You’ve probably heard of retinol and hyaluronic acid, but have you heard of AHAs and BHAs? What about niacinamide? It’s common in the skincare industry to label products using their chemical names, but what do these names actually mean? And which ingredients should I be using every day? This blog will outline the best chemical ingredients in skincare and how they can safely and effectively transform your skin.
What is a chemical ingredient in skincare?
Chemical ingredients are distinct compounds or substances that are either naturally occurring or have been artificially produced and purified in a lab. The key ingredients that you’ll find in your skincare products are water, emulsifiers, preservatives, thickeners, moisturisers, colours and fragrances.
Although most chemical ingredients are safe to use and help us to cleanse and protect our skin, there are some toxic ingredients that you should beware of.
How do you research skincare ingredients?
There has been a huge rise in consumer interest in skincare ingredients and the science behind skincare, which seemed to begin when The Ordinary skincare released their minimalistic and very inexpensive products using chemical ingredients in their purest forms. The Ordinary products are labelled by their chemical names, for example, their (TikTok viral) AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution and Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. This makes it easy to know exactly what you’re putting on your face without all the unnecessary added ingredients. Once you know the function and uses of different skincare ingredients, you can build the perfect skincare routine that suits your personal needs.
There are many skincare ingredient checkers available online that will let you know the positive and negative effects of each component of a skincare product. You can simply copy and paste ingredients lists into the analyser tool and the checker will generate all the information you could possibly need. For example, check out INCIDecoder.com and skincarisma.com.
When you’re searching online for skincare products (let’s be honest, the past year in lockdown has made internet shopping the new normal), scroll down to the ingredients list for each product. This will usually list the key ingredients and their functions.
Keep reading below to learn more about key skincare ingredients for different skin types and which brands offer the best quality ingredients that are recommended by our dermatologists.
What are the best ingredients for skincare?
The best ingredients for skincare are acids, chemical peels, antioxidants, and peptides.
Firstly, it’s important to know about BHAs (beta-hydroxy acid) and AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acid). These are chemical exfoliants that work by eliminating dead skin cells and bacteria from the surface of the skin and stimulate cell turnover.
AHAs are water soluble, which means they only work on the skin’s surface. They are best for dry or normal skin types because they are naturally hydrating.
Types of AHAs include:
Glycolic acid: Derived from sugar cane, this natural chemical exfoliant loosens the tight bonds between dead skin cells on the skin surface to reveal fresh new layers of skin underneath. It keeps the complexion bright and smooth. Glycolic acid has a small molecular structure so it’s great for penetrating deep into the skin, which reaps some great rewards. It stimulates collagen production (goodbye fine lines and wrinkles) and increases cell turnover.
Lactic acid: This is another AHA (a chemical exfoliant) found in milk and sugars. It’s a little milder than glycolic acid because it has a larger molecular structure. This means it can’t penetrate as deeply into the skin and is more suitable for sensitive skin types. Lactic acid exfoliates the surface layer of the skin and has the added benefits of reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation, sun damage and age spots.
Try PCA Skin Facial Wash – one of their hero products that combine lactic acid with botanical acid to cleanse the skin without disrupting the skin barrier.
BHAs are oil-soluble, which means they work on both the skin’s surface and deep below the surface into the dermis. They are best for oily and normal skin types prone to bumps, enlarged pores and acne because they can cut through sebum and oil in the skin – two key agents in acne formation.
Types of BHAs include:
Salicylic acid: is a popular skincare ingredient for exfoliation. It penetrates deep into the pores and dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells, removing them from the surface. It’s especially good for normal to oily skin because it pushes sebum and bacteria out from inside the pores and eliminates them from the skin. This also increases cell turnover, which helps to fade acne scars!
Try PCA Acne Gel – it uses 2% salicylic acid and a botanical blend to improve the appearance of breakout-prone skin.
Other acids and chemical peels:
Hyaluronic acid: This is a glycoaminoglycan naturally found in your skin. It binds to water and carries it into the skin to preserve hydration and give a plumped complexion (it’s known to hold onto 1,000 times its weight in water). Due to its small molecular structure, it can penetrate deep into the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Your skin should look and feel smoother and more even.
Try the Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum by PCA – a light, instantly plumping serum that feels gentle on the skin.
Or, try the Fillerina Day Cream – it combines hyaluronic acid with Matrifull and Hexapeptides to quickly plump out fine lines and wrinkles. It’s basically an injection-free filler!
Niacinamide: is a popular skincare ingredient for anti-ageing and anti-acne. It increases cell turnover which stimulates the production of collagen, boosts barrier functions and evens skin tone and texture. It also provides antioxidant protection against environmental stressors like sunlight and pollution. Niacinamide’s anti-inflammatory properties fight against acne spots and post-acne scars by clearing congested areas and reducing redness.
Check out the Emepelle Serum for menopause skin. It uses the best skincare ingredients for anti-ageing combined with award-winning MEP technology. Its results include increased skin luminosity, hydration, firmness and the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.
For younger skin, try PCA Skin Dual Action Redness Relief. It reduces redness and inflammation and improves the skin’s barrier function.
Vitamin C: This promotes the production of collagen (thickening the skin and increasing elasticity), diminishes fine lines and wrinkles, and has a brightening effect, leaving the skin radiant and glowing.
Vitamin E: This is another powerful antioxidant that is lipid-soluble, meaning it’s great for oily skin. It speeds up the process of healing post-acne scars and lightens dark spots caused by the skin and in the ageing process. Vitamin E also prevents oxidative damage to skin cells by removing free radicals (environmental pollutants).
Vitamin A/Retinol: Retinol is a type of vitamin A that has a whole host of skincare benefits. It penetrates deep into the skin and stimulates cell turnover. As a result, retinol boosts the production of elastin and collagen, which helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores. It also aids in the prevention of acne by eliminating dead skin cells which clog pores and acts as a mild exfoliant on the surface layer of the skin. At the same time, this balances skin hydration levels and helps to reduce rough patches on the skin. It’s especially good for oily and combination skin types because it decreases the production of sebum.
Dermatologists say that anyone of any age can use retinol, but it’s especially important for reducing signs of ageing.
Emepelle Night Cream uses retinol (combined with niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, peptides and other oils) to improve hydration, brightness and firmness. It’s best to use retinol at night because it makes the skin particularly sensitive to sun exposure. Emepelle’s products for menopausal skin are the most advanced anti-ageing skincare products of our time.
Which skincare brands do dermatologists recommend?
PCA Skin is an innovative and results-driven brand that use active ingredients in their skincare products. They target many skin concerns such as ageing, acne and discolouration. All of their products are paraben-free and cruelty-free.
Our favourites are the PCA Acne Gel, the PCA Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum and the PCA Skin Dual Action Redness Relief.
Emepelle is a breakthrough skin innovation designed to restore the natural radiance of perimenopause and menopause skin. As the first menopause skin treatment, Emepelle could revolutionise your skin within 4-8 weeks.
Emepelle uses MEP technology to fight against EDS (estrogen-deficient skin) and makes the skin hydrated, brighter and firmer. MEP is the first innovation in the world to non-hormonally counter the effects of EDS in perimenopause and menopause skin.
Endocare is part of Cantabria Labs, a pharmaceutical company, that use innovative technologies and ingredients in their incredible products. Their products are supported by extensive scientific research published in leading international medical journals.
The SCA Growth Factor Technology effectively prevents, protects and repairs skin damage and stimulates aged cells by making them behave like young cells, synethising quality collagen.
We recommend the Endocare Gel Cream and the Endocare Tensage Concentrate Serum, both developed with SCA growth factor technology and targeted at people with normal and dry skin types.
Fillerina is a ground-breaking technology featuring advanced weight formulations of hyaluronic acid. Their products mimic the effect of filler treatments but are completely natural and needle-free. They use different molecular structures of hyaluronic acid that penetrate deep into the layers of the skin and plump tissue, yielding a raised effect and diminishing the appearance of wrinkles and sunken skin. Look out for the Fillerina Day Cream, the Fillerina Night Cream and different Fillerina treatments for plumping the lips and eyelids.
How do you know if ingredients are toxic?
As a general rule, natural ingredients are the best ingredients for the skin. The ingredients we have discussed above are all popular skincare ingredients recommended by dermatologists that have scientifically proven benefits for the skin.
However, there are some skincare and beauty ingredients regarded as toxic that you should avoid. The best thing to do when deciding which skincare products to buy is to use the skin ingredient checkers widely available on the internet.
Some toxic ingredients to avoid:
Parabens are chemicals that help to preserve the shelf-life of skincare products. However, they have been linked to hormonal disruption. Look out for paraben-free advertising labels on skincare products.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLES) are chemicals consisting of non-volatile alcohols. They’re used in skincare products because of their skin-conditioning agents and as emulsifying properties. SLS is what turns cleaners into a rich lather – it makes bubbles that can trap dirt on the skin and easily rinses off leaving the skin feeling fresh and clean. Some SLSs and SLESs are toxic because they strip away the protective barriers on the skin that retain moisture and increase skin sensitivity.
Fragrances can be harmful if they are synthetic. Usually, fragrances are added to skincare products because they make the products more attractive to us but have no benefits to the skin. Fragrance can irritate the skin and interfere with our hormones. The skin on our face and chest area is the most sensitive, therefore avoid using strongly fragranced products in these areas, especially if you struggle with dry skin.
DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine).
Be careful of beauty products like eyeliner, nail polish, lip gloss, mascara and perfume – they often include ingredients that can be harmful to the skin.
Skincare ingredients you should never mix
Being knowledgeable about skincare ingredients is fantastic and helps you to build the perfect skincare routine that is tailored to your needs. However, it may encourage you to go into product overload and layer too many ingredients. As a rule, it’s best to keep it simple for your products to work as effectively as possible.
Firstly, don’t mix vitamin C with AHAs and BHAs because they will destabilise its pH and essentially render it useless.
Next, don’t use too many AHAs and BHAs together because they are chemical exfoliants that generally work towards the same effect. Choose one and stick to it, and if it doesn’t work after 6 weeks, try a different one.
Also, don’t follow AHAs and BHAs in the morning with retinol. The exfoliants will strip the skin (in a good way) and leave fresh, new skin exposed, but retinol will make this new skin more sensitive to sunlight. It’s best to use retinol at night, or if you’re just cleansing in the morning, follow with a high SPF.
Another tip is to follow this pattern: cleanser, toner, serums, moisturiser, SPF.
The benefits of using scientific modern skincare ingredients
Using scientific modern skincare ingredients will revolutionise your skin.
Skincare ingredients to avoid for sensitive skin include:
• Salicylic acid
Skincare ingredients for dry skin:
• Hyaluronic acid
• Lactic acid
• Glycolic acid
Skincare ingredients for acne:
• Hyaluronic acid
• Vitamin A/retinol
• Vitamin E
Skincare ingredients for acne scars:
• Vitamin A/retinol
• All AHAs and BHAs
Skincare ingredients for anti-ageing:
• Vitamin A/retinol
• Hyaluronic acid
• Vitamin C
Author: Megan Kerr