Active Ingredients – Do they matter?

Using products that contain active ingredients can be the difference between achieving your skin goals and falling short. But what ingredients are actually classified as active?

The term “active ingredient” is thrown around a lot in the skin care sphere but, in many cases, it isn’t being used correctly. Considering just how much there is to know about skin care products, formulations, and ingredients at large, we wanted to take the time to outline what active ingredients are, how to determine whether a product contains an active ingredient, and why inactive ingredients still matter.

What Is an Active Ingredient?

Simply put, the term “active ingredient” refers to a chemical that actively targets a specific skin concern — such as acne, pigmentation, or fine lines.

“These ingredients have scientific data showing their efficacy so there is a good chance you’ll get some benefit from including them in your skin care regimen,” he adds. This makes sense because otherwise we wouldn’t have concrete proof an ingredient caused a physical changes in the skin.

A List of Common Skin Care Actives

The most common active ingredients found in skin care are as follows:

  • Salicylic Acid (BHA) — A strong exfoliating acid that causes the skin to shed and peel to reveal brighter, clearer, smoother skin. It’s a common acne-fighting ingredient, and also used to treat warts.
  • Retinoids (Vitamin A) — This anti-aging, exfoliating antioxidant helps stimulates collagen production and helps with fine lines, pores, acne, and pigmentation. With consistent use, it can make skin softer, smoother, and clearer.
  • Vitamin C — An antioxidant superhero that wards off free radical damage. It helps exfoliate the skin, improving tone and texture and it also helps with pigmentation. It also stimulates collagen production and helps improve fine lines.” Aim for 10% or higher concentration.
  • AHA’S — In addition to exfoliating the skin to improve texture and tone, they can also foster collagen production. Commonly used to treat hyperpigmentation and acne.

How to Identify Actives on a Product Label

Typically, active ingredients will be the first one to five ingredients that are listed first on the product label. They’re usually listed in decreasing order of importance and/or concentration, and the ingredient should produce an effect when used.