Palmitic Acid One of the skin’s most important fatty acids, produced by the sebaceous glands. Obtained in general for cosmetic use from palm oil or vegetable tallow. It can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

Palmitoyl oligopeptide A synthetic ingredient made up of a mixture of various amino acids, including Lysine, Arginine, etc. Used in lipsticks, glosses and lip-plumpers, as well as moisturisers and eye creams.

Pantethine Used in moisturisers and hair products, considered to be a more potent form of Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).

Panthenol Vitamin B complex, which is considered to be of great skin benefit – helping wound-healing and protecting against sunburn by enhancing the natural tanning process. It is also humectant, attracting water from the atmosphere, and may be taken internally as a food supplement as well as used in a vast selection of skincare and haircare products.

Panthenyl ethyl ether A vitamin B derivative.

Pantothenate Part of Vitamin B complex, found in liver, eggs, dried brewer’s yeast and royal jelly, and vital for the metabolism of fats and proteins in the body. In beauty care, it’s principally used in hair conditioners.

Parsol SLX A synthetic sunscreen. In our book, it only appears in one product – a hair conditioner, to protect against UV damage.

PCA ethyl cocoyl arginate Used for its anti-static and anti-microbial properties, this is derived from carbonic acid.

PEGs Short for Polyethylene glycol, these synthetic ingredients are usually waxy compounds: the number refers to how liquid the product is, and the higher the number, the harder the texture of the ingredient. All PEGs have been identified to have the potential to be contaminated by 1,4-dioxane, a cancer-causing agent, as well as heavy metals. However, just because they can be, it doesn’t mean they are- and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) committee has deemed that they are ‘safe for use, but added that PEG compounds ‘should not be used on damaged skin’. (You will find more comments from Professor Samuel Epstein on PEGs, in The Green Beauty Bible.) In the name – alongside PEG – you’ll find a word that gives you a clue where the original ingredient came from, before it was extremely highly-processed: rapeseed, almond, castor oil, etc.

PEG-4 rapeseedamide See PEGs, above.

PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate A combination of polyethylene glycol and glyceryl cocoate (derived from coconut oil) to form a type of sugar extract. It is a mild cleansing agent and emollient that breaks up fat on the skin’s surface without stripping the skin’s natural oils or causing dryness. It rinses completely from the skin with water, and may be used in place of Sodium lauryl or Sodium laureth sulfate, which are both drying and stripping for the skin.

PEG-10 dimethicone See PEGs, above.

PEG-15 stearyl ether See PEGs, above.

PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil See PEGs, above.

PEG-40 glyceryl cocoate See PEGs, above.

PEG-60 almond glycerides See PEGs, above.

PEG-100 stearate See PEGs, above.

PEG-150 distearate See PEGs, above.

PEG-200 Hydrogenated glyceryl palmate See PEGs, above.

Pentaerythrityl tetra-di-t-butyl hydroxyhydrocinnamate A synthetic antioxidant ingredient.

Pentaerythrityl tetraisostearate See Stearic acid.

Pentylene glycol From coconuts and palm, this increases moisture retentive properties in skin.

Persea gratissima unsaponifiables Derived from avocado oil. An ‘unsaponifiable’ element can be useful in soapmaking, adding moisture, texture, vitamins etc.

Phenoxyethanol Used as a fragrance ingredient as well as a preservative, this is in particularly wide use in natural skincare – and is approved (after long, hard consideration) by the Soil Association for use in organic cosmetics, as it was deemed less problematic than many, many other preservatives. However, it’s not entirely without question marks over it; it can be irritating to some people, and cause contact allergies. It is also synthetically derived – one of a handful of synthetics permitted in organic cosmetics. As other acceptable preservatives emerge, Phenoxyethanol may gradually be phased out by beauty manufacturers: watch this space.

Phenyl trimethicone A form of silicone, similar to Dimethicone, which leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth and protects against water loss.

Phospholipids Plant phospholipids – which are fatty substances – are similar to human phospholipids and are readily absorbed into the skin. Phospholipids obtained from soybean oil in the form of lecithin are used to make liposomes, which act as delivery agents for vitamins and humectants.

Phytantriol A skin- and hair-conditioning ingredient that also helps to bind water.

Phytic acid Naturally occurring in cereal grains; people who are allergic to corn could potentially have a reaction to it.

Phytosphingosine A natural, skin-identical active ingredient which effectively reduces the signs of acne, inhibits the growth of micro-organisms on the skin and reduces redness and inflamed skin

Polyaminopropyl biguanide A synthetic ingredient that functions as a preservative. You may find it in some baby products, too.

Polybutene A petroleum-derived ingredient which works as a plasticiser, so useful for transforming minerals, for instance, into a texture that works as a lipstick or gloss – because who wants to apply a powder to her lips…?

Polydecene Used in fragrances and flavourings (so it’s permitted in food, too).

Polyethylene Generally derived from petroleum, and used to stabilise products.

Polyglyceryl-2 dipolyhydroxystearate A synthetic ester of Polyglyceryl-2 and Stearic acid, generally used as an emulsifier.

Polyglyceryl-4-oleate A synthetic ester of Oleic acid and Polyglycerin-4 (a glycerine derivative), which is used as an emulsifier, in sun protection, baby care products and moisturisers.

Polyglyceryl-10 oleate See Polyglyceryl-4-oleate , above.

Polyglyceryl-3-methylglucose distearate See Polyglyceryl-4-oleate Polyglyceryl-4-oleate – similar ingredient, similar purpose, different original source (in this case, a combination of a Glucose-derived ingredient and Stearic acid).

Polyglyceryl-6 dioleate See above.

Polyglyceryl-6 polyricinoleate See above.

Polyglyceryl-diisostearate An emulsifier derived (in part) from Stearic acid, used to stop oil-in-water formulations from separating.

Polyhydroxystearic acid A widely-used, synthetic ‘suspending’ agent, which (like many ingredients) has its roots in Stearic acid. (Though it’s slightly a case of ‘Once Upon A Time…’)

Polylysine Used to create a film, mostly in hair products – see Lysine.

Polyperfluoromethylisopropyl ether A skin-conditioning synthetic ingredient which has a polymer-like action – so it’s film-forming.

Polyphenols Plant antioxidants, with an anti-free-radical action.

Polyquaternium-7 Polyquaternium ingredients – numbered 1 to 14 – are Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, with a wide range of uses: preservatives, antimicrobials, surfactants, and most usually as ‘film-formers’, on the skin. They’re synthetic in origin, derived from ammonia.

Polyquaternium-10 See Polyquaternium-7, above.

Polyquaternium-47 See Polyquaternium-7, above.

Polysilicone-7 Silicone-derived ingredients, usually used in lipsticks.

Polysylicone hexyldecyl stearate See above.

Polysilicone-11 See Polysilicone-7, above. (There’s a wide range of Polysilicones, with different numbers attached.)

Polysorbate 20 Polysorbates are commonly-used emulsifiers and stabilisers, made from sorbitol – a sugar alcohol – or from Lauric acid (which is derived from coconuts). Generally this group of ingredients is considered non-toxic, although some members of the family have been linked to irritation and sensitisation; some Polysorbate ingredients are used in processed foods.

Polysorbate 60 See above.

Polysorbate 80 A cleanser found in many commercial hair products, and said by some to promote hair growth, by encouraging the release of histamine. See above.

Polytetrafluorethylene Teflon! What can we say? We’d definitely rather not find this in a cosmetic that is purporting to be natural, but almost all the make-up in this book is a blend of botanical and synthetic ingredients – and all of it is basically more natural than what you’ll find in the mainstream make-up lines.

Potassium cetyl phosphate A potassium salt from a mixture of esters, including Phosophoric acid and Cetyl alcohol. Appears in everything from eye creams to moisturisers, sunscreens to fake tans.

Potassium hydroxide A highly alkaline ingredient used principally in soapmaking, but also in liquid soaps, creams, shaving products, etc. It’s harmful and irritant in high doses so there are restrictions on the levels in cosmetics, below which it’s not considered a problem.

Potassium magnesium aspartate Mostly used in bath salts, a salt from the minerals Potassium and Magnesium.

Potassium phosphate A salt that works as a humectant (attracting moisture) and as a pH adjuster.

Potassium carbomer A synthetic thickening agent used to create gel-like products, which according to the most recent info has no known toxicity.

Potassium sorbate A preservative that is very popular in natural cosmetic formulation and allowed under organic regulations. It’s non-toxic but in high concentrations can be a skin irritant.

PPG-2 myristyl ether propionate For more info see Myristyl alcohol under ‘M’ – here.

PPG-15 dtearyl ether A synthetic skin conditioning agent derived from Stearic acid.

Propionic acid A synthetic preservative.

Propylene carbonate Used as a solvent or dilutent, a synthetic ingredient which is also found in some adhesives and even paint strippers! It is also a known irritant; however, in cosmetics it appears way down the ingredients list.