All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained


by Ivana Hamilton February 21, 2019

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained

Trying to decode ingredient lists is almost like trying to understand a foreign language you don’t speak. You may fall in love with the cute packaging and the brand’s pinky promise, but the real truth is on the label. This extensive list will reveal to you the good boys and bad boys in the skincare game. You’ll finally find your perfect skin date without dating a bunch of wrong ones. Here are all of the most popular skincare ingredients debunked for you to save yourself some time, money and breakouts! Bookmark this page for later and take it shopping with you. You’ll never feel lost again!  

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained skincare products
Photo Credit: Charisse Kenion on Unsplash


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained retinol

Retinol is a real superstar in the world of skin care. You must have seen it everywhere from your favorite blogger’s beauty bag to the local drugstore. Retinol is a derivate of Vitamin A that can help you reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation, and large pores. If you want to fight any of these things nothing can help you better than creams and serums rich in retinol.

This ingredient stimulates blood flow, collagen production and tightens the pores. But there’s a catch! It’s a product that encourages skin-cell turnover, so you should avoid using it during the day. The new skin is sensitive to sunlight. It’s best to use retinol in the evening, after cleansing and before applying moisturizer.


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained niacinamide

Despite the scary name, niacinamide is a good boy that does multiple things for your skin. It’s an active form of Vitamin B3, that stimulates cell turnover and microcirculation, as well as offers antioxidant protection making the skin age slower. Niacinamide can make large pores appear visually smaller, and improve the skin’s barrier function when it comes to environmental damage and trans-epidural water-loss.

Those with a combination and oily skin will find Niacinamide very helpful because it regulates the sebum, calms breakouts and has antibacterial effects. However, every skin type can benefit from this versatile ingredient. Use it both morning and evening for the best results. Apply a few drops after cleansing and before moisturizing.


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained antioxidant

You can never have too many antioxidants in your skincare routine! Your skin breaths pollution which leaves it saggy and dull. Antioxidants act as a shield against pollution and environmental damage. These ingredients fight the effects of the free radicals keeping your skin healthy. They also help with softening the appearance of wrinkles.


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained collagen

Once a plastic surgeon’s essential, collagen is now literally everywhere. You must have seen countless anti-aging products with collagen on a central place on the packaging. Collagen is a protein that among other things keeps our skin firm and youthful. The word itself originates from the Greek word “kolla” that means glue. Besides the skin, we also have it in our bones, muscles, and tendons.

Why do we need it in our skincare routine if we already have it pretty much everywhere in the body? It’s because we age. Staring at the age of twenty, we lose about one percent of collagen every year. Using products rich in collagen might help the skin to regenerate and reduce the signs of aging. There is a heated debate going on whether applying collaged topically really works. Some experts claim that the collagen molecule is too large to penetrate the skin when applied in the form of a cream, serum or any other skincare product

Alpha Hydroxy Acids - AHAs

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained alpha hydroxy acid

Although the name sounds like something that will burn your face out, the alpha hydroxy acids have nothing against your skin. In contrary, these ingredients will help you even out your skin tone, reduce and prevent wrinkles and keep your skin smooth and plump. They are natural acids that come from acidic fruits. Properly mixed with synthetic ingredients, these acids make great chemical exfoliants. Here are the AHAs worth your attention:

  • Glycolic Acid

This is the most in-demand acid of all AHAs because of its ability to penetrate the skin. Exfoliants with glycolic acid enhance the skin’s appearance leaving it smooth and radiant. It also hydrates the skin.

  • Lactic Acid

Lactic acid serves for the same purpose as the glycolic acid. Due to its bigger molecules, lactic acid can’t get into the skin as good as glycolic acid does. It takes more time to show results, but it works! Depending on the concentration, you can use it for both hydration and exfoliation. The slower penetration makes it perfect for sensitive skin.

Other AHAs include malic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid, and mandelic acid. Most of these acids are not used alone but as supporting components in many skincare products.

Beta Hydroxy Acid - BHA

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained salicylic acid

The beta hydroxy acid is also known as salicylic acid. Products with salicylic acid exfoliate and soothe the skin. It’s also used to fight acne and blackheads.

Which one is better for exfoliation AHAs or BHA?

Without a doubt, both ingredients can do wonders for your skin. These acids make the best home exfoliants that can easily replace a luxury facial. There are many similarities between them. For instance, both acids hydrate the skin, help with reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone and leave the skin smooth.

Speaking of the differences, AHAs work on the skin’s surface and are more suitable for normal to dry skin because of their ability to improve the natural moisturizing factors of the skin. BHA works best on normal to oily skin as well as skin prone to redness or rosacea thanks to its calming properties. This acid works on the skin’s surface and inside the pores which makes it a better choice for those with enlarged pores, and skin prone to blemishes and clogs.

Vitamin C

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained vitamin c

Vitamin C is one of the trendiest ingredients in the skincare game lately. Is it worth the hype? Its main benefit is the ability to even out the skin tone creating a brighter complexion with less visible wrinkles and fine lines. Vitamin C also contains antioxidant properties that protect the skin from pollution. The result: healthy and glowing skin! To answer your question, it is worth the hype! Don’t hesitate to incorporate this ingredient in your beauty routine if you have aging concerns or issues such as dullness, and uneven skin tone.

Hyaluronic Acid

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is another hyped skincare ingredient that everyone from your grandma to your favorite celebrities is using it. It’s a substance your skin already produces. However, you can never have enough of it! Its impressive capacity to hold onto 1000x its weight in moisture makes it a superstar skincare ingredient. The hyaluronic acid improves skin’s elasticity and fights the aging process leaving the skin hydrated and healthy.

Coenzyme Q10/ CoQ10

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained Q10

Asians are obsessed with Q10 for a very good reason. This ingredient neutralizes free radicals that promote premature aging meaning that is a powerful antioxidant. Studies have also shown that Q10 can also slow down visible signs of UV damage that cause photo-aging and skin cancer.


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained Glycerin

Glycerin is a naturally-occurring substance in our skin that has skin-replenishing and skin-restoring factors. It helps the skin with maintaining balance and hydration. Glycerin is one of the most common ingredients in skincare products although it was never a trending name in the world of beauty. You shouldn’t use pure glycerin on your skin because it may cause significant water loss. However, this ingredient performs well in combination with others.


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained paraben free labels

Parabens are a group of preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria in beauty products, extending their shelf life. If they keep these harmful organisms away from your skin, why they have such a bad reputation?

The main concern about parabens comes from some studies that reveal they can disrupt some of the biological systems in our body. Parabens may harm the body if consumed, but we only apply them topically when using our skincare products. Beauty regulations state that parabens are safe in small quantities as currently used in skincare products. However, some studies claim that parabens can get into the body through the skin.

Altogether, it’s hard to say whether parabens are bad or safe to use. The percentage used in skincare formulations is small. Some of the most popular parabens you’ll see on beauty labels include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.

To sum up, there are many other preservatives available nowadays, so parabens are no longer necessary to use. As a follow up of the heated paraben debate, many manufacturers switched to other preservatives marketing their products as “paraben-free.”

Mineral Oil

All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained Johnson's Baby Oil Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is another ingredient you might want to boycott from your skincare routine. This clear odorless oil is a petroleum derivate widely used in skincare formulations. Safety panels across the globe approve the use of mineral oil. Those with dry and irritated skin have most certainly used products that contain mineral oil. You might dislike the feel of mineral oil on your skin if you have combination or oily skin type.

Some claim that mineral oil is pore-clogging while others say its molecules are too big to get into the pore lining where clogs happen. It all comes down to your personal preferences and how this ingredient performs on your face.


All of The Confusing Skincare Ingredients Explained PEG

Polyethylene, also known as PEG has a few functions among which helping the other ingredients to get deeper into the skin. PEGs are often accompanied by a number which represents the approximate molecular weight. Is this a positive or negative feature? It depends on the other ingredients in the formula. If there are any undesired components, you don’t want them to get into your skin. Make sure you use well-formulated products with ingredients that benefit your skin.

Another concern is that PEGs can hurt damaged and sensitive skin, so it’s best to avoid them if your skin isn’t in a good condition. Also, by pressuring the surface of the skin, PEGs can disrupt the natural moisture balance. They are also used as emollients and emulsifiers.

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