The skincare terms you'll want to know about this year

2 top dermatologists walk us through them... it seems 2020 will be about making up for past sins!

2 top dermatologists walk us through them... it seems 2020 will be about making up for past sins!

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Looking back, we'd say 2019 was the year of CBD skincare (OK, more like CBD everything), polyhydroxy acids and bakuchiol. It was impossible to flip through the pages of a fashion magazine or chat up a skincare fanatic without hearing about one of the year's buzziest terms. And while you might finally be caught up on the aforementioned ingredients, there's a new batch of skincare terminology set to take over this year. As you'd expect!

It seems that 2020 will be about making up for the sins of your past by reaching for low-stakes, high-value ingredients (that means you can forget everything you've ever learned along the lines of "if it hurts that means it's working") that will help your skin be the strongest and healthiest barrier it can be. That is its job after all, remember? 

We tapped two leading dermatologists to help us sort through and understand the skincare terms that will be everywhere this year. 


Chemically similar to propylene glycol — which was named the American Contact Dermatitis Society's Allergen of the Year for 2018 — minus the possible irritation factor, propanediol may just become a household name this year. "This chemical is a common skincare and hair care ingredient," says dermatologist and founder of Toronto's Bay Dermatology Centre, Dr. Sandy Skotnicki. "It has a very low allergy rate," she explains, but like propylene glycol, "[propanediol] is a humectant that helps increase the absorption of ingredients into the skin." So, propanediol might be a great replacement if you've been looking to swap out potentially irritating ingredients in your medicine cabinet but don't want to sacrifice any of the benefits. 


The reason you'll be hearing more about the skin's microbiome this year? After the last few years of disrupting it with harsh cleansers and too much chemical exfoliation, prebiotic and probiotic skincare products are stepping in to focus on strengthening and repairing the microbiome (even if we're only still learning about it). Your skin's microbiome is "a community of microorganisms — bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic," explains Dr. Skotnicki. "The human microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms that live in the gut, skin, urogenital tract and mouth." 


While they've been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic practices for centuries, adaptogens are a recent addition to the Western skincare world. Soon, they'll become a staple, thanks to consumers' growing interest in natural ways to unwind and practice self-care. Adaptogens, available in the form of roots and herbs, are said to rebalance the body's stress responses and strengthen the immune system. Today, they're a growing segment of the skincare industry, available as ingestible tablets or as featured ingredients in moisturizers and oils. "These are herbal drugs or pharmaceuticals," says Dr. Skotnicki. "According to researchers, they have stimulant effects that may counteract the physical changes of stress on our body." 

Kakadu plum

This year, Kakadu plum might just replace watermelon as the most Instagram-famous fruit used in skincare products. "The Kakadu plum, also known as Terminalia ferdinandiana, is a type of fruit tree found in the subtropical woodlands of Australia," explains dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, who works with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West, Ellen DeGeneres and Jennifer Lopez. The fruit is extremely high in vitamin C, he adds, and "also boasts certain antioxidants such as gallic acid and ellagic acid, which can help restore the skin's natural barrier against environmental toxicity." 

Gotu kola

Like adaptogens, gotu kola — often referred to as cica, tiger grass and Indian pennywort — has been a staple in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine (and in Korean skincare) for ages. But if you haven't given it a whirl yet, we bet you will this year. "Cica, also known as Centella asiatica, is an herb that is part of the Apiaceae [plant] family," says Dr. Lancer. "It is used in many topical creams and has several benefits, like helping with acne, rosacea and dehydration." It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which aid in collagen production and the overall function of the skin's barrier. According to a recent study, up to 70 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men say they have some degree of sensitive skin, and this phenomenon appears to be increasing over time, so skincare brands are responding to by adding calming ingredients such as gotu kola to their product offerings. 


It's no secret that consumers are constantly looking for ways to add extra hydration to their skin (see: the popularity of skincare oils to "lock in" hydration, and humectants like hyaluronic acid to help with absorption of moisturizers). Standard creams sometimes just don't cut it — especially in the winter or in particularly dry climates. Enter: electrolyte-infused moisturizers. "An electrolyte, such as potassium, sodium or magnesium, is a substance that essentially conducts electricity when dissolved in water," says Dr. Skotnicki. "As humans, we need them in a proper balance to survive. They interact with our cells in particular nerves and muscles, and help them to function." What does all of this have to do with skincare? When our skin loses electrolytes, it can look dull and tired. Using skincare products infused with electrolytes can help your skin retain more water, since water essentially follows electrolytes.

Tranexamic acid

If 2019 was the year you finally found the right cocktail of skincare ingredients to manage your acne, then make 2020 the year you start tackling any leftover hyperpigmentation. First step: tranexamic acid.

"Tranexamic acid is a synthetic amino acid that is originally derived from lysine," says Dr. Lancer. "It has many uses, but is predominantly used to target melasma and hyperpigmentation. Additionally, its anti-inflammatory properties help to calm the skin and restore its natural barrier." 


If you're intrigued by the popularity of collagen in skincare products but haven't tried it out yet, you might just want to leapfrog to polypeptides. Polypeptides are "small fragments of a protein … essentially a chain of amino acids" says Dr. Skotnicki. They're able to "regulate the metabolism of a parent protein." Complete, non-fragmented proteins such as collagen aren't able to penetrate into the skin, but smaller, fragmented polypeptides are able to get deeper and signal the production of more collagen. 


Artemisia is big in K-beauty and is an increasingly popular option for treating acne. Artemisia, and more specifically its subspecies Artemisia vulgaris (also known as common mugwort) and Artemisia princeps (commonly referred to as Korean/Japanese mugwort), is beloved in the skincare world for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. "[It's] a type of plant that has several subspecies within the Asteraceae family," explains Dr. Lancer. "It is known for its soothing properties, as it helps calm skin redness, as well as banish breakouts." If you suffer from other inflammatory issues, such as psoriasis or eczema, you know that not every anti-inflammatory ingredient is suitable for your ultra-sensitive skin. Mugwort's bacteria-killing properties, however, are often as effective as they are gentle, making it a must-try in 2020. 

Souzan Michael is a Toronto-based writer and editor with a deep, undying love of astrology, watermelon and golden retrievers. Follow her on Instagram @suziemichael_.

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