Skincare Terminology

Have you ever been reading an article and they start throwing in ingredients and skincare terminology that you’ve never heard of? Well worry no more, we’re giving you a breakdown, explaining all the keywords and phrases you need to know.


A condition is ‘acute’ when is has arisen suddenly and manifested with intense severity.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

Water-soluble acids found in nature or synthesised in the laboratory. The most common AHAs used in the cosmetic industry are glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid.

Anticipated Reactions

Initial skin reactions associated with certain products indicating a normal response. These reactions include redness, dryness, itching, stinging, burning, irritation, flaking, and peeling.

Barrier Function

A key sign of skin health, as skin with a compromised barrier, will become dehydrated and function less effectively. Skin with a healthy barrier experiences a reduced rate of surface moisture loss, or transepidermal water loss (TEWL).

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

An optimal, oil soluble exfoliant for oily, acne-prone skin.


A common term for “open comedones” or non-inflammatory acne.


A step used to treat hyperpigmented skin conditions such as chloasma, melasma, freckles, senile lentigines and other unwanted areas of hyperpigmentation. The process consists of using 4% hydroquinone alone to reduce melanin production and provide a bleaching effect.


A step used to treat hyperpigmented skin conditions such as chloasma, melasma, freckles, senile lentigines and other unwanted areas of hyperpigmentation. The process consists of using hydroquinone 4% in combination with tretinoin to force an even distribution of melanin into the keratinocytes to provide a horizontal blending effect.

Botanical Extracts

Ingredients derived directly from plants. Widely used for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.


A family of waxy lipid molecules composed of sphingosine and a fatty acid. Ceramides are found in high concentrations within the cell membrane and comprise the bulk of the lipid layer, which holds the skin’s cells together in a firm, smooth structure. They maintain the moisture-retention ability of the skin. A decrease in the level of ceramides results in the skin becoming dry and hard, leading to fine lines and wrinkles and an impaired barrier function.


The main component of connective tissue and the most abundant protein in humans, comprising of 25-35% of the body’s protein content. Fibroblast cells create collagen, a key protein component that gives skin its structural firmness.


A clogged hair follicle (pore) in the skin. Keratin combines with oil to block the follicle. A comedone can be open (blackhead) or closed by skin (whitehead).


A closed, encapsulated pocket of fluid deep in the dermis.


A condition that is continuous or persistent over an extended period and is, therefore, the opposite of acute. A chronic condition is one that is longstanding and not easily or quickly resolved.

Colour-Bursting Spheres

Consists of iron oxides and mica that make ZO’s patented pressure-release colour system. Black, yellow and red iron oxides are encapsulated pigments for customisable skin tone, and mica diffuses light to enhance the aesthetic
appearance of skin.

Dehydrated Skin

Skin that has lost water.

Dermal Stabilisation

An essential component of the ZO® Skin Health Principles™, the purpose of which is to increase skin’s tolerance and resistance to damaging factors that cause skin ageing. In dermal stabilisation, the primary concerns are the epidermis, papillary dermis, circulation, collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans.

Disease-Specific Agent

A topical product recommended in treatment protocols when addressing a skin disease or disorder such as acne, rosacea, etc.

Dry Skin

Known as xerosis cutis lacks both oil (skin lipids) and water. Has multiple causes, including barrier function imbalances that result in increased trans-epidermal water loss leading to skin dehydration. Climatic factors such as dry, arid conditions and wind can also cause skin dryness.

DNA Repair Enzymes

Enzymes that facilitate the body’s natural process of excising and repairing damaged DNA caused by internal or external aggressors.

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Damage

Deoxyribonucleic acid is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the development, functioning and reproduction of all known living
organisms and many viruses. Normal metabolic activities and environmental factors, such as UV light, can cause DNA damage. Many of these lesions cause structural damage to the DNA molecule and can alter or eliminate the cell‘s ability to transcribe the gene that the affected DNA encodes. DNA cannot be replaced if lost or damaged beyond repair.


A protein that accounts for the elasticity of the skin. Elastin functions in the connective tissue together with collagen. Whereas collagen provides rigidity to connective tissue, elastin allows many tissues in the body to resume their shape after stretching or contracting.


A complex mixture of agents specially designed to make the external layers of the skin (epidermis) softer and more pliable. They increase the skin’s hydration (water content) by reducing evaporation.

Epidermal Stabilization

An essential component of the ZO® Skin Health Principles™, the purpose of which is to increase skin’s tolerance and resistance to damaging factors that cause skin ageing. In epidermal stabilisation, the primary concerns are the epidermis and its disorders.


The outer, nonvascular, nonsensitive layer of the skin. Protects the body from foreign substances entering the skin and water loss from the skin.


Redness of the skin or mucous membranes.


Ingredients used for physical and chemical exfoliation of the stratum corneum.

Fitzpatrick Skin Typing Scale

Numerical classification scale for classifying the colour of skin. It was developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, a Harvard dermatologist, as a way to classify the response of different types of skin to UV light. It is also a well-recognized tool for dermatological research into skin pigmentation.

Fractionated Melanin

A compound designed to be used topically as an additional defence. It absorbs from the blue-violet region of the visible light spectrum shielding the skin from cell damaging high-energy visible light (HEV).

Free Radicals

An atom or group of atoms with at least one unpaired electron and is, therefore, unstable and highly reactive. In animal tissues, free radicals can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases. Free radicals can be produced by sunlight, toxins, cigarette smoke, air pollution and stress.

Glycolic Acid

An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), originally derived from sugar cane but later successfully synthesised. It has the lowest molecular weight of all the AHAs, allowing it to penetrate more deeply. Performs multiple functions when used in skincare products. Medical studies have proven its effectiveness in treating fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and photo-damaged skin.

Gradual Approach

A skin health restoration and disease treatment approach emphasising the gradual use of products associated with severe or strong anticipated reactions. A smaller than usual amount of product is used 1–2 times a week in the beginning, with the frequency of application increasing as tolerated. The concept is to start, stop and restart until the product can be tolerated daily.

Growth Factors

Substances that are capable of stimulating cellular maturation, proliferation and cellular differentiation.

High-Energy Visible (HEV) Light

A form of light believed to cause long-term skin damage as significant as UVA and UVB combined. HEV damage is insidious and long-term. While there may be no immediate signs such as redness or swelling, repeated exposure over time can lead to premature aging and even cancer.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

Boosts skin’s moisture content and helps prevent moisture loss. Found in high concentrations in the skin, hyaluronic acid provides continuous moisture to the skin by binding up to 1,000 times its weight in water.


A skin-bleaching agent that inhibits the production of melanin. It is used for lightening melasma, freckles, age spots and other skin hyperpigmentation concerns.


Darkening of an area of skin caused by increased melanin production.

Healthy Skin

As defined by Zein Obagi, MD, healthy skin is smooth, even in colour tone, firm and tight, well-hydrated, tolerant to external factors, contour-rich, and free from underlying disease(s).


 Substance that absorbs and transfers water to skin or helps another substance retain water.

Improve Texture

To improve skin’s texture is to minimise large pores, roughness, discoloration, hypertrophy and atrophy.


A protective attempt by an organism to remove injurious stimuli such as pathogens, damaged cells or irritants followed by the initiation of the healing process. While acute inflammation is essential, chronic inflammation is damaging. It causes cellular dysfunction, alteration of skin texture, true sensitivity, dyschromia, poor response to treatment, poor healing, and accelerated ageing.


Oral medication derived from vitamin A (13-cis retinoic acid). Primarily prescribed for the treatment of severe acne. Isotretinoin decreases comedones, reduces sebum production and shrinks the sebaceous glands.

Jojoba Esters

The hydrogenation product of jojoba oil. Jojoba esters are commonly used as emollients due to their remarkable similarity to the natural oils produced by the human skin and its high oxidative stability.


Skin debris

Kojic Dipalmitate

A derivative of kojic acid and a fatty acid (palmitic acid). A skin-lightening agent that inhibits the tyrosinase enzyme involved in melanogenesis. It can be derived from various fungal species and is an effective non-hydroquinone lightening option for skin discolourations.

Kukui Seed Oil

Extracted from the seed of the kukui nut tree. Has exceptional anti-irritant benefits and healing properties.

Lactic Acid

Member of the alpha hydroxy acid family. Naturally derived from sour or fermented milk. The commercial production of lactic acid is typically done by the traditional fermentation of natural carbohydrates. Commonly used in skincare to hydrate and improve skin textures. Lactic acid promotes exfoliation of the outer surface of the skin by breaking down the desmosome bonds that hold skin cells together.


Small spherical vesicle consisting of a phospholipid bilayer. Liposomes are used as vehicles for active ingredients. Because the liposome wall is very similar to the cell membrane, liposomes can effectively transport and deliver active ingredients into the skin.

Lavender Extract

A plant known widely for its fragrance. Lavender has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, along with powerful antioxidant benefits.


A dark brown to black pigment produced by cells in the skin known as melanocytes. It gives colour (pigment) to hair, skin and iris of the eyes and also helps protect the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.


Melanin-producing cells located in the basal layer of the skin’s epidermis.

Magnesium Oxide Crystals

Tiny, round crystals added to skincare products to mimic a microdermabrasion treatment. The crystals provide friction on the skin and help to physically slough away dead skin cells to improve cellular renewal, along with the skin’s texture and tone.

Matrixyl® 3000

A combination of two matrikines, Pal-GHK and Pal-GQPR, which synergistically help to increase cellular activity and the synthesis of extracellular matrix components, including collagen. Known for its ability to tighten and firm the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines.


Small mineral particles added to products to improve application and provide a lustrous appearance. The minerals also diffuse light to help improve the appearance of skin imperfections.

Mandelic Acid

This acid is extracted from the bitter almond and is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It has a large molecular size, which makes it less irritating than other AHAs. Mandelic acid promotes exfoliation and speeds up the cellular turnover rate. It can also provide antimicrobial effects.

Natural Skin Cycle

The time it takes for keratinocytes to form, mature, and exfoliate from the stratum corneum (on average, six weeks). 

Natural Skin Exfoliation

The independent shedding of dead cells from skin surface that allows epidermal renewal and activity.


Solid, raised areas in or under the skin that are larger than 0.5 centimetres.

Optical Diffusers

Cosmetic powders that work by combining light emission and visible-light scattering properties. The emitted light illuminates shadowed areas of wrinkles while the light diffusion aids in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and other skin imperfections.


Sunscreen that absorbs UVB radiation and some UVA radiation. Also, called benzophenone-3.



A solid raised lesion that has distinct borders and is less than one centimetre in diameter. A papule has distinct borders and it can appear in a variety of shapes.


A chemical compound containing two or more amino acids coupled by a peptide bond. Peptides can serve as messengers to stimulate specific cellular activity.


The ageing process of the skin attributed to continuous, long-term exposure to ultraviolet light.


Small, inflamed bumps on the skin filled with fluid or puss.


The alcohol analogue of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and thus a provitamin of B5. Because panthenol is a humectant, it is able to attract and retain water. It restores hydration in the skin and supports skin barrier function


A chemical compound containing two or more amino acids coupled by a peptide bond. Peptides can serve as messengers to stimulate specific cellular activity.


Any natural or synthetic form of vitamin A.


One of the several forms of vitamin A. It is converted to other forms of vitamin A, such as retinal (retinaldehyde) and retinoic acid. When applied topically, retinol is converted into retinoic acid, which is the form of vitamin A that is needed to stimulate biological activity. Retinol promotes exfoliation and epidermal renewal, stimulates collagen synthesis and helps even skin tone. 

Rosacea (Acne Rosacea)

A chronic inflammatory condition located at the “flush” areas of the face such as nose, cheeks, chin and forehead. May cause redness, prominent blood vessels, swelling or hyperplasia (increase in the size of the tissue). Also, may present with papules and pustules associated with acne.

Salicylic Acid

This beta hydroxy acid is an effective keratolytic (exfoliant) and is known for its antimicrobial effects. Unlike alpha hydroxy acids, salicylic acid can penetrate into the pore, which makes it an excellent choice for acne treatment. It is a derivative of aspirin and also provides anti-inflammatory properties. 


An oily secretion of the sebaceous gland. Hypersecretion of sebum leads to clogged pores, comedone formation and seborrheic dermatitis. While naturally produced by the body, sebum is also an inflammatory substance that induces significant immune response manifesting as acne, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and scarring.


A mineral found abundantly in sandstone, clay, glass and granite, as well as in parts of plants and animals. In cosmetics, it is used as an absorbent powder and thickening agent.


Derived from a natural substance called silica (basic sand). Silicone’s unique properties provide a smooth application and a silky feel on the skin. It fills in uneven texture and fine lines, which helps create a smooth and flawless look. Silicones also provide a protective cover on skin, which can help skin retain moisture and stay hydrated.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

A sunscreen rating scale indicating how much time one can expose their skin to the sun before burning.


An essential component of the ZO® Skin Health Principles™, the purpose of which is to increase skin’s tolerance and resistance to damaging factors.

Titanium Dioxide

Naturally occurring mineral used as a pigment in makeup and as a sunscreen to block ultraviolet radiation. Titanium dioxide is an inorganic sunscreen that reflects both UVA and UVB rays. Due to its gentleness, titanium dioxide is an excellent sunscreen choice for sensitive or weak skin.


A form of vitamin A also known as all-trans retinoic acid. Used to treat acne and sun-damaged and hyperpigmented skin. Decreases the cohesiveness of the epithelial cells, promoting epidermal renewal and decreased comedones. Prescription product available in various strengths.

Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL)

Measurement of the quantity of water that passes from inside a body (animal or plant) through the epidermal layer (skin) to the surrounding atmosphere via diffusion and evaporation.


Ultraviolet rays responsible for the signs of ageing because they are able to penetrate deep into the surface of the skin, damaging the cells beneath. The wavelength of UVA rays is 320-400 nm.


Ultraviolet rays responsible for sunburns. These burning rays are most linked to the formation of skin cancer. The wavelength of UVB rays is 280-320 nm.

Vitamin A

A group of unsaturated nutritional organic compounds that includes retinol, retinal, retinoic acid and several provitamin A carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Vitamin A is essential for skin health restoration. It helps promote exfoliation and epidermal renewal, stimulates the production of collagen and helps even skin tone.

Vitamin E

Also known as tocopherol, vitamin E is a very effective lipid-based antioxidant. Helps to remove free radicals and ensures that oxidative damage is decreased by disrupting the chain reaction caused by the free radicals. In addition to its antioxidant properties, vitamin E helps to hydrate the skin and promote healthy skin repair.



The collection of sebum and dead skin cells trapped beneath the surface of the skin. They appear as small, hard, white bumps that look like pimples but are not usually red and inflamed.