Your guide to skin-care ingredients Image by: Getty Images
From acids to zinc oxide, we're giving you the scoop on the beauty and skin-care ingredients you need to know.
Not all of us are chemists or entirely familiar with all of the new and improved skin-care ingredients hitting the drugstore shelves these days. And that's okay! We're here to help you determine which active skin-care ingredients might be best for you with our handy list of ingredients and definitions—listed alphabetically for your convenience. Don't see what you're looking for? Let us know! We update this page regularly.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) work on the skin as chemical exfoliators, promoting cell turnover and firmness and sloughing away dead skin. They include citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and tartaric acid, though the most common in skin care is glycolic acid. Although naturally occurring in nature, most AHAs in skin care are synthetic formulations. After use, your skin appears immediately brighter and softer, and in the long term they can reduce wrinkles and fine lines, help to fade discolouration and ease dryness. But, they can be irritating, so always start in small doses and percentages and work your way up.
Benzoyl Peroxide is an acne treatment that can be too harsh for many people. (If this is true for you, opting for BHAs is probably a better bet.) Although it kills acne bacteria, the side effects might put you off—dryness, peeling, inflammation and sun sensitivity are all possible outcomes.
Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are great for people who suffer from acne or congestion. The most common BHA is Salicylic Acid, though you might also recognize willow bark extract, tropic acid, or salicylate as other BHAs. BHAs will give you a deeper exfoliation than AHAs as they also clean out the pores, and they can be less irritating so are a good option for those who might have a reaction with AHAs.
Collagen is a protein that is naturally found in the skin. When we're young we have an abundance of collagen which is what gives us a plump and smooth look that's become synonymous with youthful skin. As we age, our ability to produce collagen diminishes resulting in—you guessed it—the signs of aging. The collagen molecule is large, which makes it very difficult to be absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin, so you need to skeptical about applying it topically.
Glycerin is a humectant which means it retains and preserves moisture in the skin. It's a substance that exists naturally in your skin and helps to balance your complexion and retain hydration—meaning it makes you look moisturized and healthy. You'll find glycerin in most moisturizers, and it's a widely used skin-care ingredient when it comes to products geared towards dehydrated skin.
More goodness for dry skin! Hyaluronic acid is another ingredient that helps lock moisture into the skin. It's known for attracting up to 1000 times its weight in water, making it incredibly effective at hydration. It's also known to be great for people who suffer from rosacea or eczema and will work with pretty much every skin type. Bottom line, this is an ingredient you need in your beauty cabinet.
Peptides are fragments of proteins made up of amino acids, and they help to keep the skin intact. They help to revitalize the building blocks of your skin which helps stave off wrinkles and loss of volume. But, there are plenty of different peptides that target different things and that are created specifically for certain outcomes. Likewise, certain brands have their own peptide formulations, so when peptide is used as a catch-all term, it doesn't actually tell us much more than the product is likely anti-aging.
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, and it a potent anti-aging ingredient. Retinol stimulates cell turnover and encourages the skin to repair itself. It can help combat fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone and even acne. It can be irritating and result in dryness, so always pair it with a great moisturizer.
Squalane is an oil—often derived from plants in beauty, though originally it was found in shark livers—that is super compatible with our skin. It's lightweight, easily absorbed and includes anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties. If you're wary of oils, this is the one to try.
While vitamin C is typically thought of as a skin brightener, it's actually a great product to combat free-radical damage, increase circulation and build collagen. In skin care, it's often referred to as L-ascorbic acid, and it's essential to maintaining skin health. The ingredient regulates collagen, and is a great option for those who find their skin damaged by aggressors like sun exposure, pollution and stress. Stability is key with vitamin C and it's an ingredient that works well with other ingredients like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.
If you've ever looked into using a natural sunscreen, you've likely come across zinc oxide. It's one of the safest active sunscreen ingredients and works by physically blocking the sun's UV rays as it sits on the skin. Percentages are key when looking for a physical sunscreen that will keep you protected, so look for zinc oxide at 10% of higher (if it's the only active ingredient) or look for it at a lower percentage in combination with titanium dioxide.