Active skincare ingredients explained

Updated: May 7, 2020

Image via Moose

There has been a notable flourish of acid-based ingredients on the market. Cosmetic and beauty brands are upping there game, competing to provide us with the best products, using ingredients like hyaluronic acid and retinol to market their campaigns. I have noticed that this is proving to have both a positive and confusing impact on the buyer. On the plus side, it means good products are becoming more accessible and affordable to all of us more than ever before but at the same time, makes the process of choosing what product is right for us, evermore puzzling. So in this article I take a look at the mainstream ingredients that have flooded our media, so you know exactly what to look out for when purchasing a product to address your skin problems.

Alpha-Hydroxy acids (AHA’s) categorise water soluble acids such as glycolic and lactic. These acids work on the skin by releasing the glue that bonds the dead skin cells to the surface. AHAs are particularly good for normal to dry skin types due to the ability that it restores moisture back into the skin. Incorporating glycolic and lactic acid into your routine will lead to better collagen production and overall smoother, brighter skin, therefore improving the appearance of scarring, fine lines and hyperpigmentation.

Try: Glo Glycolic Resurfacing Cleanser

Antioxidants are a definite must in any skincare routine as they significantly reduce skin damage caused by free radicals in our environment. Repetitive exposure to free radicals causes an array of skin problems such as redness, broken veins, sun damage, premature ageing and dullness. Using a topical antioxidant daily will reduce the appearance of existing damage and prevent any further skin stress. It is best to apply an antioxidant in the morning and is the perfect partner to your SPF.

Try: Skinceutical’s Serum 10 (young, normal skin) Phloretin CF (normal to oily) C E Ferulic (ageing skin type, dry)


Skinceuticals antioxidant range

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s) categorise acids such as salicylic that focus on cleaning the skin’s surface and clear out inside the pores. These acids benefit normal to oily skin types as they offer a deeper cleansing system to deal with problematic clogged pores, blackheads, milia and breakouts. Despite the great power of BHA acids, they can be used regularly and even on sensitive skins due to their calming, anti-inflammatory properties.

Try: Obagi Clenziderm cleanser

Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical acid that is regularly used to treat mild to severe acne. It can appear in many types of formulations from cleansers and creams to antibiotics and topical gels. The antibacterial effect causes the skin to dry out, sometimes flake, whilst flushing out the P-bacterium causing the breakout in the first place. Most products that contain active benzoyl peroxide will often be prescribed by a skin specialist, along with directions for use.

Caffeine is used in many eye products

Caffeine is not only used in teas, coffee and energy drinks but has also made an appearance in skincare in recent years. This ingredient has been unexpectedly proven to reduce the look of cellulite by cleverly dehydrating the skin temporarily to create a smoothed appearance. Caffeine has additionally took over the eye-care market due to its proven antioxidant role in skincare. When applied topically, caffeine causes vasoconstriction which dramatically reduces puffiness in the eye area, alongside minimising dark circles and skin sagging.

Try: Neocutis Lumiere Bio-Restorative Eye Cream

Enzymes are considered a gentle exfoliator compared to the AHA and BHA acid groups. Enzymes in skincare products are derived from fruit such as papaya, pineapple and pumpkin. This type of exfoliant can be used on all skin types and can be found in formulations like skin peels, masks and cleansers. It is the perfect alternative if you are weary or sensitive to using AHA & BHA formulations.

Try: Dermaquest Essential daily cleanser


The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% toning solution

Glycolic acid is a widely used ingredient amongst skincare and aesthetic treatments. It is specifically derived from cane sugar and with repetitive use the acid can rebuild and strengthen the skin by enabling more collagen production. It is great for anyone who is concerned with the appearance of ageing and dull or dry skin.

Try: The Ordinary 7% Glycolic solution

Hyaluronic Acid has made an overwhelming entrance into the beauty-consumer world in recent years – it seems all skincare brands are using it in at least one of their products. The substance is naturally produced within our body and in skincare, its prime function is to restore water loss in the skin layers. The molecule can hold up to an amazing 1000 times its own weight in water, making it the perfect hydrator. Regular use of hyaluronic acid has the ability to plump the skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles AND brighten the surface. Anyone can benefit from using this acid in their regime, even oily skin types.

Try this: The Ordinary B5

Lactic acid works like any other AHA, by smoothing the skins surface through gentle exfoliation. This ingredient is derived from milk and is specifically designed to lighten superficial pigmentation over time. We have been using lactic acid for centuries; the Great Egyptian ruler, Cleopatra was famed for her regular milk baths whilst Cindy Crawford once admitted to using a combination of milk and water as a hydrating facial spritz.

Try: Agera Microderma system Vit C scrub RX


Retinol can benefit all skincare regimes

Retinol also known as Vitamin A, is your best possible saviour when it comes to preventing and improving signs of ageing. Retinol fundamentally enhances the skin’s cellular turnover, leading to a smoother surface and a reduction in appearance of fine lines & wrinkles, open pores, pigmentation and surface blemishes. It is not only used in skincare products but chemical resurfacing treatments too, to enhance the peeling process. The strength and potency of a retinol-based product should depend on how strong and tolerant your skin is towards retinol. Every one of us should introduce retinol into their skincare routine gently, once week to begin with; followed by twice a week for the second week, three times a week for the third. The older you are, the higher the strength and repetition of use should be. If you notice redness, itching and irritation, reduce your use – it’s that simple.

Try: Skinceuticals 0.3 retinol

Titanium Dioxide is used in a lot of skincare products, SPF’s and cosmetics to provide a UV filter, minimising the risk of sun damage. It is considered a stable ingredient and does not discolour when exposed to light, maximising in particular, the effect of pharmaceutical SPF products.

Try: Colorescience Brush-on sunscreen SPF 30

Tretinoin is in the retinoid family and considered one of the most effective prescription products on the market when it comes to dealing with moderate-severe cases of hyper pigmentation, ageing and acne. This potent ingredient stimulates maturation of old skin cells which helps speed up the skin’s turnover process. Tretinoin is only available via prescription in the UK, so a physician’s approval is always needed prior to getting hold of this.

Try: Obagi transformation systems

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, also referred to as L-asorbic acid. Its prime role is to alleviate environmental stress on the skin whilst strengthening the skin’s structure through collagen stimulation. Vitamin C boasts skin lightening like no other and contains anti-inflammatory properties that reduce skin redness and the appearance of blemishes. All skin types can use this, particularly those concerned with the appearance of sun damage.

Try: Medik8 C-Treta

Vitamin C plays an antioxidant role in skincare

Vitamin E is also in the antioxidant family because of its ability to protect the skin from free radical damage. This differs slightly from other antioxidants because of its excellent moisturising ability as it helps prevent water loss in the skin. This ingredient is used amongst most creams and lotions and is particularly good for ageing, dry skin types.

Try: Epionce intense defense serum

Zinc Oxide is the non-irritating, healing ingredient found in most advanced SPF formulations. It is used in everyday products like ceramics and paints because of its barrier-building effect on the skin; protecting the surface from harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Try: Dermaquest Zinc SPF 30

Remember when using any active ingredient, it is important to wear an SPF throughout the day. Are there any ingredients that you think are missing from this list? What is your favourite ingredient to use to tackle your skin issue? Comment below or connect with me through social media.

#retinol #AHAs #tretinoin #VitaminC #Activeskincareingredients #BHAs #hyaluronicacid

3 views0 comments