Understanding the Ingredients in Your Skincare Formulas

There are more skincare options today than ever before as people are generally taking better care of themselves and investing in high-quality products for their skin. However, it’s always important to look at the ingredients of skincare and not simply admire and purchase based on the branding of a formula. While it takes some time to experiment, you’ll soon find that certain ingredients work very well with your skin type while others don’t. 

Popular Ingredients in Skincare

Unpacking what every ingredient does is an ongoing process, but you can at least learn the main skincare ingredients so that you know what to expect from a formula. This guide introduces the most common ingredients in our skincare routines and what each one does.

Alpha-hydroxy acids

Naturally occurring or synthetic AHA’s are exfoliants made from milk and fruit sugars. They work by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells to promote cell turnover and leave your skin bright and fresh. Lactic acid and glycolic acid are two popular AHAs that you’ll frequently see in skincare formulas.

Beta-hydroxy acid

Most commonly seen in the form of salicylic acid, BHA’s are another exfoliant that is more penetrating than AHA’s. As a result, they are great for clearing acne and breakouts. They cleanse deeply, removing impurities from blackheads without stripping your skin.  


A protein naturally found in the body’s connective tissues, collagen is what keeps your skin looking youthful and elastic. As we age, our natural collagen production decreases, which causes the face to lose firmness. 


Glycerin is a humectant, meaning that it draws water to the surface of your skin. It’s refreshing and leaves your skin feeling soft and hydrated. You’ll typically see glycerin paired with other moisturizing ingredients.

Hyaluronic acid

One of the most hydrating ingredients you can find in skincare, hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient that works with nearly every kind of skin type, including oily skin. It locks in moisture, plumps and protects your skin from harsh environments.


A derivative of Vitamin B3, niacinamide is effective at healing the skin from sun damage, environmental stressors, and aging. Many women with hyperpigmentation seek out this ingredient to help even out their skin tone. 


A form of Vitamin A, retinol, has become very popular as an anti-aging ingredient in the past few years. It has strong antioxidant properties, which protect the skin from the signs of aging, including fine lines and a loss of firmness. Retinol is best applied at night because it can cause a sensitivity to the sun.


Another moisturizing ingredient naturally found in the body, squalene, is commonly used as an emollient in skincare. As an antioxidant, it is anti-inflammatory, meaning that if you suffer from breakouts or redness, this can soothe and help heal your skin.

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is one of the most popular skincare ingredients because it does so much for your face while still being gentle and appropriate for all ages. This powerful antioxidant can brighten dull skin, even out unbalanced skin tones, and help you achieve a glowing appearance.

Ingredients to Avoid

You should be wary of trying new products without knowing what exactly goes into them because plenty of ingredients will do the opposite of what they say. If you see any of the following on your skincare label, do some research because it might actually be harming rather than helping you.

  • Aluminum
  • Parabens
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Mineral Oil
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Triclosan
  • Fragrances
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Petrolatum
  • Hydroquinone
  • Oxybenzone
  • Phthalates
  • Propylene glycol 

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