What Are Active Ingredients In Skincare?
Active ingredients in skincare are the specific components of a product that deliver the intended benefits and produce the desired effects on the skin. These ingredients are usually present in higher concentrations compared to other inactive or supporting ingredients. The active ingredients are responsible for addressing various skin concerns and providing the claimed results.
Inactive ingredients, however, can still provide certain skincare benefits. These tend to be the delivery method for other elements of the product’s formula which are present in lower concentrations. They are often water or oil-based.
What Are Common Active Ingredients?
Retinoids are a class of vitamin A derivatives that are well-known for their beneficial effects on the skin. They are among the most studied and effective ingredients for addressing various skin concerns. They work by binding to specific receptors in the skin cells, influencing cell behavior, and promoting a range of positive effects, including increased collagen production, skin cell turnover, and reduction of hyperpigmentation.
It’s recommended to start with lower concentrations when first starting to use retinoids. They may cause some skin sensitivity and irritation, so gradually build up usage to allow the skin to acclimate to the ingredient.
Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that offers a range of benefits for the skin. It is one of the most widely used and studied skincare ingredients due to its effectiveness in addressing various skin concerns, such as skin brightening, increased skin barrier protection against UV rays and pollution, and collagen synthesis.
Vitamin C is available in various forms in skincare products. Each form may have slightly different stability and penetration properties, but they all provide antioxidant benefits to the skin.
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A naturally occurring molecule found in the skin and other connective tissues of the body, hyaluronic acid is well-known for its exceptional ability to retain moisture, making it a popular ingredient in skincare products designed to provide hydration and plumpness to the skin. As an active ingredient, hyaluronic acid offers many benefits, including increased plumpness, skin barrier support, and soothing skin.
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Hyaluronic acid is widely used in various skincare products, including moisturizers, serums, masks, and even injectable dermal fillers. It is suitable for almost all skin types, including dry, oily, and sensitive skin. When applied topically, hyaluronic acid is absorbed into the skin, delivering its hydrating benefits directly to the cells. It is commonly used in combination with other active ingredients in skincare formulations to maximize its effects.
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3, also known as nicotinamide. It has gained popularity in the skincare industry due to its versatility and multiple benefits for the skin. Niacinamide is a water-soluble vitamin, making it suitable for various skin types. This multi-functional ingredient helps to regulate sebum production, minimize the appearance of pores, and reduce the appearance of dark circles, to name a few benefits.
Niacinamide is well-tolerated by most skin types, including sensitive skin, and is less likely to irritate compared to some other active ingredients. It is commonly found in various skincare products, such as moisturizers, serums, toners, and spot treatments. Many people incorporate niacinamide into their skincare routines to address specific concerns like enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, and skin hydration.
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- Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
AHAs are a group of water-soluble acids derived from various sources, such as fruits, milk, and sugar cane. They are well-known for their exfoliating properties and their ability to improve skin texture and appearance. Common AHAs used in skin care include:
Derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size, allowing it to penetrate the skin deeply and provide effective exfoliation.
Found in milk, lactic acid is a gentle AHA suitable for sensitive skin types.
Derived from citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges, it provides both exfoliation and antioxidant benefits.
Commonly found in apples and pears, malic acid helps promote a smoother skin surface.
Derived from fruits such as grapes, tartaric acid provides exfoliation and antioxidant properties.
As active ingredients, AHAs offer benefits such as exfoliation, stimulation of collagen production, and overall skin texture improvement. AHAs can increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun, so be sure to use sunscreen daily to protect the skin from UV damage.
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
BHAs are a group of exfoliating agents, with the most commonly used BHA being salicylic acid. Unlike AHAs, which are water-soluble, BHAs are oil-soluble, allowing them to penetrate the pores and provide effective exfoliation.
Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark and is highly beneficial for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. As active ingredients, BHAs offer several benefits, including the reduction of whiteheads and blackheads, acne treatment, and exfoliation.
Because of its ability to penetrate the pores and its anti-acne properties, salicylic acid is often found in products specifically designed for acne-prone skin. As with any active ingredient, it's essential to use products containing BHAs as directed and to start with lower concentrations if you are new to using them. This can help minimize the risk of over-exfoliation or skin irritation.
Peptides are short chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. In skincare, peptides deliver specific benefits to the skin by signaling various biological processes.
Different types of peptides can target different skin concerns. Some common types of peptides used in skin care include:
These peptides signal the skin to produce more collagen, helping to improve skin firmness and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
These peptides help deliver essential minerals and other nutrients to the skin, enhancing the overall health and appearance of the skin.
These peptides can inhibit certain enzymes that break down collagen and elastin in the skin, helping to maintain the skin's firmness and elasticity.
These peptides can relax facial muscles, reducing the appearance of expression lines and wrinkles.
Copper peptides are specific types of peptides that contain copper ions. They are known for their wound healing and skin regeneration properties.
As active ingredients, peptides offer the benefits of increasing collagen production, producing anti-aging effects, and improving overall hydration, to name a few. They are commonly found in serums, creams, and moisturizers, and they are often used in combination with other active ingredients to address specific skin concerns.
Ceramides are naturally occurring lipids (fats) found in the outermost layer of the skin, known as the stratum corneum. They play a crucial role in maintaining the skin's barrier function and hydration, helping to keep the skin healthy and protected. In skincare products, synthetic ceramides or plant-derived ceramides are used to enhance the skin's natural lipid barrier and provide various benefits, such as hydration retention, increased protection against environmental stressors, and calming skin.
As active ingredients, ceramides are commonly found in moisturizers, serums, and other skincare products designed to improve skin hydration and barrier function. They are especially beneficial for individuals with dry, dehydrated, or sensitive skin.
Also known as tocopherol, vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is naturally found in various foods and plant-based oils. In skincare products, Vitamin E is used for its beneficial effects on the skin, not limited to skin barrier repair, enhanced moisturization, and protection against sun damage.
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Vitamin E is often used in combination with other active ingredients in skincare products, such as Vitamin C and retinoids, to enhance their overall efficacy and provide a synergistic effect. You can find Vitamin E in various skincare formulations, including creams, serums, oils, and moisturizers.
Licorice root extract is derived from (you guessed it) the root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, including its numerous skin benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, increased brightening, and reduction of redness or irritation.
Licorice root extract is commonly found in serums, creams, moisturizers, and cleansers designed to address hyperpigmentation, redness, and uneven skin tone.
Arbutin is a natural compound found in certain plants, including bearberry, cranberry, and pear trees. It is commonly used in skincare products for its skin-lightening and brightening properties. It can be found in various skincare products, such as serums, creams, lotions, and spot treatments, formulated to target hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.
Sulfur is a naturally occurring element and has been used for centuries for its medicinal and skincare properties. In skincare products, sulfur is mainly used for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it effective in treating various skin conditions. Sulfur is commonly found in various skincare products, including masks, cleansers, spot treatments, and ointments designed to treat acne and soothe inflamed skin.
Due to its potential to cause dryness and irritation, you should use sulfur products as directed and avoid overusing them. If you have sensitive skin or specific skin concerns, try performing a patch test first on a small area of skin before using it on the face.