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What are Active Ingredients?

Active ingredients are actively working to address your skin concern. With scientific studies it has been shown that these ingredients treat a specific skin concern to achieve the desired effect. They will protect and defend and help boost your skin’s hydration. Other ingredients are classified as inactive ingredients. They are still needed to assist the active ingredient in delivering the desired results. 

Most cosmetic products and professional in-salon treatments contain some sort of active ingredients. There is a science behind these ingredients as they can be very beneficial to the skin by delivering results such as reversing the signs of ageing, improve pigmentation and bringing healing to acne skins. These ingredients can either work alone or together in a perfect synergy to achieve your desired results.

What is not considered as an active ingredient?

The phrase “active” is not regulated by anyone. This means that a company could claim that their water is an active ingredient. It is important to know that active ingredients are considered to have proven to have done measurable things to the skin.

Inactive ingredients should not be considered useless. Ingredients such as emulsifiers, preservatives, botanical extracts and emollients work as a delivery system to the active ingredients. They are very much needed. Inactive ingredients are usually not designed to treat a skin condition but are used to assist with the delivery of the active ingredient, clean and moisturise the skin. 

7 active ingredients & their benefits:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs are very popular because it is a gentle chemical exfoliant, it will exfoliates the skin by dissolving the bonds between surface skin cells. This allows for dead skin cells to be removed and new cells to be generated. AHA’s assist in the anti-aging process, healing acne, brightening skin tone and giving a smoother texture. Because AHA’s are water soluble they don’t penetrate deep below the skin surface. This makes it ideal for most skin types.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs – often known as Salicylic Acid)

BHA’s are perfect for treating blemish prone skins. This is another form of a chemical exfoliant meaning it will just like AHAs, remove dead skin cells. BHA’s have the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin because it is oil soluble. It is best used for congested, oily skins. Salicylic acid has been shown to be less irritating than alpha-hydroxy acids even though both provide similar improvements to the skin.

Ceramides

Ceramides are actually found naturally in the uppermost layers of the skin and makes up 40% of your skin. Providing the smooth plumpness that we all aim for. It feeds the barrier to provide protection against environmental stressors such as pollution, dry air and dirt. As we age the production of ceramides becomes depleted, for this reason we have to include it into our skincare routine. It will keep your skin hydrated and moisturised.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

If you have never heard of Hyaluronic Acid, where have you been? HA has been seen as the “key to the fountain of youth”. It has the potential to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. It keeps the skin soft, radiant and moisturised. It’s a sugar molecule that occurs naturally in the skin, binding water to collagen give that plumpness to the skin making it look dewy and glowing. As we age, the environment destroys our HA and it becomes depleted. For that reason it is important to include HA into your skincare routine.

Retinol

It is a potent derivative from vitamin A. It has a molecular structure that is small enough to get into the deeper layers of the skin. Topically it helps to boost cell turnover that promotes skin renewal. You skin will be left looking brighter and healthy. It is perfect for healing acne skins and spotty pigmentation. Retinol can cause sensitivity when it’s formulation is too strong for your skin, also be sure to apply SPF when using retinol during the day.

L-ascorbic Acid

This is the only vitamin C derivative that is a useful form in skin care products. Because it stimulates collagen & elastin. When used as part of your skincare range it acts as a powerful antioxidant. It protects your skin from damage from the environment. It will also assists with brightening your skin, bringing correction to your hyperpigmentation and evening out uneven skin tone.

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol)

DMAE will boost the production of acetylcholine that is important for proper mental functions. DMAE is a moderately active anti-inflammatory agent. It increases skin firmness with a possible improvement in underlying facial muscle tone. This results in reducing fine lines and wrinkle giving you a more youthful looking skin.

Where can active ingredients be found?

Active ingredient can be found in prescription medication and over the counter products.

Some products that contain actives are considered drugs or medication and sometimes require a prescription. The FDA considers a drug to be a product that claims to actually change the structure or treat the symptoms of a condition.

When products say it can “reduce the appearance of” or “make them less noticeable” without specifically saying it treats the underlying condition, the FDA considers these as cosmetic products.

This is where it can become confusing: Whether a product lists the active as an active ingredient on the label or not, it comes down to whether it is considered a drug or cosmetic.  A cosmetic skin care product might contain the same active ingredient as the product that is considered as a drug. Due to the wording of the claims around the ingredients, it might rather list it as part of the other ingredients instead of listing it in as a main active ingredient, even though it is advertised on the label.

An example for instance, a face wash that contains alpha lipoic acid might be considered a drug and list it as an active ingredient because it claims to actually treat acne. A cosmetic product that also contains alpha lipoic acid and only claims to reduce the appearance of acne will list it amongst its many other ingredients.

Best practice tips

  • Take care of your products that contain active ingredients. Store them away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
  • Retinols should preferably only be used at night time.
  • It is best advised to apply actives to a clean washed and toned skin as this will provide best absorption.
  • Always use a good SPF of 30 – 50.
  • If severe irritation occurs, discontinue the use immediately. Actives should always be gradually included into your skincare routine. If irritation continues, see your skincare therapist or GP for better advice and assistance.

Active ingredients are excellent for achieving that healthy, glowing and dewy skin. It is a great complement to your skincare routine. Environmental factors have a major influence on our skin and we need all the help we can get to maintain a youthful skin. What is your favourite active ingredient?