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Terminology: the art of cosmetic science.

Terminology: The Art Of Cosmetic Science.

The cosmetics and beauty industry has turned into a complex and expanding science. Cosmetic science, just like any other science, is riddled with intricate terminology. Cosmetics manufacturers regularly use scientific words on product packaging for marketing purposes. By doing so, they attempt to be different or better, or newer than others. This process appears essential in surviving an industry that grows by 5% each year!

Have you looked past that shiny label of that stunning bottle claiming to solve all of your skin issues? 


Well, this blog post will cover basic terminology used to identify types of cosmetic products. This is not a certification course but it will help you better understand the next time you evaluate a cosmetic product. Happy reading!

Key Insights
What is what?Diving deep.
Scientific jargon. Simplified.Suggested reading.
Kusum Cosmetics Products
What is what? What do they actually do and how?!

Cosmetic vocabulary

Let’s assume you are looking for a product to help with dry skin. Your favorite store has a plethora of cosmetic products. Many of them claim to give you fascinating results in as little as two weeks. One company claims its product has Coenzyme Q10 for faster repair. Some even tout “potent anti-aging” properties! 

But wait, the label on a bottle says it is a body lotion while the other says it is a serum. What is the difference between a lotion and a serum? What is a lotion? How serum and gel are different? Why should I use hair oil?

We did discuss some basics on skin and cleansing in our previous posts- see here and here. Let’s dive into further detail!

Scientific jargon. Simplified.

LotionThin consistency. Water and oil. Water-soluble.
CreamThick consistency. Oil and water. Water-soluble.
BalmVery thick. Oil-based. Also called an ointment.
GlossSemi-solid to liquid. Made with wax or oil.
SerumThin liquid. It contains various nutrients.
GelThick liquid. It helps the oil penetrate deeper into the skin.
ButterShea or Cocoa butter mixed with oils.
MaskSustained hydration after cleansing with a thick paste.
SaltSalt crystals used for skin exfoliation.
ScrubSugar, salt, and others to remove the oldest dead skin layer.
ShampooViscous liquid. Used to cleanse scalp hair.
ConditionerViscous liquid used for moisturizing & detangling hair.
SoapSalt of fatty acid (such as olive oil) used for cleansing.
Shower gelThin liquid soap for skin cleansing.
Body WashSlightly thicker than shower gel. Similar purpose.
Bath bombDry substance that effervesces when wet.
PolishA skin scrub made of microparticles for smooth exfoliation.
Spray/atomizerCreate mist of a product for skin hydration between skin cleansing.
JellyMostly petroleum jelly for excessively dry skin.
OintmentVery thick. Oil-based. Also called a balm.
CleanserCleans and removes dead skin cells, oil, debris.
PowderFine powdery substance of various colors to cover blemishes.
WaxA mixture of natural fatty acids and alcohol. Used as thickener and lubricant in cosmetics.

Hair Oil
Skin soaking to allow moisture absorption.

Natural oil preparation used for nourishing the scalp and hair roots.

Did we miss any names? Feel free to let us know and we will happily update the post!

Diving deep.

            Are you still with me? Let us explore each of the above substances in further detail!


                        A lotion is a thin preparation with liquid-like consistency. Combining oil into the water makes a lotion. An emulsifier helps combine oil and water. Other substances may be added to the mixture such as other oils, fragrances, medications, etc. An example here.

Night Ecstasy
Night Ecstacy Coconut-Rose Natural Body Lotion


                        A cream is a semi-solid preparation made by combining oil into the water. Thicker consistency compared to lotion is achieved by reducing the amount of water in the formula. A cream primarily creates a physical barrier for the outermost layer of the skin while retaining moisture and delivering nutrients or medications. An example here.

Stem Cell Cream Kc
Kusum Cosmetics Stem Cell Cream


                        A balm or an ointment is a thick semi-solid substance primarily used for rubbing purposes. It may contain substances that promote soothing, pain relief, or healing. A lip balm is a common example.


                        Gloss is a thin, clear substance used to give luster or add subtle color to a specific area of the body. A lip-gloss is commonly used to enhance the appearance and shine of the lips. Similarly, hair gloss is used to improve the shine and vibrancy of the hair.


                        Skin serum is a substance applied to the skin after cleansing but before moisturizing. Skin serum contains nutrients (vitamins, herbs) in high concentrations that directly act on the skin. Applying the serum soon after skin cleansing allows these nutrients to be absorbed effectively. An example here.


                        A gel is a thin substance containing skin-friendly substances, nutrients, or oils. A gel contains astringent that allows shrinkage or constriction of body tissue. It binds quickly to the skin tissue and allows deeper penetration of the oils. A gel is also used as a deep moisturizer. An example here.

                        Butter (Body butter).

                        Body butter has thick, buttery consistency. Typically, body butter contains Shea butter or Cocoa butter mixed with various vegetable-based oils. Body butter acts as a deep moisturizer, primarily for excessively dry areas such as knuckles, elbows, and knees.

Kusum Cosmetics Glow Body Butter Gold
Glow Body Butter


                        A mask is a thick paste or a patch applied directly to the skin. There are various types of masks by the purpose they serve. Deep cleansing masks are used for cleaning the skin pores. Honey, mud, clay, oil, cucumber, and others are commonly used masks. However, limited data show that masks are not more effective than a standard lotion.

                        Salt (Cosmetic salt).

                        Natural salt crystals exfoliate (remove) the outermost dead layer of the skin. Mineral salt has Calcium and Magnesium that help skin retain moisture. However, excessive use or harsh rubbing of salt can cause damage to younger skin cells and weaken the bond between skin cells.

                        Skin Scrub/Body scrub.

                        A skin scrub is a preparation that acts as an exfoliant. These are commonly made of mineral salt, sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, sugar, walnut shell, and other such ingredients. A combination of oil, herbs, and the essential oil is added to provide slight lubricating as well as aromatic effect to the body scrub. Couple examples with fruit extract, root, and herbs.


                        The shampoo is a viscous liquid to light pasty material. It is used for cleaning hair. The major content of shampoo is a surfactant that creates foam. The foam allows coverage of long hair with a small volume of product. Gentle rubbing of shampoo onto the scalp cleanses the scalp skin and increases blood circulation by massaging effect. Several shampoo preparations incorporate ceramides and herbs. Ceramides are natural lipid components of the hair and help keep hair strong. Herbs such as Shikakai, Brahmi help in healthy hair growth. Preparation such as this combines ceramides, herbs, and pro-vitamin B5 to achieve excellent cleansing, moisturizing, detangling, and hair strengthening activity.

Chic Hair Bath Outdoor
Chic Hair Bath- Rich in Ceramides & Herbs. pH Balanced for Color-treated Hair!

                        Conditioner (Hair conditioner).

                        Hair wash often results in dry, tangled hair. A hair conditioner contains special moisturizers that keep hair soft, smooth, and detangled. Conditioner helps hair cuticle retain its moisture and softness and reduce friction between hair strands. A natural conditioner uses naturally occurring oils and conditioning substances to provide long-lasting luster, shine, and vigor. Routine application of hair conditioner allows smooth brushing and reduces hair loss. Some hair conditioners such as this one are pH balanced for use with color-treated hair.

                        Hair oil.

                        Hair oil typically contains coconut, almond, or argan oil along with other ingredients such as nutrients and herbs. The hair oil is applied directly to the scalp and light massage is applied. It is left overnight as gel and washed with shampoo with the next shower and followed by a conditioner. Routine use of good quality hair oil, shampoo, and conditioner is beneficial for a healthy scalp, hair roots, and hair fiber. Direct delivery of nutrients to the hair root can be beneficial for hair growth. Hair oil application may help with dandruff and itchy scalp. 

Chic Hair Bath, Hair Nourisher And Plush Hair Conditioner
Killer Trio for Gorgeous Hair!


                        Soap is a cleansing agent in solid or liquid form. Soap is derived from a fatty acid from vegetable oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil. Soap, by definition, is alkaline (pH above 7, typically 9 to 11). Soap acts as an emulsifier and allows oils to be bound with soap molecules and be carried away with water. Along with this, dirt and other debris can be washed away. 

                        Shower gel.

                        The shower gel is a liquid form of soap, mixed with other ingredients such as a surfactant, essential oils, fragrances, and glycerin. It allows moisturizing along with cleansing of the skin. A typical shower gel is of thin consistency. High-quality shower gels are made with organic olive fruit oil and essential oils. An example here.

                        Body wash.

                        A body wash refers to a shower gel with a thicker consistency. It may contain extra moisturizers such as Shea butter, or Coconut oil. Some commercial body washes may contain petroleum products to help with excessive dryness. 

Peppermint-Lemon Natural Shower Gel
Blissed Bathing Experience!

                        Bath bomb.

                        A bath bomb is a mixture of dry substances that effervesce when in contact with water. The purpose of a bath bomb is to add softeners, moisturizers, fragrances, and other substances to bathwater in a tub. The addition of essential oils can have an aromatic and soothing effect on the bathing process. The bath bombs come in a variety of colors and shapes for visually pleasing.

                        Skin Polish.

                        A form of exfoliation, skin polish is a process where nutrients are delivered to the skin while removing dead skin cells by exfoliation. It is believed to be gentler than body scrub and also known as microdermabrasion. Beauty spa and aesthetic centers often use skin polishing to treat skin pigmentation and stretch marks. This process is followed by the application of skin serum or deep moisturizer with nutrients to nourish young, emerging skin cells.

                        Skin spray/mist/atomizer.

                        A thin liquid is sprayed on to the skin in the form of mist. An atomizer is used to create a mist. Fine mist often contains various moisturizers, nutrients, vitamins, and herbs for a soothing and nourishing effect. A skin spray is commonly used as a skin moisturizer in between the application of lotion or cream. Excessive use of skin mist can dry your skin by pulling water from the outermost skin cells.


                        Jelly commonly refers to petroleum jelly, commonly known as Vaseline. It is a mixture of mineral oils and waxes in a semi-solid form. Petroleum jelly, as the name suggests, is a by-product of fossil fuel produced by Oil rigs. It is known for its healing properties and is vastly used as an ointment.


                        See the section on “Balm” above.

                        Cleanser (skin cleanser).

                        Skin cleansers are products used to remove dead skin cells, oils, debris, dirt, makeup, sunscreen, and other external deposits from the skin. Commercial preparations contain surfactants to add mild foaming action to improve the cleansing experience. Foaming action also helps remove deeper debris and lifting dirt mixed with oils. High-quality cleansers such as this combine skin protective oils, and moisturizers along with colloidal substance to calm irritated skin.

                        Powder (cosmetic powder/skin powder).

                        Skin powder is a fine powdery substance applied to the skin to cover up blemishes, irregularity, or to control skin luminance (shine). Skin powders are commonly made of talc, a mineral made from silicone, magnesium, and oxygen. Skin powders can be translucent and provide a soft visual feel with its beautiful texture. Some powders can have oil-controlling properties to reduce shine from excessively oily skin.


                        Wax is a naturally occurring substance that is a mixture of fatty acids, alcohols, and esters. They remain solid at room temperature. Cosmetic preparations use waxes for thickening a product, adding waterproofing ability (such as in sunscreen), increase the SPF factor of sunscreen, and resist washing effect of a product. Certain waxes are combined with an emulsifier such as Cetearyl alcohol to be used to combine oil and water in a cosmetic preparation.

                        Skin soak.

                        Skin soak refers to submerging the skin into lukewarm water. This process, typically performed for 10 to 15 minutes, allows the skin to absorb moisture. A skin soak is followed by the application of a serum or moisturizer with nutrients. In contrast to taking a bath or shower, skin soaking does not include rubbing action and therefore results in reduced loss of friendly oils from the skin. The addition of essential oils induces aromatherapy effect.

Skin Soak
Skin soaking improves the moisture content of skin cells and provides direct hydration.

In summary, the cosmetic world has ever-expanding terminology and dizzying array of scientific vocabulary. Basic understanding of commonly used cosmetic formulations and its intended effect will help you effectively evaluate a cosmetic product.

What do you think? How do you evaluate a cosmetic product? What criteria do you look for in a product? We hope that you found this blog post informative and useful. We encourage you to routinely visit our blog and share it with your family and friends.

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Cosmetic Science