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Skin Care Terms Glossary

Please use this to help familiarize yourself with some of the terms used in our articles and also with terms used at your spa, salon or dermatologist. Some of these you may also find on your skin care products.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Accutane - Powerful drug derived from vitamin A that's used in the treatment of severe acne. The generic name is isotretinoin. If taken during pregnancy, it's highly likely to cause severe birth defects.

Acne - Skin condition characterized by plugging and inflammation that involves the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. It can take many forms including blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, and nodules.

Acne vulgaris - Medical term used to describe acne.

Adult-onset acne - Overwhelmingly a condition of females, this type of acne turns up after the age of 18. It can crop up in women's 20s, 30s, or even later in life. It's sometimes referred to as female adult acne or post-adolescent acne.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) - Fruit acids found in plants, constituents of many over the counter acne and cosmetic products, such as moisturizers and sunscreens. Also used in chemical peels.

Allantion - A derivative of uric acid that is soothing and calming to the skin.

Androgens - General term for hormones that have masculinizing features. Both males and females produce them. They cause the sebaceous gland to enlarge and produce more sebum, an important factor in the development of acne.

Antioxidants - Chemicals that neutralize free radicals that cause damage to the body and skin. These come from eating fruits and vegetables and also can be applied topically to help heal the surface of the skin.

Astringent - Solution that removes oil from the skin. Often used after a facial wash to remove any remaining traces of a cleanser.

Azelaic acid - Natural chemical produced by yeast. Used as a topical agent to treat acne and rosacea. It can also also be used to lighten the skin.

B

Basal Layer - The lowermost layer of the epidermis. This layer provides replacement cells that travel upward and replenish the skin with new cells.

Benzoyl peroxide - Topical antibacterial agent used to treat acne. Found in more over the counter and prescription products than any other topical agent.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) - A class of acids, including salicylic acid, that are used as exfoliants. They're found in many over the counter acne and cosmetic products, such as moisturizers and sunscreens. They're also used in chemical peels.

Blackhead - An open comedo. The dark acne lesion that consists of a plug of keratin and sebum. The dark color is due to a buildup of melanin.

Blue light therapy - Visible light treatment that works by killing the acne producing bacteria, p.acnes, for a short period of time.

Board Certified Physician - In relation to plastic surgery, surgeons who are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). They undergo rigorous training, including medical school, a plastic surgery residency program, and an additional minimum of five years of surgical training. A surgeon must also pass comprehensive oral written exams in order to be ABPS certified. The ABPS is the only board recognized to certify surgeons in plastic surgery of the face and body by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

C

Chemical peel - Application of chemicals to the face in order to exfoliate the outer layer of skin cells.

Clindamycin - Topical antibiotic often used to treat acne.

Closed comedo - See whitehead.

Cold-expeller pressed oils - Oils that are extracted from vegetables without heat. Most other vegetables oils in the grocery stores, such as canola and corn oils, are heat extracted. Purchase only cold-expeller pressed vegetable oils, are heat extracted. Purchase only cold expeller pressed vegetable oils because they don't contain trans-fatty acids. You can find them at the health food store or health food section of your grocery store.

Collagen - A protein that forms the chief constituent of the connective tissue and bones. It gives skin strength and durability. Age related declines in collagen production cause thinning of the skin, wrinkles, and sagging. Cosmeceuticals such as vitamin C and eating foods rich in amino acids stimulate collagen production.

Comedo - Plug of keratin and sebum within a hair follicle. It can appear as a blackhead or a whitehead.

Comedo extraction - A procedure performed with a round loop that's used to apply pressure to dislodge the contents of blackheads and whiteheads.

Comedogenic - Products that induce the formation of comedones.

Comedogenesis - Medical term for the process that forms whiteheads and blackheads.

Comedolytic - Signifies that the product breaks up and inhibits comedo formation.

Comedonal acne - See non-inflammatory acne.

Comedone - A pore clogged with sebum and dead skin cells.

Complete protein - A food that contains all nine essential amino acids. Only animal based foods contain complete protein.

Congestion - This is skin that's bumpy and stopped up. The natural oils and skin sloughing has slowed down leaving the skin looking unclear and dull.

Contact dermatitis - Allergic reaction or irritant response to things that have touched your skin. Poison ivy and poison oak are examples.

Corticosteroid - Natural hormones produced in the adrenal glands. When used therapeutically, they are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat many types of inflammation.

Cortisol - An adrenal-cortex hormone. Any type pf physical or mental stress induces the release of cortisol. Too much ongoing cortisol in the body causes inflammation and irritation. It's thought to be a cause of chronic disease conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders.

Cosmeceutical - A skin care ingredient that actually alters the skin and its underlying health. Cosmeceuticals are often combined with cosmetic ingredients in skin care products.

Couperose - Describes skin that has dilated or broken capillaries.

Cyst - A fluid filled mass that is usually benign. When someone has acne, the term cyst is often used interchangeably to mean nodule because of the resemblance of a nodular acne lesion to a cyst.

D

Decollete - The area in women from the base of the neck to the top of the bosom. We include this area when we talk about facial skin. 

Depilatories - Creams, lotions, or powders that contain chemicals that split the chemical bonds in hair, breaking them off slightly below the surface of the skin.

Dermabrasion - Method to remove the skin's top layers and reduce acne scars using a rapidly rotating wheel or brush attached to a motorized handle to perform high speed sanding. Newer technologies, such as lasers, have largely supplanted this procedure.

Dermatitis - Irritation or inflammation of the skin. A general term that refers to an itchy red rash. It is sometimes called eczma.

Dermis - Layer of the skin just beneath the epidermis. Contains blood and lymphatic vessels, hair follicles, nerves, and glands. Also called cutis.

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol)  - Occurs naturally in fish. It's used for treatment of autism, dementia, mood disorders, and to improve vision. DMAE is proving beneficial in reversing the effects of skin aging, such as wrinkles and sagging. DMAE is used both topically and internally.

Doxycycline - An oral tetracycline used to treat acne and rosacea.

E

Eczema - See dermatitis.

Edema - An abnormal swelling of the fluid in the tissues.

Elastin - A protein component of skin that helps maintain skin resilience and elasticity. When elastin is abundant and undamaged, the skin regains its shape after being folded or stretched.

Elastin fibers - Found in the dermis, these protien structures are able to coil and recoil like a spring. They give the skin its elasticity.

Electrolytes - Mineral salts that, in solution, conduct a current of electricity. Electrolytes are required by cells to regulate the flow of water molecules across cell membranes. Major electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulfate.

Emollient - Topical applications that are used to correct dryness and scaling of the skin.

Emulsifier - A substance that helps keep oils and liquids in suspension to prevent separation of the ingredients. Without the benefits of emulsifiers, products would separate and cleansers couldn't clean your face.

Enzymes - Food products or supplements that aid in digestion. Papaya contains the enzyme papain, and pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain. Both are commonly used as aids to the stomach to enhance digestion. These same enzymes, when used on the face, "digest" or break down dead skin cells and other cellular waste. They clear out the gunk and leave a brightened complexion.

Epidermis - Outer layer of the skin that lies upon the dermis.

Erythromycin - Oral and topical antibiotic that's often used to treat acne.

Exfoliants - Skin care products that break down and remove keratinized cells that naturally build up on the skin's surface. Even skin functioning at peak performance and normal skin can benefit from an exfoliant. Exfoliants help restore that healthy, translucent glow we all strive for.

Extrinsic factors - These factors that affect the skin are caused by the environment, your health, and how you treat your skin. For the most part, you can control the extrinsic factors that affect the condition of your skin.

F

Fibroblasts - Cells that produce collagen.

Folliculitis - Inflammation of the hair follicles. It can be due to infections or eczema.

Free Radicals - Highly active chemicals in the body. They're created from many metabolic processes and also from inflammation and sun damage. They contain one or more unpaired electrons and scavenge, or steal, electrons from other molecules, thus damaging those molecules. In terms of your skin, free radicals can damage collagen and elastin.

H

Heredity - Genetic transmission of a particular quality or trait from parent to offspring.

Hydroquinone - An antioxidant and skin lightener that in high concentrations is a prescription-only topical medication. Hydroquinone  in low concentrations is used as an ingredient in skin care products.

Hyperpigmentation - Abnormal darkening of the skin that can follow inflammation, caused by higher amounts of melanin in a particular spot. It can also result from hormones and sun exposure.

Hypertrophic scar - Scars that bulge outward like hard lumps. The word hypertrophy means "enlargement" or "overgrowth".

I

Inflammation - A reaction of the skin to disease or injury.

Inflammatory acne - In this type of acne, papules or pustules, red or purple macules, and nodules, often termed "cysts", are predominant. There are a few, if any, conditions.

Intrinsic factors - Caused by your biological and genetic makeup. You were born with a certain type of skin and your DNA determines in part how it ages, your skin tone, and its overall plumpness and glow.

Isotretinoin - Chemical (generic) name for Accutane.

K

Keloid - Large scar whose size goes far beyond what would be expected from what seems to be a minor injury.

Keratin - Tough, fibrous protein that is inside the cells of the epidermis. It's also a constituent of hair and nails.

Keratinization - The development of a rough quality in skin tissue. Keratin is a fiber protein in skin tissue. Keratin is a fiber protein in skin tissue. Keratin is made soluble with AHAs and BHAs, and can be broken down by enzyme exfoliants.

Keratinocytes - Make up the majority of the cells in the epidermis.

Keratosis pilaris - A condition of small, rough patches that tends to be mistaken for acne. It usually appears on the arms and sometimes on the cheeks.

Keratinized skin - When dead skin cells build up and cover up the newer skin underneath, leading to blemishes and dull skin. To remedy, use a physical exfoliant, such as cleansing grains. Use gently.

L

Laser  - Lasers produce single (concentrated) bands of light that can penetrate into the dermis without injuring the epidermis. They're used to treat acne and its scars. When used to treat acne, the beams are adjusted to penetrate below the epidermis and travel into the dermis where they can zero in on hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and the p.acnes bacteria.

Lesion - A mark in the skin. In dermatology, refers to a sore, growth, blister, or any other type of tissue damage caused by disease or injury.

M

Macule - Flat red, purple, or brown lesion that forms where a papule or pustule used to be. Remains visible for a while after an acne lesion has healed or is in the process of healing.

Melanin - Substance that gives the skin and hair its color and protects against UV radiation.

Melanocytes - The cells that produce the pigment melanin. This pigment colors our hair, skin, and eyes. Melanin is heavily concentrated in skin moles.

Metronidazole - An antibiotic and antiparasitic drug that's used topically to treat rosacea.

Microcomedo - First stage of comedo formation, a comedo so small that it can only be seen with a microscope.

Microdermabrasion - Technique that uses aluminum oxide crystals passing through a vacuum tube to exfoliate surface skin.

Microlacerations - Miniscule or tiny tears or scrapes on the surface of the skin. Can be caused by using physical exfoliants that are too harsh, such as ground-up nutshells, buff puffs, or loofahs, and especially by using too much pressure when using physical exfoliants.

Minocycline - An oral tetracycline antibiotic used to treat acne and rosacea.

Milia - Small, whitish, pear like bumps in the skin due to retention of sebum. Another name for whiteheads.

N

Nodule - A large lumpy, pus filled, frequently reddish bump that is lodged more deeply in the skin. They are inflammatory lesions that are sometimes referred to as cysts.

Noncomedogenic - A type of skin care product that doesn't promote the formation of blackheads and whiteheads and won't cause breakouts. Some skin care products, such as lanolin are comedogenic and can promote blackheads and breakouts.

Noncomedonal acne - See inflammatory acne.

Non-inflammatory acne - This category of acne is identified when a person's lesions are primarily whiteheads and blackheads. It is also called comedonal acne.

Nutrient dense - A term that refers to skin care products that contain a high concentration of added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nourish the skin and provide added protection from free radicals.

O

Ocular rosacea  - Rosacea that involves the eyes.

Open comedo - See blackhead.

Oral contraceptives - Drugs used to help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. If you're a female, your doctor may also prescribe them to fight acne by virtue of their anti-androgenic effects.

Oral therapy - Something that's taken by mouth such as a pill, capsule, or liquid.

P

Papule - Pimples (zits) that appear as small, firm, reddish bumps on the skin. They are inflammatory lesions.

Perioral dermatitis - Also known as periorificial dermatitis, this condition is a rosacea like skin eruption seen almost exclusively in young women.

Photo aging - A term that refers to skin damage from the sun.

Phytoestrogens - Estrogenlike compounds found in foods. When you eat these foods, they act like the estrogens produced in the body. Phytoestrogens are weaker than the estrogen your body produces. Estrogen helps keep your skin thicker with higher levels of elastin and collagen.

Pomade acne - Type of acne seen in African Americans and other individuals who have tight curly hair and frequently use pomade (oils and greasy ointments) to style or improve their hair's manageability.

Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation - These dark spots are also called postinflammatory pigmentation, or PIP, for short. The original insult (and injury) that caused PIP can be a cut, a burn, a rash, or the after effect from a healing acne lesion. The dark spots are limited to the sites of previous inflammation.

Prednisone - Synthetic corticosteroid that's used to treat inflammatory conditions.

Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) - These bacteria are an integral part of producing inflammatory lesions of acne. They live in the pilosebaceous glands of the skin.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps) - Acnelike lesions that occur mainly on the beard area of men of African heritage. This condition is due to ingrown hairs.

Pulse dye laser (PDL) - This laser is "tuned" to a specific wavelength of light. It produces a bright light that is absorbed by the superficial blood vessels of the skin. The abnormal blood vessels are destroyed without damaging the surrounding skin. This laser has been used to successfully treat acne scars and rosacea telangiectasias.

Punch excision - Surgical technique that is sometimes used to cut out and reduce certain types of acne scars.

Pustule - A papule that contains pus. It's also known as a pus pimple. An inflammatory lesion.

R

Resorcinol - A weakly acidic organic chemical obtained from various resins, found in some topical agents used to treat acne.

Retention hyperkeratosis - Excessive buildup of skin cells that, combined with sebum and trapped bacteria, creates a plug in hair follicles that results in acne lesions.

Rhinophyma - Enlarged nose that results from enlarged sebaceous glands and overgrowth of collagen, and is a feature of rosacea that's seen primarily in men.

Rosacea - Acne like condition characterized by redness, papules, and sometimes pustules in the center one third of the face in certain fair-complexioned adults. It's often mistaken for acne.

S

Salicylic acid - Ingredient found in many over the counter acne products. Helps to exfoliate the outer layers of the skin.

Sebaceous duct - Tiny tube that steers the sebum (and the dead skin cells it carries) from the sebaceous gland into the hair canal.

Sebaceous glands - Located in the dermis next to hair follicles, these are small, sack shaped glands that release sebum onto the hair and moisturize the skin.

Sebum - The semifluid secretion of the sebaceous glands, consisting chiefly of fat, keratin, and cellular material.

Silicone derivatives - Ingredients in moisturizers that sit on the surface of the skin and lock in moisture without clogging pores and causing breakouts. They also give the skin a soft and smooth texture.

Skin care line - A term that refers to a brand's skin care products. This is a common usage in the skin care industry and at department store sales counters.

Slip - The sensation that the skin is smooth and ever so slightly slippery. Slip lets you apply foundation easily, allowing it to glide on smoothly and evenly. You have a healthy amount of slip when you touch your skin ad your hand easily glides over the surface without catching on rough or dry patches.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) - All sunscreens are currently labeled with an SPF that lets you know how long you can stay in the sun before burning. Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more to get adequate sun protection.

Spironolactone - An anti-androgen medication sometimes used in combination with oral contraceptives to treat acne in women.

Stratum corneum - Also know as the horny layer, it is the outer-most layer of the epidermis. It is comprised of dead skin cells that protect deeper cells from damage, infection, and from drying out.

Stratum spinosum - This is the middle ("spiny") layer of the epidermis. These cells are always actively dividing.

Subcutaneous layer - Fatty layer of tissue located under the dermis.

Sulfacetamide - Anti-infective used topically to treat acne and rosacea. Often combined with sulfer.

T

Telangiectasia - The chronic dilation of groups of capillaries that causes elevated dark red blotches on the skin.

Tetracycline - Oral antibiotic typically used to treat acne and rosacea.

Topical therapy - Something that's applied onto the skin, such as a cream, gel, or ointment.

W

Whitehead - Small, pearly white acne lesion that consists of a plug of keratin and sebum. Occurs when the comedo stays below the surface of the skin. Also called closed comedo.