Skincare Ingredients 101: Actives vs. Inactives

Reading the ingredient labels on skincare products is just as important as reading the labels on the packaged food you eat.

Skincare products include a variety of active and inactive ingredients that can have varying effects on the skin.

Different active and inactive ingredients work better for some skin types. Understanding which mix of ingredients is best for your skin can increase the effectiveness of your skincare routine.

Learn more about active and inactive ingredients and how you can create a successful custom skincare routine here.

Skin Care Formulation 101: Ingredient Categories by Kenna

What Are Active Ingredients?

Active ingredients are molecules or chemicals that cause a skincare product to achieve its intended purpose, such as to treat acne, reduce wrinkles or lighten dark spots.

They are proven through research to alter the skin in some way. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates claims about the effectiveness of active ingredients.

What Are Inactive Ingredients?

The FDA does not regulate inactive ingredients because they’re not clinically proven to affect the skin. Inactive ingredients serve as sidekicks for active ingredients, helping them do their jobs more effectively.

They can deliver active ingredients to the skin, improve the feel or smell of a product, and preserve it.

There are several active ingredients you’ll see on skincare product labels, from a gentle gel cleanser to moisturizer to eye serum.

They aim to treat specific skincare issues such as pigmentation problems, rosacea, acne, and signs of aging. The following are some of the most popular active ingredients and their uses:

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C absorbs free radicals produced during UV-induced photodamage and protects the skin’s natural collagen supply.
  • Retinol: Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin C that addresses numerous skincare issues, including acne, wrinkles, fine lines, dullness, and brown spots.
  • AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids): Alpha-hydroxy acids improve cell turnover to remove dark spots and reveal more youthful, tight, glowing skin.
  • BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acids): Beta-hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin by getting inside the pores and pushing out bacteria, dirt, and sebum. The result is often reduced inflammation, minimal redness, and fewer painful blemishes.
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is found naturally throughout the body in the skin, joints, nerves, and more. It is an excellent source of lubrication and hydration that can plump and tighten the skin and reduce wrinkles.
  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants help protect the skin against the toxins and aggravators it encounters every day, such as pollen, pollutants, and free radicals. These harmful elements can break down elastin and collagen to cause premature skin aging.

Creating an Effective Skincare Routine

The complicated part of creating an effective skincare routine is that some active and inactive ingredients can cause irritation or other adverse reactions in some individuals.

Additionally, some active ingredients do not pair well together and can harm the skin rather than help it.

Combining two products with the same active ingredients can reduce effectiveness. The product with the more favorable pH level will act, and the other product will be ineffective.

Instead, try using one product in the morning and the other at night.

The following are active ingredients that do not pair well together, causing skin irritation or damage:

  • Benzoyl peroxide and retinoids
  • Retinoids and Vitamin C
  • Alpha hydroxy acids and retinoids
  • Salicylic acid and retinoids

Ask Your Dermatologist

The best way to develop a skincare routine tailored to your needs is to meet with a dermatologist or esthetician.

Your dermatologist can help you make sense of ingredient labels and determine which may be most effective for your skin.

They can also help locate different active or inactive ingredients if you experience irritation from a certain product.

Once you have a firm grasp on the skincare ingredients that work best for you, you can choose the products that lead to your skincare goals.

For more information and tips, check out the accompanying resource, by spring.