Skincare Actives: What Are Active Ingredients In Skin Care?

An expert breaks down skincare actives.

Between common ingredients like retinol and hyaluronic acid, and skin care forms like emollients and serums, it can be difficult to keep up with popular terms in the skin care category. And if you consume a lot of skin care related content or like to educate yourself on products and their ingredients, perhaps you’ve heard the term “actives” in reference to skin care formulas. But if you’re not sure exactly what are actives in skin care (often referred to as dermatological actives), you’re not alone.

If you’re ready to expand your skin care knowledge, keep reading because we’ve consulted with Madison Godesky, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Scientific Affairs at L’Oréal Paris, to share what you need to know about skin care actives.

What Are Skin Care Actives?

“When it comes to skin care, active ingredients are the stars of the show,” says Godesky. You may even be familiar with some of the more popular dermatological actives in skincare, such as retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, niacinamide, glycolic acid, peptides, and azelaic acid.

“The specific ‘cocktail’ of actives is the engine that drives product performance, and both the concentrations and combinations of actives are important to consider,” explains Madison. “However, for an efficacious skin care product, actives selection is only half the battle; a powerful engine of actives needs an equally robust vehicle for delivery into skin,” she says.

“Well-constructed vehicles are formula architectures that stabilise active ingredients and optimise their delivery into skin. They can include various compositions of ingredients like solvents, emollients, texture enhancers, stabilisers, and pH modifiers.”

That was science heavy, we know. In simpler terms, skincare active ingredients like retinol, vitamin C and more are effective in skin care depending on how they’re combined, what formulas they’re in and at what concentrations they exist within the formula.

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Which skincare actives should you be using in your routine?

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In order to yield the skin benefits of dermatological actives, it’s important to consider how you’re using them in your skin care routine. First, figure out what your skin care goals are and what skin concerns you’re looking to address. Then, identify which actives in skincare are proven to help address those needs.

Godesky says that understanding the potency of the formula you’re using is key. And potency is determined by the type of skincare active ingredient in the formula, the concentration, and the specific formula it’s in. For instance, “cleansers are rinse-off products, so they have a shorter contact time on skin,” she explains. “A five percent glycolic acid in a cleanser will be less potent than five percent glycolic acid in a leave-on toner.”

Get better bang for your buck with these powerful duos

What do Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, peanut butter and jam, and skincare actives have in common? They’re all better in pairs.

We’ve rounded up our two favourite products that feature more than one active skincare ingredient - the easiest way to amp up your skincare routine in just one step!

L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Laser Retinol + Niacinamide Pressed Night Cream

Concerned about the visible signs of ageing? This hygienic pressed cream combines two of the most powerful anti-ageing ingredients into one night cream. Our pressed night cream is formulated with Retinol, a top derm-recommended ingredient known to effectively reduce wrinkles on the face and renew skin, and Niacinamide, a soothing nutrient that helps even skin tone and reduce dark spots.

L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Filler Hyaluronic Acid 2.5% Anti-Ageing Eye Serum

Looking for brighter, smoother, and more youthful-looking eyes? Look no further than the Filler Eye Serum.This anti-ageing eye serum is formulated with a powerful concentration of Hyaluronic Acid and Caffeine to intensely smooth and replump even the thinnest lines around the eyes, while re-energising the skin to visibly lessen the appearance of dark circles and puffy eye bags.

Our Best Serums With Dermatological Actives

“When it comes to delivery vehicles for dermatological actives, serums tend to be the most amenable to maximise product potency,” Godesky further explains.

Serums are excellent delivery vehicles because they’re water-based fluids and can hold high concentrations of most dermatological actives. They’re also fast absorbing and can deliver actives deeply into the skin.

If you’re looking to incorporate an active packed serum into your routine, we’re sharing our favorites below.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Laser Pure Retinol Night Serum

If addressing signs of ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles, is your goal, this Pure retinol night serum is for you. It works to address these physical signs of ageing without drying out the skin thanks to the presence of glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Filler 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum

If increased skin hydration and plumpness is what you’re after, make this pick your new go-to. The high 1.5% concentration of pure hyaluronic acid in the formula deeply hydrates, smooths and plumps the skin, helping to visibly reduce wrinkles and re-volumise skin.

L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Midnight Serum

This anti-ageing serum is packed with an antioxidant recovery complex to help strengthen your skin while it’s most susceptible to repair overnight. It helps to reinforce the skin barrier, provide hydration and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

How to Use Actives in Your Skin Care Routine

Once you’ve found your perfect product, it’s time to build your skincare routine. When building a routine, it’s important to consider what you use at night versus during the day.

When using skincare actives, it’s extremely important to understand how the actives you’re using might affect skin’s sun sensitivity. For example, retinoids and hydroxy acids, such as retinol and glycolic acid, can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. Avoid applying these actives right before sun exposure, and always combine with SPF 30 or greater.

Retinol is best to apply at night, and a well-considered evening skincare routine will leave you waking up with visibly clearer, smoother, or more youthful skin.

Lastly, it’s important to recognise that your skin may take time to adjust to formulas with high concentrations of actives. Godesky suggests incorporating skincare actives into your routine slowly, and not to change too many elements of your routine at once.


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