July 4, 2018

Skincare Glossary – A Definitive Guide

Written by Dr Kate Jameson

Part of my role involves consulting with clients about their skin concerns and ultimate skin goals. During the consultation process, I often find my clients asking questions like “what is this doing for my skin?”; or “how does this work?”

These for me are simple questions, yet involve more of a technical terminology and explanation. Explaining the treatments, products and ingredients can be confusing for the client so it is so important to be able to communicate in an easy and understandable way.

As anti-ageing and skincare continues to develop and grow as a forever advancing industry, there is a lot to keep up with! To help the big cloud of confusion around all the technical terminology, I have put together a glossary of all things relative to dermal and cosmetic therapies, anti-ageing and skincare.

I believe that empowering my clients to have a better understanding of their skin and their treatment options, even down to the ingredients in their skin care, will result in beautiful and healthy skin for years to come.

Below you will find definitions of many fun words Dermal Therapists use to explain all things skin related to our clients on a daily basis.

Let the learning commence.


Acne – Acne is a well known skin condition that tends to begin in our early teenage years. There are a few major factors that cause the formation of acne within the skin, these include hormones; sebaceous gland blockage; bacteria and inflammation; stress; diet & lifestyle. The hair follicle and its associated oil (sebaceous) gland becomes blocked and this is when bacteria thrives and inflammation occurs. Creating a build up which results in whiteheads, blackheads and inflamed pus-filled spots that can develop on the face, neck, back and chest as this is where oil glands are larger and most active.

Acne Scarring – Indentations in the skin caused from severe cystic acne. Deep acne cysts can damage the surrounding tissues, leaving textural differences and changes within the skin, once acne has healed or been treated it can leave the surrounding skin damaged and therefore left with indents or scars. There are varying severity’s of acne scarring including ice pick scars, boxcar scars, rolling scars, atrophic scars, as well as PIHP scarring.

AHA’s – Alpha Hydroxy Acids are what helps dissolve and exfoliate the top layer of dead skin cells off the surface of the skin so that new skin cells can come through. AHAs are water soluble within the skin, they are a chemical exfoliate and can be found in home care products to help maintain healthy looking skin. The most common AHAs are Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid and Mandelic Acid. These help to strengthen the skin over time and increase more collagen production.

Antioxidants – Protect our skin by reducing the exposure of free radical damage to the skin cells. Antioxidants in skin care help to keep our skin hydrated, and maintain skin health while also reducing the signs of ageing. They provide stability to free radicals, preventing further damage.

Alpha Lipoic Acid – A potent antioxidant.


BBL – (Broad Band Light) works by directing light energy into the skin which is then converted to heat as it reaches its target. The target, or chromophore can be the pigment in the skin, pigment in hair, redness of blood vessels and even the bacteria causing acne.

BHA’s – Beta Hydroxy Acids (namely Salicylic Acid) are oil soluble in the skin, this means they get down into the pores to activate through the oil that’s blocking the pores. BHAs are also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory which helps treat acne-prone skin and reduce congestion such as blackheads.


Cellulite – Subcutaneous fat deposits beneath the skin causing dimpling to the surface of the skin. Mainly appears like lumpy, dimpled flesh around the thighs, hips, buttocks and stomach.

Chemical Peels – Chemical peels, are a minimal invasive skin treatment that exfoliates away the top layer of skin, helping to promote cellular renewal. Acids such as Lactic, Salicylic and Mandelic- help to target a wide variety of skin concerns; Mature skin types suffering dryness and dehydration; Acne prone skins; Oily/Congested skins; Pigmentation and Sun damaged skins; Sensitive/Rosacea skins.

Chirality – Essentially, the molecules of active ingredients in your skin care have two ways of being expressed. The first way of expression fits perfectly into skin receptors. The other way is a mirror image and is not received by the skin, causing build up and irritation. The easiest way to imagine this is trying to fit a right hand glove on your left hand. Good quality cosmeceuticals will be formulated to be “Chirally Correct”, providing your skin with the best care possible.

Collagen – Is what helps give the skin its strength and elasticity, along with replacing dead skin cells.

Cosmeceuticals – Skin care that contains active ingredients which penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin to have a biological change on the functioning of the skin.

Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10) An antioxidant present in the skin which declines with exposure to sun. COQ10 used in many skincare lines to help strengthen the integrity of skin cells and improve texture.

Ceramides – Fatty acids that help to hold skin cells together, strengthening the outer layer of the skin.

Comodogenic – A solution/cream that tends to block pores and cause blackheads and whiteheads.

Chemical Exfoliation – The use of AHAs, BHA’s or enzymes to break down the protein bonds between skin cells and gently resurface the skin.


Dermal Therapist – A Dermal Therapist is recognised as a specialist in dermal therapy procedures such as laser, IPL/BBL, dermabrasion , skin needling and chemical peels, and has gained an understanding of the integumentary system. As well as this, a Dermal Therapist has a working knowledge of cosmetic medicine and often works with other health professionals such as dermatologists, plastic and reconstructive surgeons.

Dermatitis – An inflammatory skin condition, normally presenting with redness, irritation, flakiness or itching of the skin. This condition may come and go depending on external/internal factors.

Dermis – The skin’s deeper layer, is a thick layer of fibrous and elastic tissue. This layer gives our skin its flexibility and strength. It is made up of nerve endings, sebaceous glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels. The dermis consists of 3 layers; The Dermal papillae, the Papillary;  and the Reticular.

Depigmentation – The process of brightening/lifting existing pigment, and/or the prevention of further pigmentation occurring

Dehydration – A lack of water content in the skin. This can be a result of inadequate intake of water, however more commonly is due to an impaired skin barrier, meaning water readily evaporates through the surface.

Desquamate – The lifting and detaching of surface skin cells, when being replaced by newer younger cells.

Downtime – The estimated amount of time it may take for the skin to partially/fully recover from a treatment.

Dermal Filler – An injectable treatment composed of cross-linked hyaluronic acid (See “H”). Dermal fillers are used to provide volume, lift, symmetry, and enhance natural beauty facial to provide a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. The most commonly treated areas are lips, cheeks, tear troughs, nose, chin and jawline.

Dynamic Line – A wrinkle or line that appears on facial movement or during a facial expression, but on relaxation smooths out and disappears.


Epidermis – The epidermis is the thin yet tough, outer layer of the skin that contains 5 layers (from outermost to innermost); The Stratum corneum, Stratum Lucidum, Stratum Granulosum, Stratum Spinosum and Stratum Germinativum (basale).

Elastin – An elastic protein in connective tissue, found especially in the dermis of the skin. Elastin helps skin to return to its natural position when it is poked or pinched.

Exfoliation – The removal of dead skin cells and build up on the skins outer layer. Chemical and physical exfoliant’s promote cellular renewal and textural improvements to the skin, as well as improving skin’s appearance and health.

Extrinsic ageing – A lot of external factors can act individually or together on the normal ageing process to age our skin prematurely. Most premature skin ageing and pigmentation is caused by sun damage and UV radiation. Other external factors that prematurely age our skin are repetitive facial expressions, gravity, sleeping positions, diet and lifestyle.

Enzymes – Enzymes accelerate chemical reactions and when used in skin care, prompt exfoliation and detoxification.


Ferulic Acid – A plant based antioxidant that enhances the activity of Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Freckles – Freckles also known as Ephelides are 1 mm-2 mm flat pigmented spots and typically appear on sun-exposed areas such as the face, chest, arms, back and shoulders. People with fair skin, and light or reddish hair are more prone to these types of freckles. Over time, freckles can lighten and fade, but tend to appear darker in warmer months when exposed more to the sun.

Free Radicals – Free radicals are atoms with unpaired electrons in their outer shell. These highly reactive radicals seek out stability, and in the skin, they can start a chain reaction, like dominoes, stealing electrons from other stable cells causing damage to these cells. Free radicals come as a result of factors such as UV radiation, pollution, stress, poor diet etc., and can be stabilised with Antioxidants.

Fibroblasts – The cell responsible for synthesising collagen and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)

Fractional Laser – A non-ablative laser used for resurfacing the skin to treat pigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, scarring and sun damage.


Glyceryin – A humectant that attracts water

Glycolic Acid – An Alpha Hydroxy Acid, derived from cane sugar.

Glycation – The process in which sugar molecules attach to collagen fibres in the skin, deforming the expression of collagen fibres and causing cross-linked wrinkles. Glycation can be more common in diabetics, and also as a result of poor diet.

Granulation – a process of wound healing in the skin.

Green Tea – A potent antioxidant.

Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) – are essential molecules in the body. Some GAGs include keratin and hyaluronate. Along with collagen and elastin, they provide the skin with substance, bounce, and hydration to name a few.


Hyaluronic Acid – A substance found widely throughout the body in neural and connective tissue. Hyaluronic Acid attracts and can hold up to 1000 times it’s weight in water, making it extremely hydrating and plumping to the skin.

Hypodermis: Contains adipose (fat) tissue.

Hypoallergenic – the product is less likely to cause an allergic reaction. This does not guarantee that you will not react, you will still need to check the ingredients to be safe.

Hyalase – A solution that is used to dissolve dermal fillers.


Injectables – Whether it be a preventative or helping rejuvenate facial ageing, cosmetic injecting has increasingly become very popular within the cosmetic industry. These are non-invasive cosmetic procedures that are used to help restore volume to the targeted areas; Wrinkle Relaxer Injections work to relax the muscles resulting in little-to-no movement, helping minimise further wrinkling. Dermal fillers are popular for enhancing facial features such as fuller, plumper lips and helping plump out deep folds and wrinkles in commons areas such as frown lines and around the mouth. Injectables is a broad term to typically describe the above treatments.

Intrinsic Ageing – The natural ageing process starts around our mid-20s. As this process kicks in, production of collagen and elastin within our skin cells begin to slow down. Resulting in the decrease of our natural processes in exfoliation and renewal of the skin cell turnover. This becomes noticeable over time in the way our skin feels and looks with a loss of firmness, appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and volume in the skin.


Jessners – A type chemical peel. Best suited for oily type skins and pigmentation.


Keloid – A form of scarring with a raised, coloured appearance.

Kojic Acid – An acid that has powerful brightening effects on the skin as well as is a potent tyrosinase inhibitor.

Keratin – A fibrous structural protein. It is the key structural material making up the outer layer of human skin, as well as hair, horns, claws, and hooves.

Kaolin – A clay mineral, commonly used in masks to absorb excess oil and detoxify the skin.


Laser – An invasive skin resurfacing treatment that is effective in treating a number of skin concerns, including skin texture and tone, wrinkles, acne, collagen production and sun damage. The technique of a laser directs short, concentrated pulsating beams of light at the skin, removing skin layer by layer.

Lactic Acid – An Alpha Hydroxy Acid derived from milk. Lactic acid is composed of an extra hydroxy (water) molecule, making it extremely hydrating for the skin.

LED Therapy (Healite) – LED Therapy (Light Emitting Diode) is the therapeutic use of incident light to photo modulate cellular function, speeding up the natural healing process. LED Therapy is used to help reduce bacteria within active acne skins, stimulate skin rejuvenation, and eliminate inflammation and sensitivity. LED Therapy can be used as a standalone treatment but also compliments dermal therapies ‘post-procedures’ helping clients downtime and healing process.

Lentigines – Lentigines are larger sunspots, often darker than normal freckles and can vary in size and shape. These kind of spots are referred to as lentigo simplex or solar lentigo. These spots tend not to fade or lighten over time, and aren’t normally cancerous, however regular skin checks are advised if irregular changes occur in their size or shape.

Lipid Bilayer – Also known as the “acid mantle”. The slightly acidic, oily film that covers our skin that provides protection against external factors, prevents the passing through of unwanted substances and locks in hydration.The components of the acid mantle come from our sweat glands, sebaceous glands and Natural Moisturising Factors. Healthy skin has a natural pH of about 5.5. An impaired acid mantle can result in sensitive, dry, inflamed and poorly functioning skin.


Melanin – Produced by cells called melanocytes, Melanin is the pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their colour.

Melasma –   A common condition mostly seen in women that can develop through hormonal changes during pregnancy, medications and excessive sun exposure. Melasma forms within our skin cells by the stimulation of melanocytes – which are our pigment producing cells – to produce more melanin (pigment) within those cells. This resulting in uneven skin tone and block-like pigment formation. The affected area has a darker brown colouring and can appear in patches most often found on the cheeks, forehead, nose and chin.

Mineral Oil – Mineral oil is a colorless and odorless oil that’s made from petroleum, as a by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline. It’s long been used as a common ingredient in lotions, creams, ointments, and cosmetics. It’s lightweight and inexpensive, and helps reduce water loss from the skin. Mineral Oil can be considered a comodogenic ingredient.

Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm) – A plant derivative used for it’s potent brightening effects on the skin.

Manual Exfoliation – The use of beads or an abrasive to physically encourage exfoliation of skin cells.


Niacinamide – A derivative of Vitamin B that is extremely hydrating, balancing and calming on the skin.

Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF) – Excretions (such as sweat and sebum) from your skin that form a natural hydration system. The components making up the skins NMF include salts, lipids, amino acids, and urea.

Natural – A tricky term that has no standard definition when it comes to skin care. Most commonly used to refer to products that are made mostly of plant-derived ingredients.

Non-comedogenic – A comedone is a clogged pore (whitehead or blackhead); therefore a non-comedogenic product is one that claims not to clog pores.


Organic – An ingredient that has been grown free of chemical pesticides.

Oligopeptide – A blend of fatty acids and amino acids that provides the skin with anti-ageing benefites.


Parabens – Commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics. There is evidence to believe that parabens may be linked to endocrine disruption, allergies and toxicity in the body.

Peptides – Chains of amino acids that send signals to cells to instruct them on how to behave.

Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIHP) – Hyper-pigmentation & Hypo-pigmentation – Trauma induced to the skin can cause damage and inflammation to skin cells, resulting in discolouration to the affected area.  Compared to the normal skin tone, in affected areas the skin can turn darker in colour (hyperpigmentation) or become lighter/white in colour (hypopigmentation) as a result of severe melanin damage within these cells.

Proteins – Proteins are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s cells, tissues, and organs.


Q-switch – A laser that is most commonly used for tattoo removal.


Radiofrequency – A technique that uses Radio Frequency energy to heat the surrounding tissues to stimulate collagen production, helping reduce the appearance of fine lines and loose skin. Radio Frequency is a heat based treatment not involving light technologies, which is targeted to help encourage collagen and elastin production within the skin cells, resulting in firmer, tighter, more rejuvenated skin.

Resurfacing – Improving the appearance of damaged and ageing skin by dermal therapies that involves wounding the skin, removing the epidermal layers, and helping promote the renewal of skin cell production. This results of resurfacing in skin looking more youthful and healthier, reducing photodamage and other skin concerns.

Rosacea – A common skin disorder affecting mostly through the mid-section of the face and looks similar to pimple-like bumps, red patches and broken capillaries. The cause of Rosacea is unknown, but there are a combination of factors that can contribute to this skin disorder which can include the presence of a certain type of bacteria, genetics, environmental factors, vascular and inflammation responses in sensitive/reactive skin types.

Retinol – A derivative of Vitamin A that acts on a dermal level and has clinically proven anti-ageing benefits for the skin. (See “V” for “Vitamin A)

Resveratrol – A potent antioxidant, found in red wine and grape skins.

Refine – A term used to describe improving skin texture


Sebaceous glands – Are exocrine glands that produce and release sebum onto the surface of the skin to help moisturise and protect our skin and hair from bacteria and other foreign substances from entering the body while keeping water in.

Sebum –  Is an oily substance secreted from the sebaceous glands made up of fat, keratin, and cellular debris.

Skin Laxity – A normal and inevitable part of the ageing process and decrease in skin elasticity. This is where we notice drooping and loss of volume in the skin.

Skin Layers – The skin has multiple layers. The epidermis, is the outermost layer of the skin. It provides a waterproof barrier and creates our skin tone. The dermis, which is located beneath the epidermis, contains tough connective tissue, hair follicles, and our sweat glands. The deeper subcutaneous tissue is made up of fat and connective tissue.

Skin Needling – A minimal invasive treatment, targeted to resurfacing the skin. Tiny micro-needles penetrate into the skin, inducing wound healing response helping heal and repair the ‘damaged’ skin. This process results in new skin cell turnover, with increased collagen & elastin formation. Targets to brighten, tighten and rejuvenate the skin. Skin needling is a great option for people looking to improve their texture and tone of their skin. As well as helping reduce pigmentation, acne scarring, reduction of pore size and all round anti-ageing concerns.

SPF – Sun Protection Factor; A measure of sunscreen to protect the skin from UVB rays, helping to reduce the exposure of radiation that causes sunburn, damages skin, and can contribute to skin cancer.

Static Line – A wrinkle or line that is present when the face is at rest. Usually a result of repeated facial expressions over a long period of time, or wrinkles caused by sleeping position.

Salicylic Acid – A beta hydroxy acid. Salicylic acid is oil soluble and one of the most common ingredients used when treating acne and oily skins.


Telangiectasia – Broken blood vessels, also known as telangiectasia; spider veins; angioectasias. These are superficial dilated blood vessels under the surface of the skin caused by a number of factors such as sun damage, pregnancy, radiation therapy, and excessive scrubbing or exfoliating to sensitive areas. Commonly affected around the nose, cheeks, and chin, broken vessels can be easily treatable by BBL, which help push these broken vessels back into the vascular network, reducing their appearance.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Peel – A chemical peel suited for deep wrinkles and pigmentation.

TCA Cross – A procedure in which a toothpick is used to apply drops of TCA peel into ice pick scars (see Acne Scarring) or other deep scarring, usually post skin needling.

Tyrosinase – An enzyme that converts tyrosine into melanin in the skin.

Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) – Loss of water through the epidermal layers of the skin. TEWL is the main cause of skin dehydration, and is increased in skins with an impaired Lipid Bilayer (See “L”) and/or inadequate Natural Moisturising Factor (See “N”).


UVA – The longer rays of the all three UVs, ranges at 320-400 nanometers, UVA is further divided into two wave ranges, UVA I, which measures 340-400 nanometers, and UVA II which extends from 320-340 nanometers. UVA is present during all daylight hours throughout the year, and can penetrate clouds and glass.

UVB – UV radiation is considered the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. UVB ranges from 290 to 320 nm. UVB rays do not significantly penetrate glass.

UVC – The shorter rays, most UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not reach the earth.


Vitamin A – Derivatives of Vitamin A are proven to boost collagen production within the skin cells which help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, speeds up our skin cell turnover helping with pigmentation and discolouration within the cells and gives a brighter,  even skin tone. The most common forms of Vitamin A are referred to as Retinol; Retinoic Acid; and Retinyl Palmitate.

Vitamin BNicotinamide, a derivative of Vitamin B3, helps to improve the function of the epidermis, increasing the absorption of moisture within the skin. This results in softer, smoother skin, helping hydrate and reduce fine lines.

Vitamin C – A potent antioxidant that helps protect our skin from environmental exposures such as UV and free radicals, reduces the signs of ageing and is essential for collagen production within the skin cells. Ongoing use of Vitamin C within your skincare routine will help reduce sun damage, rejuvenate, firm and tighten the skin, giving a more youthful look.  

Vitamin E – A fat soluble vitamin that may also be referred to as a “Tocopherol”. Vitamin E’s are required for the proper function of many organs, enzymatic activities and neurological processes. Vitamin E plays an important role in the healthy functioning of the skin. Vitamin E is found only in plant foods, including certain oils, nuts, grains, fruits and wheat germ. It’s also available as a supplement.


Wrinkle – A line that forms in the skin due to inadequate collagen and elastin production to fight against gravitational pull, repeated facial expressions or folding of the skin as a result of sleeping position.

Wrinkle Relaxer – A protein which when injected, relaxes the action of a muscle fibre. With loss of the movement, over time, fine lines and wrinkles caused by certain facial expressions smooth out.


X – A symbol for a kiss. Many of which will be given with your new perfect pout (See “D” For Dermal Filler).


Youthful – Can refer to the outer appearance of one’s skin, or the functioning of the inner cell activity.

Youth Lab – Your skin sanctuary. Where medical meets luxury, and scientific medicine meets a holistic approach. Search no further, call now.


Zinc Oxide – Unlike many chemical sunscreens, zinc oxide protects against UVA and UVB rays (See “U”) and is often used as a natural, non-toxic sunscreen. Other benefits of Zinc Oxide include enhanced healing of epidermal wounds, burns, rashes, treating oiliness, infections and acne.