Actives in skin care: what are these and which ones to include in your skin care

The actives in any skin care product let you decide whether it is a good fit for your skin or not.. but what are these actives?

If you are someone like me who breathes, eats, sleeps skin care..then you must have stumbled upon the term “actives”. I am assuming half of you reading this post already know the essential actives’ names required for your own skin type by heart. But actives are more than just names.. and today I will introduce them to you in the simplest way possible, so that next time when you buy a product you don’t have to google… Knowledge is power, remember? 

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What is an active in a product? and what are the “active” skin care products?

In a more general way, an active is the show stopper of any skin care product. The name is quite self-explanatory still for all of you: 

An active ingredient is the chemical molecule present in a product. It is supposed to solve a specific skin concern it is meant to target. Any product which contains the active ingredients are known as actives/ active skin care product.

For example, if you have an acne prone skin, you should go for the cleansers which contain salicylic acid. Because salicylic acid is good for preventing acnes and is an active ingredient. And as the cleanser contains an active ingredient specifically for treating acne… the cleanser is an “active” skin care product.

So you might be wondering, are all the ingredients in a product actives?

 Not really. An active in a product is something that has been researched in a lab and has some valid data to prove it really works. Not only that, they are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Which means they have the recognition to perform a specific function for treating a specific skin issue.

In simple words, it is those ingredients which are the star of any product!

In addition to actives, a skin care product also contains some non-active ingredients. But they are not approved by FDA like the actives. That doesn’t mean they are completely useless or have zero effect. They are just not recognized by FDA. (Poor them!)

How to detect active and inactive ingredients?

Usually in an ingredient label, the active ingredients are shown as percentages with a short brief of how they are intended to work. Inactive ingredients are not usually listed with their percentage in the label. In most cases they are present in the label in alphabetical order. It makes life more harder cause you will never know in what amount they put it in the product.

Some active ingredients trending today…

The skin care industry is evolving every day. It is funny that what listed as a good ingredient in 2015, does not have any value in 2020. A lot of research are going on and new actives are coming each and every day. I don’t want to dig deep but for you I chose some exclusive actives which I personally use in my skin care routines. And which are must haves: 

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Like their name , these actives can bring aha effect on your skin (that was lame, ok sorry!).I am quite sure all of you have already heard about it cause of the brand the ordinary. But what is the reason behind these actives’ overnight fame? 

ordinary product- actives in skin care
The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution Photo: The Ordinary

Here is the deal

AHAs are exfoliating agent which can be produced in a lab or derived naturally from fruit sugar, milk. They are great cause they promote skin’s natural shedding by breaking the glue between dead skin cells. Some of the amazing benefits of using AHAs are reducing pore size, acne scars and improves moisture content on your skin. The most used AHA’s are glycolic acid and lactic acid. 

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)

If you are prone to acne, chances are you are already familiar with BHAs. The most common BHA so far is salicylic acid. It is the go-to active for breakouts and loved by everyone. They are also good for preventing blackhead and whiteheads. I personally use BHAs for white heads as I get them quite frequently. BHAs can unclog pores and are generally recommended for oily skin.

Vitamin C

The most common active ingredient found in every brightening cream today: vitamin C. It doesn’t only brighten your morning ( talking about the orange juice you drink in the morning!) but also can make your skin glow. Vitamin C fights against UV damage and can increase the effect of sunscreen when it’s applied underneath. In addition to that, it prevents the damaging effect of free radicals and reduces the micro-inflammation. Vitamin C is often used as anti-aging as well cause of its capacity to produce collagen. The most common form of vitamin C found in products is L-ascorbic acid.

glass full of mango juice- actives in skin care
Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. from Pexels

Hyaluronic acid

Personally this one is my favorite. Do you know our skin naturally produces hyaluronic acid? But due to aging and external factors, our skin starts losing it. It is such a fascinating ingredient which can be very useful if your skin lacks moisture. It is often used as hydrating agent cause it a humectant that can absorb and retain moisture on our skin. My skin is usually dehydrated and I try to use moisturizers which contain hyaluronic acid. And guess what? It works like magic!


Retinoids are goodies when it comes to anti-aging specially. It is a derivative of vitamin A. How does it work so good? The answer lies in its size! Vitamin A is tiny in size. Due to its size it can penetrate into the deeper level of skin and make friends with collagen and elastin which are responsible for wrinkles. Not to mention, it also helps with skin’s cell turnover, pigmentation and soothing. The most common retinoids found in the over-the-counter anti-aging products are retinol, retinal aldehyde and retinyl esters. 

list of useful actives in skin care
I just listed some of the most trending and useful active ingredients of today’s skin care world


When it comes to healthy skin, a good skin barrier is important. It helps the bad stuffs like dust, pollutant, to stay away from your skin and keep the good stuffs (water, NMFs) intact. However, due to external factors the skin barrier gets disrupted. In this situation, ceramides can be your rescue. Ceramides not only repairs your skin’s barrier but also helps it to retain water. We naturally have ceramides in our skin but with age we keep losing it. Therefore, it is necessary to use a moisturizer which contains this active ingredient for a healthy skin (telling from personal experience!).

all the cerave products  ceramide  actives in skin care
CeraVe’s products feature at least three types of essential ceramides Photo: Cerave


Peptides often act as a bridge between skin cells. They increase collagen production as well as reduce wrinkles. Besides, they also stop collagen degradation which is a key to younger looking skin. Peppy!


This active is trending in 2020 and has lots of benefits to offer. It is a water soluble vitamin and helps to reduce pore size. It also improves the uneven skin tone and prevents dehydration by improving the skin’s ability to produce ceramide. Niacinamide has been known to show wonders on dry skin cause of its unique property of preventing moisture loss by renewing and restoring the skin’s surface. 

actives in skin care

So that’s a wrap for today…

I did not include all the active ingredients on the list but only those which I like and consider as helpful. If you have a favorite active of your own, you can let me know in the comment box!

Want to learn more?

Are you wondering who am I to share these tips with you? You can check out my about section to learn a little more abut me.

Are you interested in more tips? Check out the 5 best skin care tips for every skin type!

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