With hundreds of skincare ingredients available, simply decoding what one does and how it works can require a PhD in molecular biology. We’re not the type to bamboozle you with complicated jargon - we prefer to give you the information you need to make your own decisions about what’s right for your skin and the key problems you face, so we’ve compiled this simple guide to the chief ingredients in skincare, including what they do and where you can find them. If you think we’ve missed any or would like more information about any of them, please email us at email@example.com and we'll include them here with a link to your website or social profile of choice.
Squeezed fresh from the plant, aloe vera gel is a common household remedy for everything from sunburn to chapped skin and minor wounds. But the healing power of this plant is no old wives’ tale! It’s lightweight but hydrating, and studies have also shown that aloe vera accelerates the skin’s healing time. The plant also contains Vitamins C and E, which come with a host of benefits of their own (read on below, to find out more). And if you’re not the type to boast a green thumb, you’ll be relieved to hear that you no longer need to get it direct from the source: aloe vera is also a potent ingredient in many skincare products.
These naturally occurring sugars are well known for their moisturising, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, making them a useful addition to skincare. But this might just be the tip of the iceberg. Some studies suggest that they might also help to stimulate the formation of collagen, and one trial has found that daily application of beta glucan can significantly reduce the depth of facial wrinkles.
One the body’s main proteins, collagen is the building block of our skin (as well as our bones and tendons), responsible for keeping it firm and supple. As we age, the body’s natural collagen levels drop, a process that can be accelerated by damaging lifestyle factors such as smoking, a poor diet or too much sun exposure. When this happens, the normally springy collagen fibres become brittle and jagged, and the outer layer of the skin starts to sag. Result: wrinkles and other visible signs of ageing.
Find it in: Collagen
Enzymes are used for many things but in skincare, they’re primarily sourced from fruits like pineapple and papaya, and are used for exfoliation. Unlike physical exfoliants, which manually “scrub” away dead skin cells, enzymes provide chemical exfoliation, gently dissolving dead skin cells to reveal the fresh, healthy, vibrant skin underneath. This generally makes them less irritating and more tolerable than other types of exfoliation.
Find it in: Amazon Enzyme Peel
Essential Fatty Acids
Simply put, essential fatty acids - also known as EFAs - are fats that the body can’t produce itself but that it must obtain from outside sources, usually our diet. There are two main fatty acids - linoleic and alpha-linoleic acids - that build the omega-3 and omega-6 fats, both of which are a must for healthy skin. EFAs are sensational for soothing skin that feels dry or irritated, and have also been found to effectively treat more serious conditions, such as psoriasis.
Find it in: Amazon
Alongside collagen and elastin, hyaluronic acid is one of the essential building blocks for youthful looking skin. It’s naturally found throughout the body - as well as the skin, HA is in bones, joints, eyes, hair and more - and has the nifty ability of being able to attract and retain moisture. Happily, it does the same thing when applied topically to the skin, making it a potent ingredient for hydration as well as for strengthening the skin’s barrier function.
Peptides have become a hot ingredient in skincare but it’s important to note that different peptides serve quite different purposes. Neuropeptides help to inhibit communication between cells, nerves and muscles, which in turn helps to reduce visible lines caused by frowning and other facial expressions.
Find it in: V-Tox
One of the best known and most widely used beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), salicylic acid is fantastic for penetrating and clearing out each individual pore. This has made it one of the top treatment ingredients for acne, breakouts and blocked pores but it’s also effective for simply keeping the complexion clean and clear.
Find it in: Gel Cleanser
Also known as retinol, this antioxidant is a useful all-rounder in skincare, capable of doing everything from stimulating collagen production to treating acne, pigmentation and scarring. It works on both a surface level to improve the texture of skin, while also improving the density of the dermis, promoting stronger, healthier-looking skin. A daily application of sunscreen is essential if you’re using a product containing Vitamin A, as it does cause UV sensitivity.
Not just one, there’s actually a small family of B vitamins, though the most commonly found in skincare are B3 (also known as niacinamide) and B5 (panthenol). Both are proving increasingly popular, thanks to their ability to help improve the overall health and appearance of the skin. Vitamin B3 helps to maintain the barrier function of the skin and has anti-inflammatory properties, while B5 attracts moisture to the skin, aids cell regeneration and helps to keep the skin strong so that it’s better able to resist infection and irritation.
Skin that’s so clear and even toned that it literally glows is highly sought after by women across the globe - and it’s often achieved with help from Vitamin C. This highly potent antioxidant helps to brighten and even out the look and feel of the complexion, reducing the appearance of pigmentation and age spots, and bringing clarity to the skin. Some forms of Vitamin C also promote collagen synthesis in the skin, improving skin’s density and addressing visible signs of ageing.
Compared with some of the newer ingredients that score more attention in skincare, Vitamin E has been used in dermatology for decades. But don’t dismiss it as old-fashioned or out of date: this antioxidant is essential for healthy skin, and continues to prove itself, thanks to its multifaceted benefits. Among them: it improves hydration, has anti-inflammatory properties, and also helps to protect the skin against UV damage and free radical production.Find it in: LM2, Phyto 4, Serum