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What are the active ingredients in skincare products and how do they work?

Like most industries, the beauty and wellness industry has gone through an evolution in the past couple of years. So has the guide to skin care routines. The age-old practice of cleansing, exfoliation and moisturising has been modified after the introduction of numerous innovative techniques and ingredients. One of the latest trends, that has picked up well, is the use of active ingredients.

What are active ingredients?

An active ingredient is designed to address specific concerns related to the skin, like sun damage, acne, dryness, ageing and so on. ‘Actives’ are compounds that may undergo chemical transformation while preparing a solution but are present in the product in a modified form. These elements are raw and added in different proportions based on the skin type it is applied to.

Commonly used actives include retinol, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA), niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, SPF, ceramides and benzoyl peroxide. Each of these active ingredients deals with different skin concerns. For instance, retinol is derived from vitamin A and it specialises in combating premature ageing. Topical application of retinol increases cell turnover that helps renew our skin cells and tackles the issue of hyperpigmentation. In short, if you wish to get rid of uneven skin tone, wrinkles or dark spots, you should try a dose of retinol.

Similarly, AHAs and BHAs help in brightening your skin tone and minimising the appearance of blemishes. AHAs are derived from fruit sugars (glycolic acid) and milk (lactic acid). They gently exfoliate your skin to cleanse impurities and improve the texture. If your skin requires intense hydration, you can rely on hyaluronic acid. On the other hand, niacinamide is known for its anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe your skin. Vitamin C boosts collagen production that’s crucial to keep your skin plump and youthful.

How to choose the right active ingredients?

As mentioned, you may apply different active ingredients to take care of different skin concerns. While picking an ingredient, you need to first evaluate what you want to use it for. It’s recommended that you talk to a dermatologist, to detect your skin issues and accordingly choose the right active ingredient to fight the problem.

Here are some products infused with active ingredients

(Hero and featured image credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels)

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

This is an oil-free peeling serum by The Ordinary that can deeply exfoliate your skin and improve its texture. The serum is formulated with 30% AHAs—glycolic, citric, tartaric and lactic acids—that reduce imperfections and blemishes to give you clear and glowing skin. It is also enriched with the goodness of natural ingredients like Tasmanian pepper berry and black carrot that combat irritation and heal sudden breakouts.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

Is your skin showing signs of premature ageing? If so, it’s time to add an AHA-infused exfoliant to your skincare routine. Check out the exfoliant peel crafted by Paula Choice with 25% AHA. The solution works like magic to unclog your pores and protect your skin against sun damage. Being a water soluble ingredient, AHA keeps your skin hydrated and lends it a smooth texture.

FIRST AID BEAUTY Skin Lab AHA Resurfacing Liquid 10% AHA

If your skin is super sensitive, you might want to try First Aid Beauty’s lightweight serum with 10% AHA. It reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and gives your skin an even tone. The solution contains a mix of 4 AHAs—glycolic, lactic, tartaric and malic acids—which are known for their soothing and nourishing properties. This liquid serum also contains botanical extracts of liquorice roots, mulberry roots and lemon peel which boosts your skin’s natural radiance.

CLINIQUE Clarifying Lotion 3 – Combination Oily Skin

Clinique brings forth a dermatologically-tested lotion specially designed for oily and combination skin. The formula gently exfoliates your skin to remove impurities and flaky dead cells to brighten your complexion. It nourishes the skin from within to retain moisture and keep the skin smooth and plump for long hours.

FARMACY Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Refining Toner

Give your skin the love it deserves by applying Farmacy’s pore refining toner. The formula is packed with 2% BHA (salicylic acid) blended with papaya enzymes to minimise pore congestion and breakouts. It is best suited for acne-prone and sun-damaged skin. The toner is infused with moringa that cleanses your pores without causing any irritation.

HERBIVORE BOTANICALS Aquarius Pore Purifying Clarity Cream

Why go for expensive acne treatments when you have Herbivore Botanicals to fix your skin issues? Enriched with the healing powers of willow bark BHA, this clarity cream unclogs and cleanses your pores to give you healthy-looking skin. Another helpful ingredient is blue tansy oil, that balances your naturally moisturised skin to maintain a supple texture.

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Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum

Mario Badescu never disappoints with its products and the new vitamin C serum is no exception. The formula is compatible with oily, dry and combination skin and does wonders for rough, dull-looking skin. However, if you have acne-prone skin, it is advised to avoid this solution or consult a dermatologist before using it.

PIXI Vitamin-C Juice Cleanser

Who doesn’t want clear, flawless skin? Well, you can get that by using Pixi’s vitamin C-infused cleanser. Vitamin C boosts collagen production to improve your skin’s elasticity while protecting it from external aggressors. The solution is rich in antioxidants derived from orange, lemon and grapefruit extracts that help eliminate blemishes and brighten your skin tone.

SUNDAY RILEY C.E.O. 15% Vitamin-C Brightening Serum

Let your face glow by massaging it with a few drops of the vitamin C serum by Sunday Riley. The formula contains 15% vitamin C extracted from tangerine and soybeans, which have a soothing effect on sensitive skin. It pulls out excess sebum and protects skin from toxic pollutants to maintain its natural glow.

Lavish Cosmetics Papaya Face Nectar Rejuvenating Skin Serum

Brighten your skin with this serum made of naturally derived extracts and active ingredients including vitamin C and niacinamide, which work in tandem to remove blemishes and stimulate faster skin cell turnover. The versatile serum is suitable for all skin types, while it gently buffs your skin to improved radiance.

La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Replenish your skin’s natural moisture barrier with the ultra hydrating La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum. Infused with the goodness of hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5, this serum is excellent at repairing dehydrated skin with fine lines. Perfect for sensitive skin beauties.

LANEIGE Water Bank Blue Hyaluronic Range

Laneige has crafted a whole range of skincare products infused with hyaluronic acid. It includes a toner, an exfoliant, a gel moisturiser, a cream-based moisturiser, an eye cream and a serum. That sounds like quite a feast for your skin! From deeply hydrating your skin to removing dead cells to improving elasticity, you get everything that can give a healthy boost to your skin.

GLOW RECIPE Plum Plump Hyaluronic Cream

Let your skin blush red with Glow Recipe’s Plum Plump Cream. Powered by nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, polyglutamic acid and ice willowherb, this moisturiser balances sebum production, adding a dewy touch to your skin. The whipped gel texture of the cream helps it blend into your skin quickly without leaving any greasy residues.

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Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1% Serum

Put all the signs of premature ageing on hold by using the night serum from Lixirskin. It is infused with 1% retinol which is known to be the most effective de-ageing molecule. It reverses sun damage and strengthens your skin’s barrier to protect it against free radicals. Now wake up to clear, rejuvenated skin every morning.

The Inkey List Retinol

Worried about your uneven skin tone? With the retinol serum from The Inkey List, you can keep all your skin issues at bay. Retinol is a powerful ingredient that combats the problem of hyperpigmentation without causing a flare-up. Besides, it also helps minimise the appearance of fine wrinkles, dark spots, wrinkles, etc.

CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum

Want younger-looking skin? If yes, get yourself the retinol serum crafted by CeraVe. The solution is formulated with a blend of retinol and hyaluronic acid, both known to be nutrient-dense. While hyaluronic acid deeply moisturises your skin, retinol slows down the process of ageing by improving texture and restoring the skin’s barrier.

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SUNDAY RILEY Ice Ceramide Moisturizing Cream

Say hello to this ceramide-rich moisturiser by Sunday Riley that can transform your skin from dull to glowing in just a few weeks. The solution combines coconut and beetroot extracts with pomegranate sterols to nourish and rejuvenate your skin. The cream locks in moisture, leaving your skin with a dewy finish. It also helps combat signs of premature ageing.

SKIN INC Ceramide Serum

Quench the thirst of your dehydrated skin by massaging your face with Skin Inc.’s ceramide-infused serum. Along with four types of ceramides, the solution uses Japanese seaweed to ensure lasting hydration. The good thing is that the serum is compatible with all skin types, including eczema-prone skin.

DR.JART+ Ceramidin Cream Mist

Try this face mist by Dr. Jart to get rid of dry, flaky skin. Formulated with five ceramides, this cream mist deeply nourishes your skin to keep it soft and plump. It also holds the goodness of xylitol and flower extracts that lend a healthy glow to the face while strengthening the skin’s barrier.

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SATURDAY SKIN Carrot + Niacinamide Moisturizing Cream

Saturday Skin has created an ultra-moisturising cream infused with niacinamide that helps improve your skin’s moisture barrier. This natural formula is packed with extracts from carrots, lipids and ceramides, which work their magic to give you a healthy, even-toned complexion. The cream makes your skin firm yet supple.

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops

Accentuate your facial features with Glow Recipe’s skin-glowing serum. Enriched with niacinamide and watermelon extracts, the serum gets quickly absorbed into your skin and delivers a youthful radiance to your face. The solution provides all-round nourishment by sealing moisture and reducing hyperpigmentation.

The Ordinary 100% Niacinamide Powder

The Ordinary has developed a revolutionary skincare product to help you tackle irregular skin texture and pore congestion. Check out the 100% Niacinamide Powder that offers intense hydration, while balancing sebum secretion. The end result is clear, glowing skin with a dewy finish.

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FOR BELOVED GIRL Vitamin E Cloud-Silk Mask

Treat your skin with the benefits of vitamin E and retain its youthfulness. Vitamin E revives skin cells and combats all signs of premature ageing. The solution also contains tripeptides that refine your skin’s texture to keep it firm and elastic.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

Here’s the perfect solution to dry, flaky skin! SkinCeuticals’ CE Ferulic facial serum contains 1% vitamin E and 15% vitamin C to protect your skin against external toxins and aggressors. It gets absorbed by the skin quickly and works its magic to fight signs of ageing while providing deep nourishment.

The Body Shop Vitamin E Eye Cream

The first signs of ageing appear around your eyes. Crows’ feet, under-eye bags, wrinkly eyelids, and what not! But you can stop that with the help of The Body Shop’s vitamin E eye cream. The formula blends vitamin E with hyaluronic acid to keep the contours of your eyes refreshed. It gently hydrates the skin to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

Who said you need a costly acne treatment when you can treat those buggers with a simple face wash? You’ve heard it right! CeraVe brings you a foaming face wash that contains 4% Benzoyl Peroxide. It not only eliminates blemishes but also prevents the development of further breakouts. The product also contains niacinamide and hyaluronic acid that ensures deep hydration and creates a soothing effect on your skin.

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment

If you are looking for an effective way to heal your acne, here it is! Differin crafts a deep cleanser infused with 5% Benzoyl Peroxide that fights dryness and balances sebum production to prevent pore congestion. The solution is gentle on your skin and does not cause redness or irritation.

Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide

Acne can leave indelible scars on your skin and can be irritating! Get rid of acne breakouts with the skin clearing treatment from Paula’s Choice. The formula is concocted with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide that heals breakouts and cystic acne faster without causing any severe reaction on your skin. The solution is lightweight and blends seamlessly into your skin.

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SUNDAY RILEY Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask

Getting rid of acne spots is not impossible any more! Get hold of Sunday Riley’s Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask. Infused with 10% sulphur, the solution works like magic to remove blemishes left behind by acne while preventing future breakouts. It removes dead cells to enhance the brightness of your skin and pulls out excess sebum to unclog pores.

Clearogen Acne Lotion

Here’s an effective solution that acts tough on acne but is mild on your skin. The sulphur-infused lotion deeply hydrates your skin and blocks DHT which causes breakouts. The best part is that the solution is specially designed to treat sensitive skin. The mineral sulphur gently cleanses pores and kills acne-causing bacteria.

Dr. Dennis Gross DRx Blemish Solutions Clarifying Mask

Dr. Dennis Gross has crafted a clinical solution to end multiple skin issues like blackheads, acne, clogged pores, etc. The solution extracts excess oil that clogs your pores to let your skin breathe. It also retains the skin’s natural moisture to keep it soft and supple. Besides, the sulphur in the formula helps minimise skin imperfections and heal breakouts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should use active ingredients?

Active ingredients can combat a lot of skin care issues, from sun damage, premature ageing to healing acne breakouts. But if you have a normal skin texture, you can still use them to retain your skin’s natural glow and overall health.

Are there any side effects of active ingredients?

Not every skin type can handle exposure to active ingredients. If your skin is sensitive, it can develop issues like rashes, redness and irritation. Extreme conditions could be dizziness, nausea, insomnia and so on. However, there are a number of products in the market today that are specially curated to suit different skin types.

You should consult a dermatologist before purchasing a formula infused with active ingredients.

What are some active ingredients which can be mixed for use?

You can mix different active ingredients depending on the result you are aiming for. However, you must research well before doing so. For instance, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C work well when combined. The same cannot be said for a combo of salicylic acid and vitamin C. The second combination can cause harsh reactions on your skin. Some other effective combinations are retinoids + peptides, vitamin E + ferulic acid, niacinamide/hyaluronic acid + vitamin C and so on.

What are the active ingredients which should not be used?

Here are a few active ingredient combinations that you need to be cautious of—benzoyl peroxide + retinol, BHA + AHA, retinoids + vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide + vitamin C and so on.

Who should not use active ingredients?

Ideally, anybody can use active ingredients depending on the skin issue they want to treat. However, someone with sensitive skin needs to be careful before applying active ingredients. It is best to talk to a certified dermatologist to decide which formulas would work on your skin type. Based on their recommendation, you can select the right lotion or face wash.

What are the active ingredients in skincare products and how do they work?

An Anthropology graduate, Nikita started her journey in writing and editing while she was still a student. She has worked with various agencies and brands, creating content in lifestyle, entertainment, travel and wellness space. Nikita aspires to travel the world and explore food, culture and more while penning it all down to share with the world.

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