The A-Z of good skincare | 9Lives
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Do you really know what to look for in good skincare? And what does all the smart lingo actually mean? From AHAs to Zinc Oxide, here’s your guide to becoming skin savvy.


Alpha Hydroxy Acids help to remove dead skin cells, helping to create firmer, smoother and more even skin. This is a gentler way to refine your skin than using a scrub that buffs off dead skin. AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid.

B3 & B5

Vitamin B3 or Niacinamide can help to minimise enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, and fine lines, and is a great ingredient to target dark spots.

Vitamin B5 or Panthenol helps to moisturize the skin, reduce irritation and calm inflammation.


Ceramides are an important component of a healthy skin barrier. Ceramides in skincare routine help to reinforce your skin barrier and treat dry and dehydrated skin. They work particularly well in combination with cholesterol and fatty acids.

(Vitamin) D

Vitamin D in your skincare can help to prevent environmental damage in your skin, calm inflammation and promote cell turnover.


Emollients are moisturising ingredients that help to reduce water loss. Plant oils, mineral oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, and fatty acids are all forms of emollients. Occlusive emollients prevent water loss by forming a film over the skin (for instance mineral oil) while humectant emollients like glycerin and urea increase hydration by attracting and holding water in the top layers of skin.

Free Radicals

Free radicals are unstable molecules that are either produced by processes in the body, or derived from external sources like air pollution, chemicals, the ozone, cigarette smoke etc. Free radicals can cause cell damage, leading to early ageing and disease. Antioxidants help to neutralise free radicals, preventing harm to your body.


Glycerin (or glycerol) is a common skin care ingredient that helps to moisturise our skin by drawing water from the air and into your skin’s outer layer. It works best when combined with other skin replenishing ingredients.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid is naturally found in your skin but depletes as we age. Boost HA levels through your skincare to increase moisture levels and firm the skin. It is a powerful humectant with the ability to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, keeping moisture in the skin. Depending on the molecular weight, Hyaluronic acid works either on the surface of the skin, or in the deeper layers.


Chronic inflammation is not only damaging to your health but can also accelerate your skin’s ageing. While normal inflammation is essential to protect and heal your body, chronic (as in constant) inflammation should be avoided. Pollution, UV rays, stress and a bad diet can all lead to inflammation. Counter it with healthy foods and skincare packed with free-radical fighting antioxidants.


Jojoba is one of the most common and best emollients, helping  to restore and replenish the skin. It has a lighter, less greasy texture than many other plant oils and is a rich source of fatty acids, helping to soothe and moisturize skin.


Kaolin is a clay mineral that is used to reduce oiliness and shine. It is a great ingredient to remove impurities, control oil, and also heal inflammation around blemishes. Try using it as a mask or wash.

L-Ascorbic Acid

L-Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that fights free-radical damage, treats pigmentation, calms inflammation, and it is an essential component for collagen synthesis. It works particularly well in combination with Vitamin E to limit UV damage.


Your skin is colonized by a diverse collection of microorganisms, many of which are vital to protect you against invasions by harmful organisms that can cause irritation and breakouts. A healthy skin needs a healthy, diverse microbiome. Protect you microbiome with skincare that will promote a healthy environment for good skin bacteria, and products containing pre-and probiotics.

Natural Moisturising Factors (NMFs)

NMFs help to keep the uppermost skin layers smooth and hydrated. It includes amino acids, lactic acids, various sugars, and peptides that work with skin lipids to keep your skin surface healthy-looking.

Omega Fatty Acids

Omega fatty acids are incredibly beneficial, helping to reinforce, strengthen, hydrate and smooth your skin. The most vital for your skin are Omega 3, 6 and 9, found in plant oils.


Peptides are short chains of amino acids that can help to revitalize the building blocks of the skin, keeping it plump and firm. They can be brilliant anti-aging actives when used in combination with other effective ingredients.


Coenzyme Q10 or Ubiquinone has antioxidant and skin-soothing properties. It is naturally found in the body but levels drop as we age and it is therefor beneficial to add it through skincare.


Retinol or Vitamin A is a highly effective skincare ingredient that helps to firm the skin, improve uneven skin tone, smooth and refine. Retinol can cause sensitivity so introduce it slowly. You can either start with low doses or milder forms of Vitamin A, or simply use it less frequently at first. A skin therapist or dermatologist will guide you in this.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid is a beta hydroxy acid that can help to treat acne and pimples. Salicylic acid can penetrate into the pores of the skin, dissolving the plug that is causing congestion and infection. It can also reduce sebum secretion, further helping to reduce acne.

Tocopherol (Vitamin E)

Tocopherol or Vitamin E has potent antioxidant properties. It protects the cells from oxidative stress and helps with skin healing. It is naturally found in vegetable oils or it can be synthetically manufactured.


UVA and UVB rays penetrate the skin, damaging the skin’s cellular DNA, contributing to premature ageing and increasing the risk of cancers. It is essential to use a broad spectrum SPF every day to protect your skin against these harmful rays.


Vitamins can help to boost your overall health through your diet, and the health of your skin when applied through skincare. These provide protection against free radicals and boost essential processes for a smoother, firmer look. The most common and effective vitamins for your skin include Vitamin A, Vitamins B3, B5, B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin F (linoleic and linolenic acid), Vitamin H (biotin) and Vitamin K, which targets dark circle and unevenness.


It is a common theory that drinking plenty of water will hydrate your skin. While you can’t actually hydrate your skin by drinking a glass of water, it is true that if your body in general is dehydrated, the effects will show on your skin. So in addition to a healthy skincare routine, make sure you follow a healthy diet that includes plenty of water.


Xylose and other sugars (saccharides) help to hydrate and replenish your skin. Xylose also stimulates the production of Glycosaminoglycans(GAGs) that help to defend the body against water loss.

Yeast Extract

Yeast extract contains amino acids, proteins, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins. It has the ability to improve skin smoothness and texture, boost cell renewal, treat pigmentation and hydrate the skin.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are physical sunscreen ingredients that help to protect the skin against UVA and UVB damage by reflecting the rays away from the skin (compared to chemical sunscreens that absorb and neutralise them). It is essential to use a good, broad spectrum SPF every day to prevent damage to your skin.


I am a lifestyle blogger from Cape Town trying to find the best ways to spend my time, take care of my body and express myself. I am slightly obsessed with fragrances, sneakers, Jamie Oliver and Masterchef Australia. Oh, and I probably drink way too much wine.


  1. Love love LOVE this post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and have favourited it so I can always have it on hand for skincare issues!

    • Malherbe Liezel Reply

      Wonderful! I am so happy you found it useful. It was my idea that people could use it as a quick reference when they need more info on skincare ingredients and terms.

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