Definition of a Skin Care Active by Cosmetic Chemists

If skin care were a movie, active ingredients would undoubtedly be the lead actors, with everything else on a product list serving as a supporting cast. They are the key players who determine whether serums, masks, moisturisers, and other topical treatments succeed or fail. However, isn’t the term “active” a little elusive? So, what exactly is a skin-care “active,” and how do you know which products with them are actually worth the money?

There’s a lot to unpack here, so I enlisted the help of two specialists who used to create and formulate skin-care products for major corporations. Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu are skin-care formulation chemists and authors of the book Skincare Decoded. They founded Chemist Confessions and wrote the book Skincare Decoded. They explain down everything you need to know about skin-care actives, including which ones are the most important—and how to tell which products you can skip—in the video below.

What is an active component, exactly?

According to Lu, the term “active” is widely used in the beauty and skin-care industry to describe the principal ingredient in a product that provides a long-term effect beyond the essentials, such as washing or moisturising. For example, it could be whitening, relaxing, minimising apparent lines and wrinkles, or lowering hyperpigmentation.

However, because the phrase isn’t regulated, the manner the component acts can differ. “To be honest,” Lu argues, “there isn’t a conventional test that classifies a component as a “active.” “It’s up to the chemists, researchers, and brand founders to do their homework and ensure that the substance will perform as advertised.”

How do you determine an active’s potency?

Because of the lack of industry standardisation, it’s not always evident how effective skin-care actives are from one product to the next. To begin with, each active component has its own optimal potency, and more isn’t always better. “There’s a lot of research on niacinamide’s activity between two and five percent, for example,” Lu explains. “It’s a good chance that a brand having a niacinamide product in that neighbourhood would work.”

However, just looking at a product label may not always be enough to determine an ingredient’s potency or effectiveness. ““It’s quite tough for a consumer to truly understand,” Lu explains. “We normally employ two metrics: transparent concentrations and clinical testing.” Even yet, analysing concentrations isn’t always as simple as it appears. “Transparent concentrations can get carried away, and the numbers might be misleading or possibly excessively high, causing discomfort,” adds Lu. “This is why it can be difficult for consumers because you have to do some homework and read between the lines.”

So, what can you do to see if your skin-care product is genuine? First and foremost, if you’re unsure about which product is best for you, talk to your dermatologist. Otherwise, as Lu and Fu advise, don’t be hesitant to look for clinical testing information on a product or brand’s website when in doubt. “To get a clearer picture, we recommend looking at clinical testing conducted by the brand,” Lu explains. “We award significant brownie points to brands who undergo clinical trials because these testing can be costly.”

Important activities to be aware of

Lu and Fu advocate learning about the “Big 4” active compounds, which are the most commonly recommended active components. Vitamin C, retinol, alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), either glycolic or lactic acid, and the aforementioned niacinamide are among the most common. “These have the greatest history of research into the mechanism of how they act topically, as well as innumerable clinical trials testing their skin benefits,” Fu explains. Hyaluronic acid, BHAs, peptides, and ceramides are among the other active ingredients.

If you’ve never used an active ingredient before, the golden rule is to start little and see how your skin responds. “If you’re new to retinol, for example, a lower concentration product—approximately 0.1–0.3 percent—roughly 2-3 times a week is an excellent place to start. Check out how your skin reacts. You can increase the frequency if your skin responds nicely without becoming too irritated “Fu expresses himself.

And, no matter what activity you choose, don’t forget to wear sunscreen (here are 42 of the best sunscreens, BTW). “You should wear a sunscreen every day, whether it contains active chemicals or not. With an actives-heavy programme, though, it’s even more critical to get your sunscreen routine correct “Fu expresses himself.

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