Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
Your Ultimate Guide to Skincare Active Ingredients

Your Ultimate Guide to Skincare Active Ingredients

Skincare active ingredients are used in products to create physiological changes to your skin.

Typically, active ingredients are used to treat specific conditions. For example:

  • Beta hydroxy acids are great for treating acne

  • Alpha hydroxy acids can reduce dullness and dark spots

  • Retinol is the gold standard in reducing fine lines and wrinkles

There are tons of skincare actives out there that can help you achieve all of your skincare goals.

This article will explain everything you need to know about different active ingredients and how to use them in your skincare routine.

What are actives in skin care?

When we talk about “actives” in skincare, we are referring to the key ingredients that provide specific benefits to the skin.

These actives are carefully formulated to target various skin concerns and come in different forms, each with its unique mechanism of action.

Acids are commonly used for exfoliation and promoting cell turnover. They can address conditions like:

  • Acne

  • Hyperpigmentation

  • Dullness

Plus, certain vitamin derivatives, like ascorbic acid and retinol, provide potent antioxidant properties and help combat signs of aging.

These are just a few examples of the many, many actives available to you in skincare.

Best Skincare Actives for Acne

The most effective active ingredients in skincare for acne prone skin include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid.

Salicylic Acid

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Salicylic acid is an exfoliating acid and popular active ingredient commonly found in skincare products.

Also known as a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid easily gets into pores to dissolve oil and dead skin cells. It is a generally well-tolerated treatment even for people with sensitive skin.

Additionally, you will commonly find salicylic acid included in products like cleansers and toners to treat textured skin and blackheads.

Benzoyl Peroxide

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash with 10% Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the best active ingredients for treating acne.

Commonly found in cleansers and body washes, benzoyl peroxide kills off acne causing bacteria and fights breakouts.

Because it is quite strong and caustic, benzoyl peroxide is not always easily tolerated for people with dry skin.

Azelaic Acid

Naturium Azelaic Topical Acid 10 with BowTiedFawn branding

Azelaic acid is one of the best active ingredients found in skincare products to treat acne.

In addition to reducing breakouts, azelaic acid has also been shown in studies to help manage rosacea and reduce redness.

Further, it can even help reduce uneven skin tone.

Best Skincare Actives for Anti Aging

Three of the most popular and effective active ingredients in skincare for anti-aging purposes include retinoids, vitamin C, and peptides.


The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane

Retinol is one of the best over the counter products you can use to fight aging.

Also known as a vitamin A derivative, retinol has benefits like:

  • Stimulating collagen production

  • Speeding up skin cell turnover

  • Fighting fine lines and wrinkles

You can find retinol in serums and moisturizers.


Naturium Retinaldehyde Cream

Like retinol, retinaldehyde is a vitamin A derivative with similar anti aging benefits.

In fact, retinol gets converted to retinaldehyde when it is metabolized by your body after being applied to your skin! Then, retinaldehyde undergoes one more conversation step to become retinoic acid, also known as tretinoin.

While some people have reported that they experience less irritation when using retinaldehyde compared to retinol, more study is needed to further understand this process.

Vitamin C

La Roche Posay 10% Vitamin C Serum

Vitamin C is an awesome skincare ingredient to fight anti aging.

Studies show that vitamin C, in the form of l-ascorbic acid, has benefits like:

  • Stimulating collagen production

  • Evening out skin tone

  • Neutralizing free radicals

  • Providing antioxidant properties



Stratia Interface with BowTiedFawn branding

Peptides are a relatively new and rapidly evolving category of ingredients in skincare.

Matrixyl 3000 was the first popular anti-aging peptide widely available, but we are now seeing improvements and new technologies every year.

In addition to serums, you can now find anti-aging peptide moisturizers too.

Best Skincare Actives for Dry Skin

Dry and dehydrated skin requires special attention and hydration to restore moisture and improve its overall texture.

The following active ingredients are highly effective in nourishing your skin and improving its hydration levels.

Hyaluronic Acid

The Ordinary Marine Hyaluornics

Hyaluronic acid is a popular ingredient also known as a humectant.

Humectants are powerful actives that bind moisture from the environment into your skin.

This process helps with dehydrated skin concerns and can temporarily plump you skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines.


Glycerin is an even more powerful humectant than hyaluronic acid and works similarly.

Just like HA, glycerin can be found in plenty of cleansers, hydrating serums, and moisturizers.


Ceramides are essential components of your skin’s natural barrier function.

They are lipids that help to:

  • Seal in moisture

  • Maintain hydration levels

  • Protect your skin from external aggressors

People with dry skin may genetically produce less ceramides than others. This can lead to increased moisture loss and a weakened skin barrier.

By including skincare products like moisturizers with ceramides in your routine, you can nourish your natural barrier and encourage skin renewal.

Best Skincare Actives for Dark Spots

When it comes to dark spots, niacinamide, tranexamic acid, and kojic acid are some of the best ingredients for an even skin tone.


Naturium Niacinamide Cleansing Gelee

Niacinamide is a derivative of vitamin B3 that is effective for addressing dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

When applied topically, niacinamide works by inhibiting the transfer of melanin (the pigment responsible for dark spots) to your skin cells. Over time, this helps lighten existing dark spots and prevent new ones from forming.

Niacinamide also helps regulate sebum production, making it an awesome ingredient for people with oily and acne prone skin.

Plus, niacinamide is generally a great skin-loving ingredient thanks to benefits like:

  • Enhancing skin barrier function

  • Improving moisture retention

  • Reducing redness and inflammation

You can find niacinamide in serums and moisturizers.

Tranexamic Acid

Tranexamic acid is a relatively new addition to the skincare world but has gained significant attention for its ability to fade dark spots and even out skin tone.

It works by inhibiting melanin production and prevent melanocyte activation. By interrupting this process, tranexamic acid helps fade existing dark spots and prevent new ones from forming.

Studies show tranexamic acid can also help reduce melasma.

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is an awesome ingredient derived from fungi for evening out skin tone.

When applied topically, kojic acid works by inhibiting the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in the synthesis of melanin. Over time, this process can help fight dark spots and melasma.

Additionally, kojic acid has antioxidant properties which help protect your skin from free radical damage and premature aging.

That being said, kojic acid can be somewhat drying and therefore may be more suitable for people with oily skin.

Best Skincare Actives for Dull Skin

Active ingredients, such as alpha hydroxy acids and enzymes, are particularly effective in addressing dull skin concerns and dark spots.

Their exfoliating properties and ability to promote cell turnover contribute to a brighter complexion.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Stratia Soft Touch AHA with BowTiedFawn branding

Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are a group of exfoliating acids commonly used in skincare products to revive dull skin.

There are three main AHAs commonly found in skincare products:

  • Glycolic acid

  • Lactic acid

  • Mandelic acid

Glycolic is the strongest while mandelic acid is the most gentle and more suitable for people with sensitive skin.

All three AHAs help improve skin texture and fight dull skin.


Enzymes are proteins we typically use for exfoliation and brightening dull skin. You’ll typically find them on ingredient lists in the form of fruit extracts.

For example, papain, derived from papaya, is a proteolytic enzyme that breaks down dead skin cells. Additionally, bromelain, extracted from pineapple, is another enzyme with excellent exfoliating properties.

These enzymes gentle remove dead skin cells and reduce skin texture for brighter, glowing skin.

Conclusion: Active Ingredients in Skincare

In conclusion, active ingredients are used in skincare to treat specific skin concerns and improve your appearance.

From addressing acne and anti-aging concerns to combatting dryness and reducing dark spots, the world of skincare actives offers a wide range of options to suit your unique needs.

Remember, when incorporating active ingredients into your skincare routine, it’s essential to start gradually and consider your skin type and any specific concerns.

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