What Are Skincare Actives and How Should You Use Them?

Active > Reactive, amiright?
BY Sarah Lim
| Last updated Apr, 2023
What Are Skincare Actives

Have YOU ever looked at the label of a skincare product and seen the “active ingredient” section? But do you know what exactly are skincare actives?

A skincare active is an ingredient designed to address a particular skin concern. So if a product is marketed as “anti-aging,” the active ingredient is going to be something that specifically targets aging. However, not every product will have skincare active—and this doesn’t mean that it’s not worth using.

You’ve also likely seen the “inactive ingredient” list. These ingredients are also necessary; they just haven’t been proven to treat a specific condition. Which is why they’re not listed as actives.

So what else should you know about the actives, and how should you use them?

What Are Some Examples of Skincare Active Ingredient?

There are different types of actives for skincare depending on your skin concern. Eventually, you need to use ingredients based on your particular skin type!

Some actives you might see on a label include:

• Hyaluronic acid

It’s Shown in research that hyaluronic acid decreases the depth of wrinkles up to 40%, increases skin hydration up to 96%, enhances skin elasticity, and increases firmness (up to 55%). Hyaluronic acid is something your body produces naturally. Its primary purpose is to keep your body tissues moist.

• Retinol

Also known as vitamin A, retinol helps prevent the signs of aging in skincare. Research shows that retinol has a “significant anti-aging effect” on the skin.

• Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Alpha Hydroxy Acids can come from plants or animals. So, it’s essential to check the source if you’re sticking to plant-based skincare ingredients. AHAs are meant to improve fine lines, wrinkles, and skin tone texture. They can be in the form of citric acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid (to name a few), although some research shows glycolic and lactic acid forms are the most effective.

• Vitamin C

It’s an all-star ingredient for skin health. Vitamin C can support healthy collagen production, heal skin damage from sun exposure and reduce skin hyperpigmentation (discolored skin such as age spots or sun spots). Vitamin is generally beneficial for all skin types.

• Niacinamide

Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide has many uses as skincare active. It prevents transepidermal water loss (moisture loss from the skin, which can cause premature aging). It can also increase skin moisture, smooth wrinkles, and have an overall anti-inflammatory effect.

These are just a few active ingredients. Some other skincare actives include zinc oxide and titanium oxide for sunscreen (to prevent sun damage) and salicylic acid & benzoyl peroxide for acne-prone skin.

How to Use Skincare Actives?

Not all skincare actives are beneficial for every skin type. Knowing your skin type is essential to determine which actives are going to support your most gorgeous skin!

Knowing how to use the actives is crucial as well. Not all of them are meant to be used together, such as when layering products.

Let’s look at a potential morning & evening routine for your products with skincare actives. It’s because some ingredients are meant to be used only in the morning or only at night.

Skincare Actives For An ‘AM’ Routine:

  1. First, go ahead and cleanse & tone YOUR skin. Face washes can contain skincare actives such as acne-fighting ingredients or soothing toners with vitamin C or hyaluronic acid.
  2. Next, apply your vitamin C serum. You can use this both morning and night. But it’s vital in the morning to help protect against sun damage throughout the day. 
  3. Then, apply moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid or niacinamide. These ingredients could be present in eye creams and serums as well!
  4. Finally, apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to help protect against photoaging and skin cancer.

Skincare Actives For A ‘PM’ Routine:

  1. Gently rewash your face. Try to avoid harsh cleansers that can strip skin’s natural oil, also called sebum.
  2. YOU can use vitamin C again. And, if you’re using any skincare products with AHAs, you can layer these with vitamin C. But remember to do this only at nighttime. In the morning, stick with vitamin C only.
  3. Use any moisturizers, balms, eye creams, or serums with hyaluronic acid & niacinamide.
  4. Finally, use any products containing retinol. Retinol can be very effective for anti-aging. But it can also cause sensitive skin in the sunlight and should only be used at night. 

Also, retinol can be mildly irritating for some people. So, use niacinamide, which has an anti-inflammatory effect, and can help reduce irritation.

Are Inactive Ingredients Important Too?

While skincare actives are usually the stars of a formula, YOU shouldn’t ignore the inactive ingredients. Both active and inactive ingredients can cause reactions for people with sensitive skin. So, you should always read the label before selecting a product.

Inactive ingredients could have a variety of functions in a skincare product. They could help stabilize the formula or act as carriers for the active ingredients. Inactive ingredients can also make skincare actives more bioavailable to the skin cells. Meaning they allow the target ingredients to properly do their job.

Some inactive ingredients can also preservatives. Water is the most common inactive ingredient. But inactive could also be parabens, which some people react to. 

Remember that just because a product contains an active doesn’t mean its formula is better for YOUR specific skin type or concern. The opposite is also true: just because a product doesn’t have actives doesn’t mean it won’t benefit you. Always read the complete list of ingredients and identify the potential benefits or risks of a product!

Do You Use Actives in Your Skincare Routine?

Active ingredients can be essential for your skincare routine. They can target specific skin issues and even change your skin for the better over time. Also, they include the potential to support your skin’s health. It will work only when you’re using them properly and working with ingredients specific to your skin type.

Do YOU use actives in your skincare routine? Let us know in the comments below!

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