The Harley Medical Group

Demystifying Skincare: Your need-to-know guide to cosmetic terminology

We wouldn’t blame you if you find the beauty industry confusing. Every skin care product offers a miracle result and the list of ingredients on the back of each pot reads like a degree-level science exam! But what do all these terms mean and how does any of it actually benefit our skin?

To help you make sense of it all we’ve put together this plain English guide to cosmetic terminology.  Read it all and become a real beauty-buff, or skip ahead to the sections with stars – these are the ingredients or treatments we’re really excited about and you can’t afford to miss!

Vitamin B5

B5 is a skin hydrating, wonder vitamin! This clever little nutrient helps keep the skin soft and smooth. It even absorbs moisture from the air to help hydrate your complexion.

Vitamin B5 is a good ingredient to look out for when choosing a moisturiser and you’ll also find it in the Dermaquest Essential B5 Hydrating Serum.




Botox is a muscle relaxing substance most commonly injected into the face to smooth lines and wrinkles.

Botox causes a very controlled weakening of the facial muscles. The injected muscles can no longer contract, which causes lines and wrinkles to soften.  This effect means Botox is also used by medical professionals to calm muscle spasms. The effects of Botox are long-lasting but not permanent; patients usually repeat a Botox treatment every six months.

Vitamin C

You’ve probably been told to get more Vitamin C to fend off a cold before, but the nutrient has lots of skin saving benefits too! Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which slows the damage caused to the skin by free radicals. If you’re looking for a daily skincare product that contains Vitamin C try the Dermaquest Essential Moisturiser.



Collagen is a structural protein that gives the skin its firmness and lift. As we age the rate the body produces protein naturally slows, causing lines, wrinkles and sagging skin.

Products that contain collagen or boost collagen production aim to increase depleting levels and give the skin back its youthful firmness and lift.

Edelweiss Plant Stem Cell Extract

Stem cells are an exciting area of medical research. They’re special because while other cells - like brain cells or skin cells - have a specific purpose, stem cells can develop into various different types of cells – replacing and repairing areas that have been damaged.

In skincare products this means stem cells can support cell turn over, boosting the production of new skin cells for a fresher, younger-looking complexion. You’ll find Edelweiss Plant Stem Cell Extract in the Dermaquest Stemcell Rebuilding Complex.

Vitamin E  

Vitamin E has all sorts of skin nourishing benefits. It protects against damage from pollution and the environment, works as an excellent moisturiser, is a powerful anti-inflammatory – soothing and calming the skin and aids the healing process.

Another reason Vitamin E is a great ingredient to look out for in skincare products is that it’s one of the best antioxidants, helping to neutralise free radicals and repair the skin ageing damage they cause.

Free radicals

You’ll often hear skincare experts talking about damaging free radicals, with little more explanation.

A free radical is actually an atom that’s missing an electron.  This is bad news for your skin because free radicals will try and take an electron from healthy skin cells, damaging your DNA and speeding up the ageing process.

Anti-oxidants neutralise free radicals and some, like Vitamin C, reverse the damage they cause to our DNA too, keeping you looking youthful for longer.


Hyaluronic Acid


Hyaluronic Acid is the biggest revolution in anti-ageing skin care since Retinol.  This ‘hydration miracle’ can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in moisture and more than that it draws moisture in from elsewhere in the body for additional hydration. Hyaluronic Acid is so good at its job that patients have been advised to drink extra water to keep up the increased demand.

In terms of anti-ageing benefits, all the water held by Hyaluronic Acid works to plump and firm the skin – reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

When looking for skin care products with the benefit of Hyaluronic Acid check for the ingredient, Sodium Hyaluronate – you’ll find it in the Dermaquest Essential B5 Hydrating Serum. The salt of Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate has much smaller molecules which can be absorbed effectively by the skin.


Isolaz Laser


Laser treatments are being used to effectively treat a broad spectrum of skin complaints, and the Isolaz Laser is the only laser approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for the treatment of Acne.

The laser uses a therapeutic light based technology known as Photopneumatic Therapy to clear deep into the pores and rejuvenate the skin. A course of treatments has seen many patients suffering from Acne with significantly clearer skin than they have achieved with creams and pills.


Dermal Filler 

Injectable Dermal Fillers are used as an anti-ageing treatment to plump out lines and wrinkles from beneath the skin, or to add fullness to the lips.

One of the benefits of Dermal Fillers is that the results are long-lasting but not permanent.  Juverderm is naturally broken down by the body, so the results are usually visible for between four and six months.

Dr. Justine Hextall, Consultant Dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group, said: “Dermal fillers have been used since the 1800s when transplanted fat was used to correct a facial deformity. Following that a number of chemicals were introduced with limited success.  It was in 1981 when bovine collagen was first injected. Since then research has continued in the quest for the perfect filler. Technology is rapidly evolving in this area and we now have much safer products to use, the best in my view based on hyaluronic acid (HA), found naturally in our skin.  The problem comes, when these products are injected by untrained individuals and when the products used are unsuitable – for example, I would not recommend the so-called permanent filler.

“Safety is the key here and as I always advocate less is more. Injecting small amounts of a safe filler, such as Juvederm, and adding more after 2 weeks if required is always the best approach in my view.  Natural hyaluronic acid –based fillers are safe and become naturally absorbed over time. We have hyaluronic acid in our skin therefore our immune system is very unlikely to react and cause problems, this is key”.


Laser Hair Removal 


Laser Hair Removal offers a permanent reduction in unwanted hair growth. During the treatment heat from the laser is absorbed by the pigment in the hair, this damages the hair follicle and prevents future hair growth.

For the best results a course of between four and six treatments is usually necessary. This is because hair can only be targeted by the laser during the growth stage of its life cycle, and not all hairs are at this stage at the same time.  A course of treatments can be extremely effective in preventing unwanted hair growth.

Dr. Justine Hextall, Consultant Dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group, explains how Laser Hair Removal works to permanently remove hair: “The hair cycle has three stages. First is the Anagen phase which is the growth stage. This is followed by the Catagon phase (the transitional stage) and finally the Telogen phase (the resting stage). At any one time 85% of our hair is in the Anagen phase and it is this growth phase that is sensitive to laser treatment.

“As each hair will be in a different part of the cycle, on average between 10-20% of the hairs will be affected with each treatment and then every 6-8 weeks the treatment should be repeated to target the next cycle of hairs. I usually advise that you will start to see results after the third treatment and then after 6 treatments you can expect to see around 90% reduction in hair. Results will vary depending on hair type as well as site, colour, phase of hair growth, hormonal influences and natural skin colour amongst other variables”.


Mandelic Acid 

Mandelic Acid is a Hydroxy Acid derived from bitter almonds. You’ll find the ingredient in the Dermaquest Dermaclear Cleanser, where its anti-bacterial properties help remove pore-clogging bacteria that can cause blemishes and Acne.

Mandelic Acid also help increase skin cell turnover. The acid dissolves the bonds between skin cells, so dead surface cells can to sloughed away to reveal new, healthier cells beneath. This also makes Mandelic Acid a skin brightening ingredient, helping to lighten areas of pigmentation caused by sun damage.


MDI Complex

Think of MDI Complex as the super collagen defender! The ingredient is a marine enzyme (it’s actually composed of fish) that inhibits Matrix Metalloproteinase enzymes, which destroy collagen.

MDI Complex is also clinically proven to reduce the appearance of Spider Veins and Rosacea, as well as improving the appearance of dark under-eye circles. It’s one of the active ingredients found in the Dermaquest Essential B5 Hydrating Serum.



Micro-needling is a skin care treatment associated with the Dermal Roller. By creating thousands of tiny punctures in the skin, Micro-needling stimulates the body’s natural healing process, prompts the production of new collagen and encourages blood circulation to the treated area.

This can lead to dramatic improvements in the appearance of lines and wrinkles, but is also an effective treatment for scars – including scars left by Acne – and stretchmarks.


Medical Microdermabrasion

One of the key factors to a healthy, glowing complexion is to remove surface dead skin cells. Think of them like a layer of dust sitting on top of furniture and spoiling its appearance.  Medical Microdermabrasion is one of the most effective ways to remove dead skin cells.

Medical Microdermabrasion is a deep exfoliation treatment. The skin is sprayed with medical grade crystals which slough off the top layers of skin, revealing newer, healthier cells below. This action improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as treating Acne prone skin and reducing the appearance of pigmentation.



Niacinamide is also known as Vitamin B3 or Nicotinic Acid. The substance is a powerful cell communicating ingredient, which essentially means it can tell damaged skin cells to behave more like healthy skin cells and stop other substances from making skin cells behave badly.

The result is that Niacinamide can increase the skin’s elasticity, boost barrier function, help correct discolouration and improve overall tone and texture of the skin. Niacinamide is one of the active ingredients in the Dermaquest Dermaclear Serum.



Obagi Blue Skin Peel

The Obagi Blue Skin Peel is a chemical exfoliation treatment. Peels can be a good option if you have sensitive skin as they are less abrasive than other products and treatments but offer the same exfoliating results.

During Obagi Blue Skin Peel a low concentration acidic solution is mixed with a special blue base. The colour ensures even distribution and helps your Doctor control the depth of the peel.

The peel removes the surface layers of skin cells reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, treating Acne and Acne scarring, and improving uneven pigmentation.



Peptides prompt cells to produce more collagen. They are short chains of amino acids which send signals to skin cells telling them how to behave.

As an active skin care ingredient topically applied peptides signal the skin cells to create collagen, helping maintain youthful suppleness and elasticity.

Matrixyl is a Peptide found in the Dermaquest Essential Moisturiser. Research has found that applying Matrixyl at a concentration of just three per cent can double the amount of collagen produced in the skin.



Retinol was one of the most exciting anti-ageing skin care breakthroughs of modern science. The Vitamin A derivative is capable of penetrating the dermis, working deep beneath the surface of the skin where collagen and elastin are created.

Retinol prevents collagen breakdown and works as an extreme surface exfoliator. The active ingredient is sold in over the counter products or in much stronger prescription forms and is one of, if not the most, effective anti-ageing ingredient available.

The down side is that Retinol can cause dryness and irritation, especially in concentrated prescription forms, and so it should be applied sparingly, as often as your skin can tolerate it.


Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid is one of the best active ingredients for tackling Acne.  The potent, multi-tasking acid is a blemish buster! It works by breaking up the cells which clog pores and exfoliating the skin to clear blemishes.

Salicylic Acid also has anti-irritant properties, soothing and calming angry skin and reducing unsightly redness. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in the Dermaquest Dermaclear Pads.




Adequate protection from UVA and UVB rays is the number one concern when it comes to skincare.  Harmful rays from the sun play a key role in developing skin cancer, as well as prematurely ageing skin.

UVA rays penetrate deepest into the dermis, these are the rays associated with premature ageing, causing lines, wrinkles and uneven pigmentation. UVB rays burn the superficial layers of the skin and can cause skin cancer.

When choosing a sunscreen it’s important to use a broad spectrum product that protects against both UVA and UVB rays – and the higher the SPF the better!


Zinc Oxide

Zinc Oxide works as an effective sunblock protecting skin from UVA and UVB rays. The ingredient works slightly differently from other types of sunscreen because it is not absorbed into the skin. Instead it sits on the surface acting as a barrier. This can make it a better choice if you have blemish prone skin as it won’t clog your pores.

The first class UV protection Zinc oxide provides means you’ll find it in the Dermaquest Sheerzinc SPF 30.


Hopefully you’ll have a good idea what to look out for when choosing skin care products now. But remember, there (sadly) is no skin care miracle! When introducing a new ingredient into your beauty regime it will take a while for the full benefits to show – but stick with it, your effort will pay off in the end.

As Dr. Justine Hextall, Consultant Dermatologist explains, “If you wish to freshen up and improve your skin, you need to work on it for at least two months to see results. Products can take at least six weeks to start making a difference so if you’re switching up your skincare you should start as early as possible.

“A good skincare regime will help to keep skin clear and hydrated, leaving it with that desired glow. Look for key ingredients such as Antioxidants and Hyaluronic Acid in your serums and creams. Keep in mind that continued use is necessary to maintain the results, you have to remain committed to achieve the results you want! The right skin care regime is the first step to clear, healthy skin.”

Are there any terms you’d like us to add to the guide? Let us know on Facebook and we’ll add in your requests. 

Posted July 18, 2020
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