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abietic acid

Used in soaps as a texturizer, and in industry in plastics and paint, this chemical is derived from pine rosin. It can cause allergic reactions and pollutes marine life. It’s also known as abitol and abietyl alcohol.


The most commonly used are calcium carbonate (chalk) and, in toothpaste, di-calcium phosphate dihydrate.


Pure essential oils obtained from plants (generally flowers) and used in products as natural fragrance additives.

absorption base

A mixture or compound that acts as a carrier for ingredients and increases the absorption of these ingredients by the skin. The use of absorption bases probably goes back to the beginnings of cosmetics in ancient Egypt.


The use of gum from the acacia tree dates back 4,000 years to the Egyptians, who used it in cosmetics and to manufacture paints. It’s used as a stabilizer in foods and in candy, and as a foam stabilizer in soft drinks. In cosmetics, it’s used as a film-forming agent (in hair-sprays and gels, for example). It’s also known as gum arabic and catechu. Also see gums.


This chemical, used in mouthwashes, toothpaste and feminine hygiene products, can cause allergic reactions, can be toxic and has caused cancer in lab mice. It’s also known as acetarsone.

acetic acid

This organic acid is found in vinegar (at a concentration of about 6%) and various fruits, as well as in human sweat. It’s used in hair dyes and hand lotions and as a bleaching lotion for freckles.


This colorless, volatile liquid is sometimes used in astringents, nail polish, nail polish removers and preservatives. It’s extremely toxic.

acetone chloroform

This preservative, an alcohol with a camphor-like odor, has acute oral toxicity. It can be absorbed into the skin and is a strong sensitizer that causes many allergic reac­tions. It’s used in cosmetics in concentrations of up to 0.5%, but is prohibited in aerosol dispensers. Also known as chiorobutanol, acetone chloroform is sold to cosmetic manufacturers as crystals under the trade names of Chioreton, Chiorbutol, Methaform and Sedaform. Labels containing this product should have a warning that reads: Contains chlorbutol or Contains chlor’obutanol.


A substance with a pH below 7.0 (which is the pH of water). A common acid used in cosmetics is citric acid. (Technically, acids contain hydrogen that can be replaced by metals to form salts, and that is capable of dissociating in an aqueous solution to form hydrogen ions.) The adjective is acidic. Compare alkali.

acid balanced

A pseudo-scientific advertising term used to sell sham­poos and skin cleansers. The p!-1 of hair and skin ranges from 4.5 to 5.5. The pH of an “acid balanced” product is adjusted within this range—although a prod­uct’s pH generally drifts over time and changes as soon as it’s used on the hair or skin. “Acid balanced” (also called “pH balanced”) prod­ucts have been around for more than a decade. At this time, their use hasn’t seemed to improve the hair or skin in any way. Products that are “acid balanced’ use the same synthetic chemicals as those that aren’t. Unfortunately, this slogan lures consumers into a false sense of doing something natural or scientific for their hair.

acid color

This large group of inorganic dyes includes many FD&C and D&C colors. Also see colors.



acid mantle

This slightly acidic mixture of fatty acids and perspiration on the surface of the skin protects it from bacterial growth, but there’s disagreement as to whether the pH of the acid mantle or the bacteriostatic nature of the fatty acids is the reason for the protection.

acid rinse

An acid rinse is useful for removing soap films from the hair after shampooing. A solution of vinegar or lemon juice and water is a natural one.


Acne is an inflammation of the sebaceous glands due to retained secretions. The best-known type is acne vulgaris, the pimples on the face, chest and shoulders that commonly occur in adolescence, but  there are several other kinds:

Acne artWcialis is caused by external irritants or drugs taken orally. Acne atrophica is a type of acne vulgaris in which the lesions of the pimples leave a slight amount of scarring. Acne cachechticorum most commonly occurs in people with anemia or some other debilitating constitutional disease. Acne hypertrophica leaves conspicuous pits and scars after healing.

Acne indurata Acne indurata Acne indurata Acne indurata involves deeply seated pimples with hard tubercular lesions that occur chiefly on the back. In acne keratos, inflammed horny plugs (papules) erupt from the hair follicles. Acne pun ctata appears as red papules, usually accompanied by blackheads. Acne pustulosa is a type of vulgaris in which pustular lesions predominate. In acne rosacea, congestion causes capillaries (usually around the cheeks and nose) to become dilated and on occasion broken. Acne simplex consists of simple, uncomplicated pimples.


A substance, either natural or synthetic, that’s added to a product during or after the product is made.


This odorless alcohol is used as a topical fungicide in cosmetics in concentrations of 0.5%. Although it causes skin rashes, dry, scaly skin and allergic reactions, it’s considered to be low in toxicity in animal tests.

A white crystalline powder, adermykon is synthesized by condensing equimolar amounts of P-chlorophenol and glycidol with tertiary amine or quaternary ammonium salts. Trade names for this preservative include Chlorphenesin, Geophen and Mycil.

adipose tissue

Tissue where fjt is stored, consisting of connective tissue in which the cells are distended with fat.


To falsify or alter by combining a foreign substance with a natural one.


The use of aerosol sprays began in the US Army. One of the earliest patents for aerosol use in cosmetics was granted to R.W. Moore in 1903 for a perfume atomizer; carbon dioxide was used as the propellant. Aerosol sprays are toxic and harmful to the environment (fluorocarbons have been made illegal for this reason). And they’re highly flammable. Use pump bottles instead.

aesthetician (or esthetician)

A professional who works to clean and beautify the skin. A natural aesthetician uses only natural substances and methods to care for the skin.


Chemical compatibility of two or more substances. Also, the force that unites atoms into molecules.

aging of skin

Though skin aging is thought to be a natural process, some effects aren’t very natural. Dry and wrinkled skin is caused by cross-linking in the skin’s dermal proteins (collagen, elastin and reticulin), but natural skin care can reduce this. See collagen.




A simple class of proteins that are soluble in water and are coagulated by heat. They’re found in blood plasma (serum albumin), in egg whites (ovalbumin) and in milk (lactalbumin), as well as in vegetables and fruits.


A group of organic hydroxyl compounds that includes ethanol methanol and many others. However, the term alcohol is often used to refer specifically to ethanol.


alginic acid

This acid, obtained from brown algae, has been used to protect and soothe skin. Allantoin (from comfrey root) serves the same purpose and is a better natural material for cosmetic use.


A substance with a pH above 7.0 (which is the pH of water). The adjective is alkaline. Compare acid.



A substance that raises the pH of a substance, thereby making it more alkaline.



Alkaloids are natural arnines (nitrogen-containing compounds) that have pharmacological properties and are generally of plant origin. They are widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom. Most alkaloids are insoluble (or only slightly soluble) in water. Their names end in -me.



Thesefattv acids are widely used in cosmetics for thickening, gelling, ernulsifx’ing, eniolliency, skin and hair conditioning, foam boosting, foam stabilizing, cleansing, wetting, opacifying, lubricating, powder binding, skin protecting, fungicidal properties and superfatting. They’re most commonly found in detergent formulations such as shampoos, bubble baths and liquid hand and body cleansers. Their two main drawbacks are that they can become contaminated with nitrosarnines and that they’re harmful to the environment.

There are four main groups of alkyloamides: die thanolamides (DEA), monoethanolamides (MEA), monoisopropano larnides (MIPA) and ethoxvlated or PEG alkanolamides. The DEA group was discovered first, in 1937, ~ hen Kritchevskv combined one mole of fatty acid with two moles of diethanolamine. Diethanolamine has also been combined with palm oil, soya and tallow to create soaps. Coca mide DEA is the best known of the DEA group. It’s made with coconut oil, whole coconut fatty acids afl(1 stripped coconut fatty acids, combined with the ammonia salts of carboxylic acid. The mixture can vary from equal parts of DEA and cocamide to two parts cocamide to one part DEA. An equal mixture of DEA and cocamide is often used because it creates a thicker-looking product, but it’s less water-soluble than the 2:1 ratio.

Lao raniide DEA is produced by combining Ian nc and inyristic fatty acids with DEA. It’s believed to be the best foam booster in shampoos. bubble baths and other detergent systems. is produced by combining Ian nc and inyristic fatty acids with DEA. It’s believed to be the best foam booster in shampoos. bubble baths and other detergent systems.

Mvristamid~ DEA is the least-used of the DEA group, because it’s less effective in foaming and cleansing. It does, however, produce thicker products.

Oleamide DEA will not give the same foaming results as the other DEA types, but it’s a good thickening agent. It also has some conditioning properties.

Isostearamide DEA is used in shampoos and for its viscosity-building properties. It can reduce the irrit ating effects caused by some chemicals, and it’s promoted as a hair conditioning agent and a skin emollient.

Stearamide DEA, made from triple-pressed stearic acid, can add a white, pearl-like look to shampoos; it’s also a thickening agent. It can be used as a nonionic emulsifier in water/oil emulsions. It will supposedly reduce tension between the oil and water phases, as well as increasing the emulsion’s overall viscosity. Linoleamide DEA is known mainly for its thickening properties. When used in anionic detergents, it forms a clear, thick product, like a gel. Fatty acid monoethanolamides (MEAs) are used as foam boosters in shampoos and other cosmetics; they can also be used as waxes. MEAs are less soluble in water, since they have only a single hydrophilic hydroxy group (DEA has two). The fatty amides in MEA are purer in composition than those of DEA, but remember that all the alkyloamides are harmful to the environment and can become contaminated with nitrosamines.

alkyl sulfates


Alkyl sulfates were developed in Germany when vegetable oils and fats were scarce and when detergents that would work well in hard water were needed. They’re used in most shampoos today, and are often represented on labels as being natural and derived from coconut oil. They were originally derived from natural oils like coconut, palm kernel and soya, but today they’re almost all produced from petrochemicals.

alkyltrimethylammonium bromide

The registered trade names of this preservative, which is often used in deodorants at concentrations of about 0.05% to 0.1%, are Arquad, Cetavlon, Cetab, Micol and Dodigen 5594. Supplied as crystals, this quaternary compound is toxic. It’s inactive in the presence of soaps, anionics, nitrates, metals, proteins and blood.


Allantoin is widely reported to have healing, soothing and anti-irritating properties. It can be extracted from urea (from the urine of most animals, including humans) or from herbs such as comfrey or uva ursi.


A hypersensitive reaction to specific substances that develops in some persons.

almond meal

This is the residue that remains after the oil has been expressed from almonds (usually only sweet almonds are used). Almond meal is excellent for exfoliation in face masks and soaps, and it also has soothing properties for the skin.


A deficiency of hair baldness. Partial baldness is called alopecia areata.

alopecia areata.

alpha hydroxy acids

This is the chemical name for various acids that appear naturally in fruit. (See fruit acids.) They’re used in toners, creams and masks to exfoliate (remove dead skin cells from) the skin, and they act as moisturizers as well.

Alpha hydroxy acids are high in glycolic acid and have become popular in cosmetics that exfoliate the skin, but they can be irritating to the skin, causing redness and rashes. (Procter & Gamble recently removed their alpha hydroxy acid products from the market due to skin irritation problems.)

Green tea has been found to reduce the irritating effects. The problem is less common in the natural fruit acids—the extracts of bilberry, black currant, apple, etc.—which are known as red fruit acids. has been found to reduce the irritating effects. The problem is less common in the natural fruit acids—the extracts of bilberry, black currant, apple, etc.—which are known as red fruit acids.


An herbal agent that gradually produces a change toward good health.


Used in medicine, dyeing and industrial processes, this double sulfate of aluminum and potassium is also known as aluminum sulfate. In the cosmetic industry, it’s used in antiperspirants, powders. antiseptics and detergents. It can cause allergic reactions, infection of the skin or hair follicles, and irritation of the lungs when inhaled. (For more on all this, see the next entry.)

In ancient times, alum was produced by   burning herbs to obtain the ash, but today we know it as a naturally occurring mineral called kalunite, and as a constituent of the mineral alunite. The industrial alums are potash alu nm. amino ni inn alum, so chum al urn and chrome alum (pOtassIlini chromium sulfate).

aluminum chemicals in cosmetics

Aluminum chemicals are used frequently in cosmetics. There’s aluminum chlorohvdrate in deodorants and ant iperspi rants, aluminum fluoride in toothpaste , alumina in astringents, and alum (described in the previous entry). Some scientists believe that aluminum compounds cause Alzheimer’s disease.

aluminum sulfate

See alu,ri.



This secretion from the intestinal tract of the sperm whale has been used as a fixative in fragrances.

Because whales are endangered species. use of natural ambergris is prohibited by law in the US.

am ides

Derivatives of carboxylic acid, amides are solids with low melting points. They’re stable, weakly acidic and soluble in hydroxylic solvents like water and alcohol.

One popular amide, cocamide DEA, combines coconut fatty acid with the ammonium salts of carboxylic acid. This produces a thicker appearance and reduces the stinging effect on the eyes (though not very effectively).

Aniides also improve sudsing action, and are sometimes combined with soap bark (quillaya bark), which is very cleansing but has a low suds factor on its own. For this and other reasons, amides are often used in soaps and shampoos. Also see alkyloamides.


a mines

Amines (also known as acyl glutamates) are organic nitrogen compounds that are formed by combining ammonia molecules with metal ions such as calcium, strontium and barium. As amino acids, alkaloids and vitamins, they play a prominent role in biochemical systems and are present in substances as varied as adrenaline, thiamine and novacaine. Amines are used in shampoos to supposedly reduce the stinging effect on the eyes.

amino acids

These natural acids contain amine chemical groups, and link together to form polypeptides and proteins. Essential amino acids are ones that can’t be manufactured by the body.

Human hair is made up of eighteen amino acids; amine links between them form large, condensed, polymeric structures. Because the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine are essential to protein metabolism, some of the better hair- and skin-care products contain them.

amino phenol

This amino-type permanent hair dye has been in use since 1883. It’s used to produce medium brown, orange-red and blond shades, and is toxic.


This familiar compound, made from the elements nitrogen and hydrogen, is formed when organic material decomposes. It can easily be detected by its strong, irritating odor. It’s a primary irritant and sbpuld be avoided.

Ammonia has a wide range of industrial uses. For example, it’s used in the production of nitric acid, ammonium salts, the sulfates (used in many shampoo ingredients), nitrate (used as a preservative in meats and in shampoos), carbonate and chloride, and in the synthesis of hundreds of compounds, including drugs, plastics, hair dyes and permanent wave solutions.

ammoniated mercury

See mercury and its compounds.

mercury and its compounds.

ammonium carbonate

This chemical, which is used as a pH adjuster in many permanent wave preparations, can sensitize the face, scalp, hands and cause contact dermatitis.

ammonium hydroxide

Used in hair waving solutions, hair straighteners and detergents, this highly caustic chemical can irritate the mucous membranes and even burn the skin, it’s also harmful to the environment.

amphoteric surfactants

Amphoterics (also known as surface-active agents) possess both a positive and negative electrical charge, and are capable of reacting as either an acid or an alkali, depending on the rest of the formula. They’re promoted to cosmetic manufacturers (and thus indirectly to consumers) as being milder and better than the alkyl sulfate detergents discussed above. Many shampoo ingredients combine an alkyl sulfate detergent and an amphoteric surfactant; cocoamide betaine is one example. Also see alkyloamides.

amyl acetate


amyl acetate

This toxic solvent, used in nail polish, acts as a central nervous system depressant and skin irritant. Inhalation of its vapors is harmful to the respiratory system.

arnyl dirnethyl PABA

This combination of PABA ester and amnyl alcohol is used in sunscreens. It can cause eczema and allergic dermatitis. Instead, look for natural food-grade PABA in your sunscreens; it’s compounded in vegetable glycerine and gives fewer allergic reactions.


A substance that relieves or eliminates pain. Also called an anodyne. Compare anesthetic.



A substance that reduces or eliminates sensation, including pain. Compare analgesic and anodyne.

angelica angelica (Archangelica officinalis,~

For thousands of years, the Chinese have been using the roots, leaves and seeds of ten angelica species to make dang-gui. a treatment for female ailments. When applied as a skin tonic or lotion, angelica has a soothing effect on the nerves of the skin. It’s also used as a fragrance by perfumers.

Angelica contains bergapten and xanthotoxin and, like bergamot, it can be phototoxic; however, the seed oil is not phototoxic. Angelica has antibacterial properties, and is used as a treatment for psoriasis. See chin g-s hang.



This term indicates that a substance is water-free (e.g., anhydrous lanolin).

aniline dyes

Discovered in Germany in 1873, aniline dyes are made from coal tar, a suspected human carcinogen. They’re used in hair dyes. Also see colors.




Having a negative electrical charge. Compare cationic and nonzonzc.


anionic surfactants

These synthetic, surface-active agents form the base detergent in most shampoos, including those that are called ~natural." They’re inexpensive for manufacturers but hard on consumers’ hair. (Anionic refers to their negative electrical charge.)

A serious problem with anionic surfactants is that they may be contaminated with NDLA (N-nitrosodiethanolamine), one of the nitrosamines and a potent carcinogen (according to a 1977 FDA report). Sham-pooing the hair with a product contaminated with NDLA can lead to its absorption into the body at levels nuich higher than eating nitrite-contaminated foods. Thus all the following anionic surfactants should be avoide ci:

Sodium lauryl sulfate, TEA-lauryl sulfate, Sodium lauryl sulfate, TEA-lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, TEA laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, lauroyl sarcosine, cocoyl sarcosine, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, sodium cocoyl sarcosinate, potassium coco-hydrolyzed animal protein, disodium oleamide sulfosuccinate, sodium dioctyl sulfosuccinate, sodium methyl oleoyl sulfate and sodium lauryl isoethionate.


A substance that relieves or eliminates pain. Also called an analgesic. Compare anesthetic.



A substance that destroys or expels intestinal parasites. Also called a vermifuge.


anthraquinone dye

See colors.



This term, which means hostile to bacteria, differs slightly but significantly from bacte riostatic, which refers to substances that create an environment in which bacteria don’t want to live. Natural substances, such as herbal essential oils, tend to be bacteriostatic. Antibacterials are also known as bactericides.




A substance that reduces or prevents clotting of the blood. Opposite of coagulant.


A substance that relieves or prevents convulsions.

antidandruff shampoo

Most antidandruff shampoos contain colloidal sulfur, zinc pyrrithione, salicylic acid or resorcinol, which are mixed into the usual harsh synthetic detergent base and preserved with the parabens. There are, however, natural dandruff treatments, such as selenium sulfide,jojoba oil, amino acids, indigofera, quillaya bark and aloe vera. Look for a mild shampoo that won’t be irritating to a dandruff-prone scalp. See the natural hair care section in Chapter 4.


A substance that relieves vomiting.


A substance that reduces inflammation. Also called an antiphlogistic.



These substances, which have received much publicity in recent years as potential life-extenders, prevent the too-rapid oxidation of nutrients, and counter the destructive effects of free radicals (chemically reactive molecules) in the body. Antioxidants can be natural or synthetic, and there are several types.

Antioxidant vitamins are A, E, C complex (including ascorbic acid, rutin, bioflavonoids and hesperidin), B complex (including thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, PABA, inositol and choline). Antioxidant minerals include selenium and zinc. Antioxidant enzymes, produced by the body, are superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase. Cysteine is an antioxidant amino acid. There are even a couple of antioxidant synthetic food additives:

BElA BElA and BHT.

Natural antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E can be used to preserve cosmetics, but more usually BHA or BHT are used.


A substance that relieves paralysis.


In herbology, a substance that acts against recurring diseases like intermittent fevers.


A substance or product that inhibits or prevents perspiration. Antiperspirants block the pores of the skin and can cause allergic reactions. Also see deodorant.



In herbology, a substance that reduces inflammation. Also called an anti-inflammatory.



A substance that relieves itching.


A substance that relieves rheumatism and reduces or prevents fever.


A substance that, because it contains vitamin C, cures or prevents scurvy.


A substance that destroys or inhibits the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms (sepsis means putrefaction or decay). Many herbs have natural anti-septic action, which is preferable to the harsher synthetic antiseptics. See Chapter 2 for details.


A substance that relieves or reduces spasms.


A substance that relieves or inhibits coughing.


A substance that relieves constipation.


A substance that arouses sexual desire.


Containing, or relating to, water.


This is the art of using essential oils from roots, barks and herbs for treating the skin and body. Each herb has various therapeutic, vitalizing effects on the dermis and subcutaneous tissues to varying degrees, whether it’s inhaled, steamed or massaged into the body.

Essential oils can be powerful therapeutic agents and should be used in tiny amounts in cosmetic formulas. By using them, we can create cosmetics that are as natural as possible.


In herbology, a substance with an agreeable odor or stimulating qualities.

ascorbic acid

Also known as vitamin C, this organic acid occurs naturally in many plants, especially citrus fruits. Due to its antioxidant qualities, it can be used as a preservative in food and cosmetics. Large amounts are needed to preserve some cosmetics, but it works well when combined with the antioxidant vitamins A and E.

The fat-soluble form of vitamin C, ascorbyl palmitate, works better in emulsions and cosmetic oils than ascorbic acid, which is water-soluble. Combining the mvo forms protects both the water phase and oil phase of a cosmetic from microorganisms. Both are supplied as a white powder, and are completely nontoxic; topical use will not irritate the skin.


A deficiency or absence of sebaceous secretions.

astragulus astragulus (Astragulus hoantchy,)

The sweet-tasting root of this Chinese herb is known as huang-chi and is used as an energy tonic, diuretic and antipyretic. Though it has little use in cosmetics, it can be utilized as an astringent.



Because astringents cause organic tissues to contract, they’re used to clean the skin of oils and other substances on its surface. They can be synthetic or natural (natural astringents include witch hazel, benzoin gum extract and other tonic herbs). The use of a natural herbal astringent is recommended after the skin is thoroughly cleansed, to remove soap films and cellular debris.

athlete’s athlete’s foot

A fungus infection of the foot.

atractylodes atractylodes (Atractylodes ovata)

The rhizome of this herb, known in China as tsangchu, is used as an aromatic and a tonic, for intestinal

problems and for pigmentation problems on the skin. See tan g-kuei.

tan g-kuei.


This acid-quinonoid type of synthetic color is toxic and harmful to the environment. Also see colors.


azo colors or dyes

The largest group of coal tar colors, azo colors are toxic, harmful to the environment, and may be carcinogenic. Also see colors.



This anti-inflammatory agent is extracted from the camomile flower and used for its soothing qualities. Azulene from Moroccan blue camomile is superior to that from Hungarian blue camomile.


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