When I first started my Alice in Wonderland journey down the skincare rabbit hole, I was just as confused as Alice was when I started running into Reddit posts that were full of shorthand that I didn’t understand. I was dedicated to my task, so I decided to take the extra time to scour subreddits and Google for explanations, but I won’t lie: It was tedious.
These beauty acronyms are useful and necessary for anyone who spends a lot of time talking about beauty and skincare, so I understand why they get tossed around so frequently. In fact, I’m guilty of writing full sentences that would be nearly unintelligible to anyone who wasn’t familiar with the skincare community.
If you’re new to the beauty game, then you might be feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly complicated jargon that accompanies most of the posts and articles from places like the r/SkincareAddiction and r/AsianBeauty subreddits. This post will cover a few of the most common beauty acronyms so that you can stress less when you’re reading and researching!
These beauty acronyms are necessary for anyone into skincare. In fact, I’m guilty of writing full sentences that would be nearly unintelligible to anyone else.
YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary)
The rest of this list will be in alphabetical order, but I’m making an exception for this particular beauty acronym. This is partly because of how often you’ll see it in the skincare and makeup communities, but also because of how important it is to the overall beauty philosophy.
“Your mileage may vary” originated in the automobile industry as a way to say that your personal experience might be different than what was advertised. Since then, it has been co-opted by the beauty community and made into memes for countless other situations.
YMMV is the backbone of beauty. Just because a cult favorite works for everyone else doesn’t mean that it will become a new staple of your routine. In the same vein, something that works great for you might cause breakouts for someone else.
Your mileage may vary. Your experience might be different. Learn it! Embrace it! Become one of us.
AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)
Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliators like lactic, glycolic, mandelic, and malic acid. They’re water-soluble and work best at a pH of 4 or lower.
These acids are great for brightening, smoothing, and evening your skin tone. In low concentrations, they can add moisture to your skin.
AHAs are photosensitizing, so it’s incredibly important to make sure you protect your skin from the sun when you’re using them. (Read more about AHAs here.)
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)
Salicylic acid is the most common beta hydroxy acid, but you may also see gentler forms such as betaine salicylate. These acids are lipid-soluble, which means that they can penetrate past your skin’s natural oils to help unclog pores and soothe breakouts.
BHAs are also photoprotective, which means they can work with your sunscreen to boost your sun protection. (Read more about salicylic acid here.)
HG (Holy Grail)
A holy grail product is a ride-or-die favorite that would have to be pried from your cold, dead fingers before you even considered replacing it. These products are few and far between for most of us, but we will shout it from the rooftops whenever we find one!
IL (Ingredient List)
This one is pretty straightforward. This is just the list of ingredients that you find on the packaging of a product. Most of us spend a lot of time looking at ingredient lists so that we can find the best products for us.
INCI (International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient)
In a lot of beauty circles, people will use INCI as a way to talk about the ingredient list of a product. INCI is the standardized, international system that companies must use when they’re listing out the names of cosmetic ingredients.
INCI names help eliminate confusion when it comes to deciphering formulas, but if you see it in a beauty post, just know that they’re talking about product ingredients!
KP (Keratosis Pilaris)
KP is a super common skin issue (you might know it as “chicken skin”) that causes tiny red or brown bumps and dry, rough patches of skin. Because so many of us deal with it and talk about it, we abbreviate it.
(Pro tip: AHAs and urea are the best treatments for KP.)
LAA (L-ascorbic Acid)
This is the most common type of vitamin C. Funny enough, it’s the least stable but most effective. It works best around pH 3 and offers photoprotection.
Other, more stable derivatives of vitamin C are SAP (sodium ascorbyl phosphate) and MAP (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate).
PHA (Polyhydroxy Acid)
These are chemical exfoliators that are considered much gentler than AHAs. They’re not as commonly used, but they’re great for people with sensitive skin. Common ones include gluconolactone and lactobionic acid.
PIH/PIE (Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation/Erythema)
These are beauty acronyms that you should definitely become familiar with because you’ll see them a lot.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation refers to the dark, discolored spots that are leftover after a breakout. They’re not scars, but they take a while to fade.
Post-inflammatory erythema is a bit different. This refers to the purple or red marks that may be left behind after a breakout. Erythema (say AIR-eh-THEE-ma) is a medical term that refers to damage or irritation to the capillaries just beneath your skin.
This can happen with very serious acne breakouts or from aggravation caused by picking or popping pimples. PIE is much more difficult to fade at home and may require cosmetic peels or lasers.
Now You’re in the Know
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. There are so many beauty acronyms that I don’t even know them all. However, this list covers all of the basics, so now you can feel more confident in your skincare research!