What Are Active Ingredients in Skincare Products?

What Are Active Ingredients in Skincare Products?

You have likely heard the term “active ingredients” and maybe you already know what they are, but for those of you who don’t, keep reading to learn more.

What Does the Term Active Ingredient Mean?

Basically, active ingredients in a product are the ingredients that work to address the specific skincare concerns the product claims to improve, such as dry, dull, irritated or oily skin, pigmentation issues, fine lines and wrinkles, blemishes, dark circles etc. All the ingredients in a product play a role, such as moisturizing or cleansing, but active ingredients target specific issues. Let’s look at ceramides for example (naturally occurring  in the upper layers of our skin). Ceramides act as a barrier, both protecting skin from external stressors and minimizing moisture loss by keeping fluids in the skin. As we age, ceramide production decreases, so products containing ceramides restore and support the skin barrier, promoting supple smooth plump skin, for a more youthful appearance.

 Some Commonly Used Active Ingredients

AHAs - (alpha hydroxy acids) lactic acid from milk and glycolic acid from sugars that work to promote the skin’s natural exfoliation process

BHAs - beta hydroxy acids - salicylic acid - promotes exfoliation and unclogs pores with deeper penetration due to  small molecular size 

Backuchiol - a natural retinol alternative, derived from the babchi plant, that works to decrease the appearance of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation

Ceramides - lipids (fatty acids) that work to fortify the skin barrier which protects from external stressors and limits moisture loss

Hyaluronic Acid - (HA) a humectant (holds 1000X it’s weight in water) that works to draw water into the skin, keeping it super hydrated

Niacinamide - a form of Vitamin B3 that works to calm skin conditions marked by inflammation, promotes skin repair and protects from environmental stressors

Peptides - work to boost collagen and elastin production and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

Retinol - retinoid acid - derived from Vitamin A - that works to increase cell turnover to promote a more youthful appearance - can be irritating

Vitamin C - L-ascorbic acid - has the ability to brighten skin, lighten dark spots and protect from sun damage

Vitamin E - a powerful antioxidant that works to reduce damage by free radicals and also helps to stabilize products by slowing down oxidation

Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide - (SPF) the only natural sunscreen ingredients that are approved by the FDA

Look for Active Ingredients in these Products

You will find active ingredients in a full range of skincare products, including cleansers. However, keep in mind, cleansers are rinsed away so it’s probably best to look for active ingredients in leave on products such as toners, serums, lotions and creams. As outlined below, some active ingredients are safe to use together, so you made decide to choose products with more than one active ingredient to simplify your routine. For example - a serum with both niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.

How to use Active Ingredients

Some active ingredients can be irritating if over-used, or when used in combination. It is important to know which active ingredients are best for your skin goals, along with when and how to use them.

 Do Not Use Together

  • Retinols and AHAs or BHAs - when used together, these active ingredients can dry out and irritate skin - we suggest using them on alternating evenings
  • Retinol and Vitamin C - when used together, the potency of these active ingredients is lessened - we suggest using Vitamin C in the AM and Retinol in the PM
  • Vitamin C with AHAs or BHAs - as above, using these acids together pretty much renders them useless - we recommend using Vitamin C in the AM and AHAs and BHAs in the PM
  • Bakuchiol and Glycolic Acid - glycolic acid has the ability to degrade the potency of Bakuchiol - we suggest alternating days for use

 Use Together 

  • Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide - these two active ingredients are great to use together and can be combined with ALL other active ingredients, including Retinol, Vitamin C, AHAs & BHAS
  • SPF and Vitamin C - a double win because the combo can help repair and reverse sun damage at the same time it's working to protect skin                                                                                                                
 Active Ingredient Use in the AM Use in the PM Use Anytime

YES (alternate evenings with Retinol)


YES (alternate evenings with Retinol)

Bakuchiol  YES


YES (alternate evenings with BHAs)





Hyaluronic Acid YES


Niacinamide YES


Peptides YES



YES (alternate evenings with AHAs & BHAs)

Vitamin C YES




Coming up in our next blogs:  

Natural vs Naturally Derived Ingredients 

Choosing Active Ingredients to Meet Your Skincare Goals

We welcome your comments and questions.

- stay wild

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