Glossary of Skin Care Terms

Glossary of Skin Care Terms


Acute – an adjective that describes sudden, severe, or short-term; acute atopic dermatitis is a current, active outbreak1

Allergens – any substance that creates an allergic reaction, such as dust, pollen, or certain foods1

Allergy – a hypersensitive immune reaction to a particular substance; can be severe or mild1

Antihistamine – a medication that neutralizes histamine in the body (histamine is a chemical that is released during an allergic reaction); antihistamines are used to treat allergic reactions1,2

Antioxidant – a substance that blocks damage caused by oxidation or other actions by free radicals. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and lycopene1,2

Asthma– a chronic lung condition that causes difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing and is triggered by allergens, exercise, change in weather, or other stimuli1

Astringent – a chemical that causes a tightening effect on the skin and can be drying for people with atopic dermatitis1

Atopic – describes an allergy that is usually inherited and characterized by an allergic reaction to certain substances1

Atopic dermatitis – a form of eczema that causes a chronic itching, inflammation, and dryness of the skin1

Atopic march – the progression of allergic diseases that is frequently seen in people who have atopic dermatitis in childhood and who later develop these other allergic conditions3

Atrophy (skin) – a thinning of the skin; atrophy is a common side effect with long-term use of corticosteroids

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Botanical – a substance that is derived from plants1


Chronic – continuing or recurring again and again1

Coal tar – a substance that is made from the distillation of bituminous coal and is used to treat some skin disorders

Corticosteroids – substances that decrease inflammation and reduce the activity of the immune system and are frequently used in the treatment of atopic dermatitis; also known as steroids4

Cream – an emulsion of water in lipid that contains stabilizers to keep the ingredients from separating; often used to moisturize skin5

Cytokine – a protein that is released during the immune response that acts as a chemical messenger and prompts inflammation or other immune system functions1


Dermatitis – inflammation of the skin1

Dermis – a deep layer of the skin (under the epidermis) that contains blood vessels and sensory nerve endings1


Eczema – a general term that describes any inflammatory condition in which the skin becomes red and itchy and may have oozing vesicles that can become scaly or crusted1

Emollient – a substance that softens and makes the skin supple1

Epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin1

Exfoliant – a chemical or physical agent that is used to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin1

Exfoliate – the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, often with the use of a chemical or physical compound1

Extensor surfaces – outer surfaces of the body, such as the outer surfaces of the elbows and knees that are often affected by atopic dermatitis in infants


Flare – an outburst or exacerbation of symptoms

Fragrance – a substance that contains a scent;1 some people with atopic dermatitis are sensitive to fragrances in their skin products


Hay fever – a common allergy characterized by a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, fatigue, and itchy eyes, mouth, or skin3

Histamine – a protein that is released by the body’s immune system as part of an allergic reaction in response to an antigen, and causes increased blood flow and nerve activity, which causes redness, rash, and itching1

Homeopathic remediesalternative form of medicine that is derived from plants, minerals, or animals6

Humectant – a chemical that promotes the retention of moisture1

Hypoallergenic – any substance that has a low likelihood of triggering an allergic response1


Immune Response – the body’s reaction to defend itself against substances that appear foreign and/or harmful; may include inflammation (to isolate the foreign substances from spreading through the body)2

Immunomodulator – a medication that interferes with the functioning of the immune system and may be used in the treatment of severe atopic dermatitis1

Inflammation – a physical reaction in the body that is characterized by the dilation of capillaries, swelling, redness, and heat1,2


Keratin – a sulfur-containing protein that forms the basis of fingernails and toenails1


Lipid – a substance that is insoluble in water, such as oil, fat, and wax;1 many moisturizers used for the treatment of atopic dermatitis contain lipids

Lichenification or lichenified – thickened or leathery skin, which may develop with chronic atopic dermatitis

Lotion – a liquid solution of water and lipid that can be applied to the skin1


Melanin – the pigment in the skin, hair and eyes that is produced by cells called melanocytes2

Moisturizer – a substance that adds moisture (liquid) to the skin; 1 the use of moisturizers is a critical part of treatment of atopic dermatitis


Natural – a substance that comes from nature (like plants) or occurs in accordance with ordinary ways of nature1


Occlusive – a substance that forms a hydrophobic film on the skin to reduce the loss of water from the body7

Ointment – a salve for the skin that has a high lipid content1,5

Oral – refers to a medication that is taken by mouth, which may include pills, tablets, or liquid medicine

Oral immunosuppressant – a medication that is taken by mouth and that acts by restraining the immune system, such as by stopping the inflammatory response

Over-the-counter (OTC) – medications that are available for purchase without needing a prescription


Papules – small, raised bumps on the skin that may look like pimples without pus

pH (pH level) – a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of a solution; a pH level of 7 is neutral, with lower numbers denoting more acidity and higher numbers designating more alkalinity1

Phototherapy (ultraviolet therapy) - the use of light waves as a treatment; may be used to treat atopic dermatitis that has not responded to other treatments, as a maintenance therapy, or in conjunction with topical treatments8

Placebo – an inert substance, like a sugar pill, that is often used as a comparison treatment in clinical trials

Probiotics – live microorganisms that are intended to provide health benefits; sometimes referred to as “good bacteria”2

Proteins – essential components of living tissues and substances that contain amino acids (commonly found in meat, fish, poultry, and legumes.) May be used in cosmetic products for their strong moisturizing properties.1


Steroids - substances that decrease inflammation and reduce the activity of the immune system and are frequently used in the treatment of atopic dermatitis; also known as corticosteroids4

Stratum corneum – the outermost portion of the epidermis (outer skin layer) that contains layers of dead, flattened cells filled with keratin1

Symptom– a sign or evidence of disease, or a reaction to a pathogen (like a virus or bacterium)

Systemic – relates to a substance that affects the body generally or overall1


T cell – a type of white blood cell (lymphocyte) that is involved in the immune response1

Topical – referring to a substance that is used in a particular location on the skin1


Vesicle – a fluid-filled pouch, such as a cyst or blister1


Wet eczema – a skin condition that has oozing vesicles


Xerosis – dry skin1

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