has a nice viscosity, not too thick and not too thin. It's all to do with how the different molecules flow past each other, or cause a lot of friction, and affects how well the product will be dispensed and spread across your skin. For example, poor viscosity might mean this serum just will not budge from the pipette when you squeeze the bulb, or your toothpaste dripping off your toothbrush. Just the thought is disturbing. 

The Preservatives

Phenoxyethanol. If you have a habit of reading INCIs, this one may have popped up before, as it's something of an industry wide and conventional preservative in cosmetics, due to being very versatile and stable. This is however, where you'll find our non-natural percentage coming through, as it is synthetic. 

Interestingly enough, over years and years of cosmetic formulations and industry standards, the list of preservatives you are allowed to use has grown quite small. If enough people complain about reactions to a certain ingredient, independent dermatological testing ensues and the results could show it is not actually that safe for skin. Unfortunately all preservatives, due to the nature of how they work killing bacteria, yeast and moulds, do have a tiny risk of someone  having a reaction. We're very confident Phenoxyethanol is a safe choice though, as it one of the more widely tolerated preservatives!

Sodium Levulinate. Another one that we've seen twice now, first in our Peppermint Daily Cleanser. It's just that good at preserving products! We especially love it because it pairs so well with Biosaccharide Gum-1.

The Multifunctionals

Sodium Anisate. It's probably not too hard to guess what a multifunctional is! Usually, whilst these ingredients have a primary effect, they also help to support the preservatives naturally even when they're not included in high enough amounts to officially be one themselves. Sodium Anisate is a gentle antimicrobial ingredient, derived from anise and fennel, which works best when paired with Sodium Levulinate. 

Glyceryl Caprylate. Just like Sodium Levulinate, Glyceryl Caprylate helps keep Biosaccharide Gum-1 in top shape, as well as helping to condition the skin for a softer complexion. 

Caprylyl Glycol. Capryl again! Last time I explained how many of these names and syllables refer to the length of carbon molecules, something that influences how irritating, or non-irritating, we find the ingredient on our skin (and is the reason Sodium Lauryl-Sulfate is irritating, but Sodium Coco-Sulfate, which is in our Peppermint Daily Cleanser, isn't!). Capryl refers to 8, which makes this multifunctional nice and moisturising. Another synthetic, Caprylyl Glycol helps to naturally boost the preservative action in this serum. 


And that's another INCI thoroughly deciphered! I hope you're feeling very knowledgable about your bottle of Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum, or so impressed you're thinking of joining the rest of us hydrating from within. 

I appreciate your requests for Hyaluronic Acid this week, so please let me know which Q+A fave you'd like to see next time! Only eleven more to go!


Amy Robson
Online community coordinator at Q+A and decipherer of INCIs