What Are the Most Common Cosmetics Ingredients?

A woman applying mascara, a type of cosmetic.
Tubes of cosmetics.
Many types of cosmetics contain parabens.
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  • Written By: Brandon May
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2014
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Most cosmetics use multiple ingredients to ensure preservation, freshness, color and moisture, as well as nutrients required by the skin for healthy structure and texture. Synthetic cosmetic ingredients like parabens and triclosan help preserve cosmetics such as makeup or facial cleansers, where ingredients such as sulfates, acetone and collagen all contribute to the effectiveness the cosmetic item has on the skin. Often, cosmetics ingredients include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to aid the skin with the nutrients it needs to combat free radicals and strengthen healthy collagen. Natural cosmetics ingredients include vegetable bases and derivatives, like olive oil in moisturizers, in place of synthetic ingredients, as well as natural minerals in makeup foundations.

Common synthetic preservatives found in many cosmetics are called parabens, which help keep makeup, face soaps and shampoo stable at room temperature for a long time. Cosmetics ingredients often list a paraben ingredient as a suffix, with the common prefixes moly-, ethyl- and methyl-. Sodium laurel sulfate, which can also be used as a preservative, is often found in soaps and shampoos and gives the products their foaming qualities. Sulfates are also used for their abilities to remove dirt and grease from the skin and hair.


Cosmetics ingredients that aid in the effectiveness of the product are often synthetic, unless otherwise stated on the label. Polyethylen glycol is a synthetic ingredient that helps moisturize the skin, making it a common ingredient in face and body lotions, as well as liquid makeup foundations. It isn't uncommon for cosmetics ingredients to include collagen, if the product is designed for anti-aging or decreasing wrinkles on the skin. Although applying collagen topically will not replace lost collagen due to age or environmental factors, it can help moisturize the deep layer of skin.

Many natural cosmetics contain vegetable bases or derivatives to avoid synthetic and controversial ingredients, such as parabens and sodium sulfates. Natural vitamins and minerals are sometimes used as ingredients in makeup foundations, cleansers and body lotions to provide the skin with the appropriate nutrients for the rebuilding and repair of collagen. Antioxidants, like those found in green tea or fruits, may also be added to cosmetics to help fight free radicals from the sun and the environment. Olive oil or cacao butter is often used in cruelty-free moisturizers to combat dry skin and provide essential fatty acids to the outer and inner layers of the skin.


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