What Fancy Beauty Words Actually Mean

We've learnt the lingo to help you decode the jargon


Beauty can be super confusing. What do all those big words mean anyway? What’s the difference between non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic? And what the heck are parabens and retinoids? Well, we’re about to tell you, so that the next time you’re in Boots stocking up on all your beauty cabinet essentials you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

These guys exfoliate the skin by breaking down the substance which holds skin cells together. This means you slough off dead skin cells and are left with a baby smooth surface, similar to micro-dermabrasion or a chemical peel. Shopping for it? AHA is commonly listed as Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid, so check the back of the bottle.


Super simple, an astringent is a product that helps skin cells to contract and removes dirt from your pores. Yep, like a pore minimising toner for example. If you’re adding an astringent to your skin care routine be sure to choose one for your skin type and opt for alcohol-free to avoid drying out your skin.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

BHA is just a fancy name for Salicylic acid. Yep, the magic stuff that helps to improve acne, battle keratosis pilaris (those red bumps on the tops of the arms) and nix oily skin. It works by removing the bacteria that causes pimples, and de-gunking pores. Look for products that contain between 3-to-6% salicylic acid if you’re shopping over the counter or pop to the docs for a prescription.


Not just the stuff that gets pumped in to people’s lips, collagen is a protein that occurs naturally in the body and is essential for plumped up skin and healthy hair and nails. There are tons of products on the market that claim to boost the skin’s collagen levels and prevent wrinkles but collagen is most effective used either as a filler or by increasing the levels that naturally occur in the body. Get chomping on a diet rich in dark green veggies, vitamin C and omega acid to up yours.

Dermatologically tested

This refers to products that have been tested by a dermatologist on a group of subjects. It doesn’t mean it’s been ‘dermatologist approved’ though, just that it’s been tested and the phrase itself is kinda void because every product on the market has been dermatologically tested, whether it says so on the bottle or not. So now you know.


This simply refers to a product that softens or smoothes the skin, often with a thick or creamy texture, like a body moisturiser, lotion or balm. If you suffer from very dry skin or eczema, a doctor will often prescribe you an emollient to alleviate itching and flaking. Those yummy scented lotions though, they’re just for our Friday night pamper sesh.

Hyaluronic Acid

HA or hyaluronan retains over 1000 times its own weight in water making it a kick ass moisturiser. It’s great for maintaining smooth, hydrated skin and decreasing the appearance of wrinkles in the long term. It’s most commonly used as a filler but you’ll find it in lots of lotions and potions in the beauty aisle too.


This simply means that a product is less likely to cause an allergic reaction and may be gentler, or kinder to skin than other products on the market, which is great news if you’re the owner of very sensitive skin. That said, there is usually very little science or testing to back this up. Bottom line, if you have sensitive skin you’ll need to test out what products work best for you.


Don’t let the big word put you off. This just means a product doesn’t include ingredients that are known to clog your pores, making it a solid skin care choice if you suffer from acne or blackheads.


This typically means that a product is naturally sourced with little or no chemicals added. However in beauty products this isn’t strictly true. For example, a product that is 90% water (or aqua as it’s commonly labelled) is often called organic but may still be heavily chemically processed or have very few active natural ingredients.


Parabens stop bacteria and fungus growing in your beauty product. They’ve been getting a lot of bad press recently as science boffins believe they may have a link to cancer, but as of yet there is no definitive proof one way or the other. If you’re concerned, look for products labeled paraben-free.


These are topical or oral products related to Vitamin A that help with acne, anti-aging and hyper-pigmentation. They stop dead skin cells binding together and clogging pores and in the long run they can aid skin repair, reduce pore size and prevent wrinkles. We’ll be stocking up then so.


Pic credit: Internacionale.