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PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) is a water-soluble B vitamin found in blackstrap molasses, bran, brewer’s yeast, eggs, liver, milk, rice, organ meats, wheat germ and whole wheat. The RDA is 50—60 mg per day.

PABA is well known for its ability to screen out the burning effects of UV rays. Several other substances also do this job, but PABA is still the choice for sun protection. It works best when combined with other sun protectors like jojoba butter (and oil), African butter (also known as karite, or shea butter), aloe vera, green tea, willow bark extract and cuttlefish oil. Though PABA isn’t easily washed away, it holds best to the skin if also combined with fatty acid esters, sorbitol or vegetable glycerine.

It’s believed that PABA—combined with selenium, vitamin C, the amino acid cysteine and other B vitamins like inositol, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin and niacin—can retard hair loss and prevent gray hair. In any case, when used in shampoos and hair conditioners, PABA will prevent UV damage of the disulfide bond in hair (another cause of hair loss and breakage).

A salt of PABA known as DMAE (dimethyl-aininoethanol) is an amino alcohol believed by some scientists to reduce the aging process by removing the accumulated toxic byproducts of metabolism. The theorv is that, as we age, our bodies gradually lose the ability to create the digestive enzymes known as lysosomes, and that PABA and/or DMAE keeps the lysomal enzymes doing their job of eliminating the toxins. (However, there have recently been reports of allergic reactions to DMAI~.)

The brown spots on our skin (commonly called age spots or liver spots) are a result of the accumulation of toxins within the body. When these toxins accumulate in brain cells, they interfere with cellular metabolism, which is why DMAE is said to improve mental functioning.

PABA is generally not toxic. A recent FDA regulation requires that it appear on labels as paraaminobenzoic acid, not simply as PABA.

palmamide DEA, MEA and MIPA

Combinations of palm oil and ethanolamides. See alkyloamides.


pa imitate

A salt or ester of palmitic acid used in baby oils, bath oils, eye creams, hair conditioners and moisturizers. It causes allergic reactions in some people.

palmitic acid

Also called hexadecanoic acid, thisfatty acid occurs in palm oil and most otherfats and fatty oils. When used in cosmetics, palmitic acid may contain petrochemicals like propylene glycol, for enhanced emulsibility.


palm oil (also known as palm kernel oil)

This white to yellowish fat, obtained from palm kernels (particularly those of the African oil palm), is similar to coconut oil and is used to make soaps, shampoos (especially baby shampoos), ointments and margarine.

pantothenic acid

Also known as vitamin B5, panthothenic acid is found in bran, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, carrots, cauliflower, cheese, eggs, fish, peas, legumes, lima beans, mushrooms, oats, organ meats, peanuts, royal jelly, salmon, soybeans, spinach, walnuts, wheat, wheat germ, whole grains and liver. The RDA is 4—7 mg, and it’s not known to be toxic in any dosage.

Pantothenic acid is an excellent skin hydrator; used in moisturizers or complexion sprays, it leaves the skin smooth and moist. When combined with PABA, folic acid and inositol, it makes hair look thicker and fuller and gives it body; it’s also said to prevent gray hair. Gums or resins are hardly needed (or not needed at all) in hair sprays that use pantothenic acid.

pa pain

Papain is a proteolytic enzyme (that is, a substance that breaks down proteins or peptides into simpler substances, as in digestion) that comes from green papayas. It’s used to tenderize meat, to chill-proof beer and as a digestive aid, and it’s also been used in cosmetics to soften skin.


These toxic, allergenic, synthetic chemicals are used to preserve cosmetics, but they aren’t effective with shampoos or with products that contain proteins. See PHBs.


This waxy, crystalline mixture of hydrocarbons usually derived from petrochemicals, is used as a thickener for cosmetics. See waxes.



This toxic, polymerized formaldehyde is sold under the trade names Formagene, Foromycen and Triformol. For toxicity data, see formaldehyde.

parts per million, parts per billion

One part per million means that in a million grams (ounces or whatever) of a mixture, there’s one gram (ounce or whatever) of the substance being described. Parts per billion work the same way. They’re abbreviated ppm and ppb.

patch test

If you’re concerned about allergic reactions to a particular cosmetic, apply a small amount of it to your inner arm, cover it with a bandage and leave it for 24 hours. If redness or soreness develops, you’ll know that you have an allergic reaction to some constituent of that product. If there’s no redness or soreness, the product is probably safe for you to use (at least as far as allergies are concerned).


This halogenated phenolic antimicrobial is used as a topical antiseptic, a disinfectant, a preservative in pharmaceuticals, and in protein shampoos and baby cosmetics at concentrations of 0.100 to 0.200. It’s sold under the trade names of BP, PCMC and Preventol CMK. Like all phenolic products, it should be considered toxic.

peach kernel oil

This can refer to two different oils. One, which is also called persic oil, is obtained by expression. The other, a toxic essential oil that’s very similar to bitter almond oil, is obtained by steam distillation and is used as an emollient or aromatic in cosmetics.


This natural substance, obtained from vegetables or fruits, is used in cosmetics as an emulsifier and thickener. It consists of partially methoxylated polygalacturonic acids.


In herbology, a substance that provides relief from chest. and lung ailments.

PEG compounds

These synthetic plant glvcols are used as binders, solvents, emollients, plasticizers, bases, carriers, emulsWers and dispersants. They cause many allergic reactions. Their name comes from the fact that they’re usually polyethylene glycols, but they can also be polyrners of ethylene oxide. See alkyloarnides.

penta potassium triphosphate

These inorganic salts are used as emuls~fiers, sequestrants and dispersants. They can irritate skin and mucous membranes; they aren’t biodegradable, poilute our water and are toxic to marine life.


These compounds, which can be natural or synthetic, are composed of amino acids linked by peptide bonds (the carboxyl group of one amino acid attached to the amino group of another). When peptide bonds in the hair are broken, damaged hair is the result.


Through the skin.


More concentrated than a cologne, a perfume may be natural or synthetic, but unless you know the manufacturer to be dead-set against synthetic chemicals, it probably contains them. Even high-priced French colognes and perfumes contain synthetic essential oils andfixatives. Perfumes can cause allergic reactions.


See evening primrose oil.

evening primrose oil.


In this common measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution, the lower the number, the more acid the solution, and the higher the number, the more alkaline. The scale runs from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral (neither acid nor alkaline).

pH balanced

See acid balanced.

acid balanced.

PHBs (hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl esters)

These preservatives are widely used as antimicrobials in cosmetics (in shampoos, for example) under the names methyl paraben, propyl paraben, ethyl paraben and butyl paraben. They’re incompatible with anionics, nonionics and proteins, and protein-containing products preserved with them have been found to contain microorganisms, even when the PHBs were used in high concentrations and the products appeared to be bacteria-free. This means that PHBs can’t be safely used in any skin care product that contains collagen, elastin, placenta, hydrolyzed animal protein, keratin, etc.

Different PHB esters have differing amounts of antimicrobial activity, but all are acutely toxic orally. In lab tests, "higher animals" were more sensitive. It took only 3 g/kg of methyl paraben, 5 g/kg of ethyl paraben and 6 g/kb of either propyl or butyl paraben to murder dogs, while 300 g/kg was required to kill rabbits.

PHBs were first used in 1924. Supplied in the form of a white crystalline powder, they’re odorless, soluble in water at 200 C and soluble in solvents. Trade names include Nipagin, Nipasol, Nipakombin, Nipabenzyl and Soibrol.

phenol and phenolic compounds

Consiting of carbolic acid and related compounds, these toxic chemicals are often used as preservatives in cosmetics.


This is a trade name for a blend of p-hydroxybenzoic acid esters, and like the parabens and phenoxyetol, it’s toxic.


This phenolic derivative, sold under the trade names of Arosol, Dowanol EPH, Phenyl Cellosolve, Phenoxethol, Phenoxetol and Phenonip, murdered lab rats at 1.3 gtkg. Also see parabens.


phenylmeceucic acetate


This organic cation ic, also known as PMA, is a primary skin irritant. It contains mercury, a deadly poison, and when it was put in the food of lab animals, it gave them kidney disease.

PMA is used in eye cosmetics and can enter the body through the eyes or the tender skin around the eyes. Trade names for it include Advacide PMA 18, Cosan PMA, Mergal A 25, Metasol 30, Nildew AC 30, Nuodex PMA 18, Nylmerate and Troysan. Also see mercury and its compounds.

mercury and its compounds.


This synthetic color can be a severe skin irritant.


Any of a class of fat-soluble organic chemicals present in the fat deposits of all living cells (e.g. lecithin).

phosphoric acid

This clear, viscous liquid is used in cosmetics as an antioxidant, sequestrant and acidifier. It’s corrosive to the skin and mucous membranes when used in a concentrated form.


Phototoxic substances increase the response of the skin to ultraviolet rays and can cause sunburn without any allergic effect being involved.

P-hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl esters

See PHBs.


A cosmetic made exclusively from vegetable sources.


Using herbal or plant substances for the treatment of the skin, or manufacturing products from plant substances for skin care.


Using plants and herbs for therapeutic purposes (either internally or externally).

piroctofle olamine

Although this toxic pyridine derivative is compatible with many ingredients commonly used in hair care products (like anionic, cationic and amphoteric synthetic detergents), it’s incompatible with many natural essential oils. It’s used in antidandruff hair tonics and shampoos, but there are safe, natural ingredients that will do the same job. Its trade name is Octopirox.


This organ, present in all mammals except marsupials and monotremes, unites the fetus to the mother and is expelled at birth. Bovine placenta liquid, obtained from cows between the third and fourth month of pregnancy, is used in some cosmetics as a moisturizer.


An agent that keeps a substance soft and/or pliable.


See phenylmercuric acetate.

poloxamer compounds

These two polymers, polvoxethvlene and polvoxypropylene. are synthetic surfactan ts. Allergic reactions to them have been reported, and they’re pollutants.

polyhydric alcohol esters

These fatty alcohol esters are used in cosmetics as emollients, humectants, emuls~flers and moisturizers. They can be natural (glycerine, sorbitol and mannitol are examples) or synthetic (mono and di-fatty acid esters of ethylene glycols, diethylene glycol, polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol and polyoxyethylene sorbitol).

polymers, polymeric, polymerization

A polymeric compound is one in which two or more identical molecules are combined to form a complex compound with a higher molecular weight. Some polymers consist of millions of repeated, linked molecules.


A peptide containing more than ten or so amino acid molecules (and sometimes as many as 100 or more).


These fatty acid esters are used in many cosmetics as ernulsifiers. Polysorbates are assigned various numerical values—polysorbate 60, polysorbate 80, etc— according to their formulas and whether they’re intended to be used in foods or cosmetics. Polysorbate 20. for example, is used as an anti-irritant in anti-sting shampoos.

Some authors have praised polysorbates for their ability to grow hair and cure dandruff, but they can be extremely drying to the scalp. If used in hair care products, they should be combined with essential fatty acids, aloe vera and/or other oils to offset this tendency.


This polymer of styrene may be a liquid balsamic oil from the bark of the Asian tree (genus Styrax) or a synthetic chemical. It’s used in cosmetics packaging as a protective plastic film.

polyvinyl pyrrolidone

This petroleum-derived chemical, commonly known as PVP, is used in hairspravs, wavesets and other cosmetics. Inhaled particles may cause problems in the lungs of sensitive people.


This chemical element (atomic number 19, syiribol K) stands in the middle of the alkaline metals, below sodium (Na) and above rubidium (Rb) on the table of elements. At 380 parts per million, potassium is the sixth most plentiful element in sea water (exceeded by chlorine, sodium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium).

Potassium reacts even more violently to licjuid acids than sodium; in fact, it verges on being explosive. Some potassmm compoundS are used in cosmetics (e.g. potassium hydroxide), but I don’t recommend putting them on your hair and/or skin.

potassium carbonate

A potassium compound used in making soft soaps. See potassium hydroxide.

potassium hydroxide

Also known as lye or caustic potash, this chemical is used in liquid soaps. In ancient times, seaweed was burned and the ash was used. Later table salt (sodium chloride) was used.

powdered extracts

These are prepared from native extracts by dilution to a specified strength, followed by drying, usually under vacuum. The dry solids are then ground into fine powders or into coarse granules, in combination with lactose, dextrose, sucrose or starch.


Parts per billion.

P-phenylenedia mine

This solid, crystalline substance is used as an interrnediate in aniline (coal tar,) hair dyes. Highly allergenic, it’s also a potential carcinogen, and should be avoided.


Parts per million.

preen oil

The natural version of this oil is derived from ducks’ quills, but it can also be made synthetically by combining the same fatty acids. Preen oil has some moisturizing ability on the skin, due to ducks’ ability to repel water; in fact, preen oil is very similar to the skin’s sebum. Also see purcellin oil.

pro pamidine isethionate

This benzamidine antibacterial, used in topical cosmetics in concentrations of 0.1%, isn’t stable in the presence of amino acids or natural phospholipids such as lecithin. These substances eliminate the antibacterial action and may cause adverse reactions.

pro pionic acid

This organic acid, synthesized by the fermentation of bacteria of the genus Pro pionibacterium, is used mainly as a preservative and antimicrobial agent in cosmetics and food. It’s a primary skin irritant, and was used to murder lab rats at 2.6 g,’kg. The trade name is Mycoban.


See evening primrose oil.

pro teases

These proteolytic enzymes act on proteins by hydrolyzing specific peptides. They’re used in cosmetics to soften skin and clear skin surface of cellular debris. Examples are brornelain (from pineapple) and pa pain (from papaya).


This extremely virulent family of bacteria can contaminate cosmetic products. Preservatives are inadequate to control the problem, so care must be taken in production to make sure raw materials and finished products aren’t contaminated.


This disease of the skin is marked by crusty patches or lesions. They can be large or small and can cover the entire body, including the scalp. Believed to be hereditarv, psoriasis is the result of a rapid and abnormal growth of skin tissue. It isn’t curable, but it can be controlled by the use of UV light, which slows down the proliferation of skin cells.


This foamy, volcanic rock is extremely light because it’s full of holes. Pumice is used whole to smooth calluses, or in powdered form as an abrasive in cleansers. When used as a cleanser, it can scratch the skin; vegetable meals are more appropriate for this use.

purcellin oil

This is a trade name for synthetic preen oil, a combination of long-chainfatty acid esters (naturally derived or synthetically produced) that are similar to human seburn and to lanolin. Naturally-derive dpurcellin oil is a more humane product than preen oil itself, which is taken from duck feathers.


A laxative.


See polvvim’lpyrrolidone.


This toxic, flammable petrochemical is used in cos

This toxic, flammable petrochemical is used in cosmetics as a solvent. It’s irritating to—and may also be absorbed through—the skin.


Vitamin B6.

pyrogallic acid

This synthetic chemical is used in artificial dyes to treat skin diseases and in the chemicals used to develop photographs. It can cause allergic reactions.


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Skin Anatomy and Physiology Acne Ingredients Cosmetics
Dictionary of Skin Care Terms Skin Care Advice Skin Problems
The Sun & Your Skin Skin Care News  

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