Difference Between Active and Inactive Skin Care Ingredients


While skincare is still at the top of our wellness repertoire heading into the end of the year, beauty enthusiasts have become experts in researching the products they apply to their face, going beyond product claims and descriptions and actually dissecting the ingredient. Labels. But even if you haven’t delved into the exact content of your products, chances are you’ve come across the word “active ingredients.”

Understanding the difference between active and inactive ingredients in skincare can mean the difference between a proper routine that actually works and one that stresses your skin. To help explain the difference between the two categories and to teach us how to use certain active and inactive ingredients to target our specific skincare needs, we reached out to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Hadley King and Dr. Tina Alster, creator and co-founder of The A Method.

Active Ingredients vs. Inactive Ingredients

According to Dr. King, an active ingredient refers to any ingredient classified as a drug by the FDA. This means any ingredient whose intended use is to treat or prevent certain conditions, or an ingredient that alters the way the body works. Active ingredients must be approved by the FDA for their efficacy and safety before being marketed, she adds. Think of active ingredients as the star of the show, the main ingredient used to treat any skin problem you are targeting, whether it’s calming acne breakouts, improving texture and skin tone of your skin, reduce inflammation or reduce the visible signs of aging.

But if the active ingredients are the main event, what good are the inactive ones? Although not regulated by the FDA, Dr. Alster notes that most inactive ingredients come in the form of emollients and stabilizers, and their purpose is to transport skincare actives to the areas skin targets. In addition to being the vehicle that gets the active ingredients where they need to go, these ingredients are also responsible for the texture, shelf life and smell of the product.

Active ingredients you should consider adding to your routine

Retinol: Retinol is perhaps the most famous active ingredient in the world of anti-aging skincare, and for good reason. Not only has it been proven to stimulate the production of collagen (the skin-firming protein that our bodies naturally slow down as we age), but it increases cell turnover and helps prevent and treat clogged pores. “We typically see retinol concentrations of 0.5% and 1.0% in skincare products; dermatologists typically suggest higher percentages in chemical peels to aid exfoliation,” says Dr. Alster. . Retinols can be deactivated by benzoyl peroxide and hydroxy acids, and although they can be used as part of the skincare routine, they should not be applied at the same time.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA): AHAs and BHAs are used to chemically exfoliate the skin. Said Dr. King, “[AHAs and BHAs] dissolve the bonds that hold dead, dull skin cells to the surface of the skin so that the skin gently peels away, revealing smoother, brighter skin underneath. while BHAs are oil-soluble and work both on the surface of the skin and deep in the pores.While AHAs such as glycolic acid and lactic acid are generally preferred for normal skin to dry and sun-damaged, BHAs such as salicylic acid are ideal for normal to oily skin prone to acne and clogged pores.

Vitamin C: Next to retinol, vitamin C is a star ingredient for all skin types. According to Dr. Alster, “Vitamin C works as an antioxidant to scavenge free radicals. It also helps promote even pigmentation and may even stimulate collagen production. Every skin care regimen should include topical vitamin C to protect the skin.

Inactive Ingredients You Should Consider Adding To Your Routine

Botanicals: These inactives are derived from flowers, plants, seeds and nuts and are distilled into potent extracts and oils which can then be used for skin care. Dr. Alster notes that while some herbs (like licorice and chamomile) can minimize conditions like spotting and redness, other herbs (like black cumin seed oil and green tea) can provide relief. anti-aging properties, improve hydration and protect the skin. harmful environmental stressors.

Emollients: Most commonly found in moisturizers, emollients work to soften and smooth the skin. Dr. King says they help with skin barrier function, membrane fluidity and cell signaling, resulting in an overall improvement in skin texture and appearance. Some examples of emollients include cholesterol, squalene, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and ceramides.

Conservatives: Preservatives extend the life of your products. Beyond that, they are also used to eliminate bacterial growth and contamination. Needless to say, they’re essential to keeping your skincare products clean and on your shelf longer. If you’re uncomfortable with products that use parabens as preservatives, look for alternatives like phenoxyethanol and potassium sorbate, which are usually listed together on an ingredient label.

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Amazing peeling kit

Dr. Alster calls the active ingredient trichloroacetic acid (TCA) a popular alternative to AHAs and BHAs because it can provide many of the same results with much less irritation. “TCA is a great exfoliator, great for fighting summer sun damage and minimizing the signs of aging,” she says. This at-home peeling kit is safe and self-neutralizing, and uses TCA as its star ingredient to even skin tone and improve hyperpigmentation.

Method A

Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Wrinkle Night Treatment

Retinol and Ferulic Acid fuse together to create this powerful treatment blend that tackles deep lines and wrinkles. It is ideal for anyone who suffers from dryness, dark spots and a general lack of firmness.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skin Care

Cocoon Regenerating Rich Cream with Ceramides

Dry skin requires a thirst-quenching formula that doesn’t leave a greasy residue. Cue this replenishing cream from Ghost Democracy, which uses a 2.2% blend of ceramides to smooth skin’s texture and deeply hydrate it.

Ghost Democracy

Up All Night Eye Cream

Illuminate tired eyes with this luxurious eye cream. It’s loaded with hyaluronic acid, coffee seeds, and botanical extracts to enhance skin’s radiance and conceal dark circles. Plus, it gets bonus points for how quickly it absorbs into the skin.


B5 Glycolic Serum Dark Spot Corrector

If your skin suffers from sun damage (think dark spots, discoloration and uneven skin tone), this serum from La Roche-Posay may be the answer. Skin-lightening glycolic acid is the star of the show (at a 10% concentration), with tranexamic acid and vitamin B5 being its trusty sidekicks.

La Roche-Posay

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