Popular Skincare Ingredients Explained

If you’ve ever picked up a product only to be completely bamboozled by the ingredients list, you’re not alone. Choosing between different products is challenging  enough, but some of the words and phrases used in skincare can be especially confusing.

Social media marketing can have a way of persuading us to purchase the latest “hero skincare product”, but most importantly, is it right for you? To help make sense of it all, here is a list of common skincare issues, and some ingredients that could help.


If your skin feels dry and lacks elasticity, there are three things you need: the first is a humectant (like beta glucan cream or hyaluronic acid) to draw hydration into the skin. These are best applied straight after cleansing, while the face is slightly damp.

The other two types of moisturizing ingredients are an emollient (such as cocoa or shea butter)  to soothe and soften, and an occlusive (if the skin is very dry)  to seal moisture in and create a protective barrier. Some products contain all three, or you can layer them.

Acne and Oily Skin

Alpha-hydroxy acids and (slightly milder) beta-hydroxy acids are designed to exfoliate the skin without scrubbing, but always remember to wear an SPF with them as they can increase sun sensitivity, and never use them with similar products like retinoids.

To avoid irritation, start with a low percentage (around 10%) and work your way up. Another great ingredient for acne prone skin is hydrocolloid, which can be found in the form of spot patches that create a waterproof seal (and prevent you from touching your skin).


For scarring left by acne or for fading any other marks on the skin, niacinamide is a great choice, as it helps to strengthen the moisture barrier of the skin while fading unwanted blemishes. Another option is retinol, but like AHAs and BHAs, start with a low percentage, wear an SPF, and avoid using it if you are pregnant.

An alternative ingredient for hyperpigmentation is azelaic acid, which is safe for use during pregnancy and (like retinol) can be found in both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) forms. Another option is mandelic acid, but be very careful with this as overuse could lead to chemical burns.

Redness and Inflammation

If your skin is prone to rosacea (redness and dry or bumpy patches often appearing on the cheeks, nose and forehead), you can cover this with color-correcting makeup, but one way to treat it is with tranexamic acid, which is derived from the amino acid lysine.

In addition to some of the ingredients used to treat hyperpigmentation and acne (niacinamide and azelaic acid), antioxidants such as tranexamic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid (derived from licorice root) are excellent for calming and soothing red, inflamed skin

Skincare Safety

As with all the ingredients mentioned here, patch-test one of these at a time to check for irritation before making them part of your skincare routine. If you experience irritation after introducing two new products, it can be hard to know which is the culprit.

It’s also important to remember that while SPFs can protect against sun sensitivity, they should be a part of your skincare routine regardless of the products you use. Finally, remember to nourish from within: good skincare starts by staying hydrated and eating well.

  Print this Article