The Most Important Skincare Ingredients & What They Do

When it comes to starting your skincare routine, it is important to discover which skincare ingredients are suited for your skin and proven to work. With how saturated the skincare market has become, it could prove confusing for newcomers. As such, it is vital to do your research, as well as figure out your skin type before diving in and purchasing products.

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What is an active ingredient in skincare?

Active ingredients are traditionally placed on the label of the product and is its main selling point. For instance, if a product promotes itself as anti-aging, and advertises retinol as a main, active ingredient. These active ingredients are simply what makes the product effective and what produces the drastic results it promises to customers. To check if the active ingredient advertised is highly concentrated, then look at the ingredients list (which is usually listed at the back of the product). If the active ingredient is listed at or near the top of the list, then that means it has the highest concentration, as ingredients are arranged from the highest to lowest concentration.

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What can skincare ingredients do for your skin?

There are a variety of skincare ingredients in the market which has been proven to work. Here are a few examples:

Niacinamide: Also known as vitamin B3, this powerhouse ingredient is known for its pore-reducing and brightening qualities. This ingredient is beneficial for all skin types, but particularly for acne-prone and sensitive skin, as it has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Retinol: Also known as vitamin A, retinol is a well-established and well-researched ingredient. Not only is it known for its anti-aging properties, it is also known to treat acne. Retinol exists in different concentrations based on the severity of acne, or if you’re starting out on retinol.

Hyaluronic Acid: This ingredient is a humectant, which means that it draws water to the skin. Smaller molecular sizes of hyaluronic acid can penetrate into the skin to increase hydration levels, whilst larger molecular sizes help retain the skin’s moisture barrier. Hyaluronic acid should only be worn in humid environments, as using it in a dry environment can lead to moisture being withdrawn from the skin, causing trans-epidermal water loss.

BHAs & AHAs: They are also known as beta-hydroxy acids and alpha-hydroxy acids respectively. These chemical exfoliating acids are perfect for encouraging cell turnover to reveal healthier skin, which helps lighten pigmentation and unclog pores. But BHAs and AHAs are suited for different skin types, with the latter being for dry skin whilst the former is better suited for oilier skin types. This is because BHAs are oil soluble and extremely gentle, which also makes it perfect for sensitive skin types.

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Which ingredient is best for the skin?

Figuring out your skin type is necessary to discover what ingredient is best suited for your skin; what skincare ingredient is best for the skin also hinges on what skin condition you’re suffering from. For instance, people with oily, acne-prone skin could benefit from the use of BHAs like salicylic acid, or retinol products. On the other hand, people with dry skin could benefit from AHAs like lactic acid, as well as heavier, moisturising products like shea butter.


How do I know which ingredients are best for my skin?

Firstly, it is vital to know and understand your skin personally. There are some ingredients which are suitable for all skin types (i.e. hyaluronic acid), whilst other ingredients are catered to specific skin types and skin conditions. People with oily skin should look for products that contain hyaluronic acid as a light moisturiser, or benzoyl peroxide to treat acne and blemishes. Those with sensitive skin should look for products that consists of ingredients such as aloe vera, centella asiatica, or oatmeal. People with mature skin types should look for heavier products, such as shea butter, or retinol for anti-aging purposes.

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What skincare ingredients actually work?

Skincare ingredients like vitamin C (or l-ascorbic acid; ascorbyl palmitate) are popular within the skincare realm as a superstar ingredient due to its powerful antioxidant and brightening properties. Vitamin C works to neutralise free radicals, which could cause damage to our skin and lead to wrinkles. Vitamin C can also be used to treat acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties, and lighten pigmentation over time, as well as treat dull complexions. However, take note that vitamin C should be stored in a dark place, as exposure to sunlight can cause it to change colour and lose its efficacy.


Ingredients to avoid in skincare while pregnant

One such ingredient to avoid while pregnant are retinols. This is due to the fact that higher strength retinols have been found to cause birth defects, and so, it has been advised to avoid all forms of retinols in order to mitigate risk. As such, people who are on prescription strength retinoids like Accutane are told to take pregnancy tests to ensure they are not pregnant, as well as being recommended two different forms of contraception.

Salicylic acid, which is a BHA, is to be avoided by pregnant women. Especially higher strength of salicylic acid due to its potential risk to the foetus; however lower doses are safe to use, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG). Apparently, chemical sunscreens are also dangerous for pregnant women. Chemical sunscreens contain the ingredient oxybenzone, which is remarkable for its protective qualities for the skin, but have recently been viewed in an unflattering light due to its adverse environmental effects. Oxybenzone is regarded to be an endocrine-disruptor, and the possibility that it could damage the health of the mother and foetus.

What skincare ingredients should not be mixed?

A combination of skincare ingredients to avoid is vitamin C and any AHA or BHA product. This is due to the fact that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient, and pairing it with a chemical exfoliating acid could prove far too irritating. Furthermore, it could affect the pH rating of the products you are using and cause it to become defunct.

Another ingredient combination is mixing an AHA with a BHA. Mixing these two does not guarantee faster and better results, in fact, quite the opposite. Using both at the same time could result in overexfoliation, and inevitably, a compromised skin barrier and irritation. Having the latter can cause increased inflammation and lead to the formation of acne.

Most importantly, vitamin C and niacinamide are two powerhouse ingredients that should not meet. Individually, these ingredients work effectively, but using them together would not be beneficial. Niacinamide turns any advantages gained from vitamin C and cancels them out, as well as causing it to become irritating.

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Skincare ingredients that work well together

Layering your vitamin C before applying sunscreen will give you a boost in antioxidant shield from the sun. Pairing these two together will ensure maximum sun protection, as well as prevent the formation of wrinkles and sunspots.

Hyaluronic acid is a superstar ingredient, capable of being paired with almost any other ingredient. One such pairing is hyaluronic acid and AHAs or BHAs, as layering between these two does not cause irritation, as hyaluronic acid is a gentle ingredient. Another such pairing is hyaluronic acid and retinol. Once again, due to hyaluronic acid being a gentle ingredient, pairing it with a strong ingredient is perfectly alright. In fact, applying hyaluronic acid after retinol could mitigate the potential irritating effects of retinol.


Author: Melody Day