Learn what actives are, the different types of actives, and how they can rescue damaged skin.
What makes a skincare product effective?
Skincare products have 2 ingredients: **actives and inactives**. Backed by research, actives are ingredients that change the skin structure and function at the cellular level. **Antioxidants, niacinamides, and retinoids** are a few actives used in skincare. They work to hydrate, nourish, repair, and rejuvenate the skin.
**Inactives do not have any effect on your skin**. They are included to make the skincare formulations work. Fragrances, preservatives, or coatings are a few examples of inactives. They may help the product smell good, last longer, or have a better texture.
However, **the real monetary value lies in actives**. The actives in the skincare product bring plumpness to dull skin, slow inflammation, or reduce acne. Skincare brands not using the right active ingredient and still claiming their product as a game changer is just deception.
So, it is crucial to understand what actives are and their functions to choose the right product for your skin condition.
The most important actives usually included in skincare products are **hydroxy acids**. They are generally added in **exfoliators** that remove the dead cells from the skin.
Two types of hydroxy acids are made a part of skincare products, **alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA)**. Both AHA and BHA promote the skin regeneration process. They **remove the dead skin cells from the surface** to make the skin radiant and youthful.
They also help in preventing acne breakouts. This happens in 2 ways. Firstly, **they remove the stringent layer of dead cells** from the outer layer of the skin.
These dead cells could build up and block the skin pores to create breakouts. Secondly, **they provide an acidic environment for the skin**. This environment is harsh for germs to thrive, thus they cannot survive and may die off. Applying AHA and BHA on the skin can help keep away breakouts and blemishes.
Difference between the AHA and BHA
AHA and BHA are excellent exfoliators and are **readily used for skin brightening purposes**. But, they have a slight difference in their exfoliating abilities.
**AHA removes the dead cells superficially**, which means it does not go beyond the outer layer of the skin. On the other hand, **BHA has superpowers to go deeper into the skin**, where it removes the dead cells and excess oil.
The difference in their abilities to pierce the skin does not make one better than the other.
The choice of either AHA or BHA depends on your skincare goals. If you have oily skin and want to cater to the damage caused by the sun, then BHA is a better option. However, AHA can do the job when exfoliating dry or hyperpigmented skin .
You can find AHA on skincare products labeled as glycolic acid, tartaric acid, and BHA as salicylic acid.
Antioxidants (Vitamin C and Vitamin E)
Antioxidants are **natural vitamins and minerals** that protect your skin from the damage caused by **free radicals**, which are unstable oxygen molecules that can damage the skin barrier.
A high number of free radicals can initiate an inflammatory response that makes the skin swollen and painful. They can even break down the collagen giving the skin a dull complexion. **Free radicals can form due to cigarette smoke, bad air, UV rays, and industrial chemicals**.
Vitamin C and E are powerful antioxidants in curbing the effect of free radicals. **They give some of their electrons to the free radicals and neutralize them, protecting the skin from breaking down**.
You can slow down skin inflammation and reduce redness by using vitamin C and E in your skincare routine. The 2 of them also encourage your cells to produce more collagen and, thus, reduce the effects of the free radicals on the collagen.
Antioxidant - retinol
**Retinol is a small antioxidant molecule and a form of vitamin A. It is best known for its ability to mitigate aging**. Aged skin is less hydrated and non-elastic.
Retinol prevents skin aging in 2 ways. Firstly, it **promotes the growth of skin cells**, which means newer cells are formed. The presence of newer cells helps the skin barrier resist moisture loss efficiently and keep the skin hydrated.
Secondly, being an antioxidant, **retinol also stabilizes the free radical by donating electrons to them**. Due to its small size, retinol can enter the outer layer and some of the middle layer of the skin.
Once in the middle layer, retinol kills the free radicals to stop the degradation of collagen and elastin. When the skin proteins remain secured, they add to the firmness and elasticity of the skin. Such skin does not experience wrinkles and fine lines.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is naturally present throughout your body, but **50% of it presents in the skin**. HA is present in the middle and outer layers of your skin, where **it helps retain moisture**.
Dry skin cannot keep the skin barrier intact and becomes vulnerable to pollutants and germs. **HA can rehydrate your skin**.
Research supports that a quarter teaspoon of HA has the same hydrating effect on the skin as one and a half gallons of water. HA acts as humectants and absorbs moisture from the air to keep the skin barrier resilient against infections.
Hydrated skin provides smoothness and plumpness to the skin. Studies also support HA’s role in wound healing: gels, serums, and moisturizers containing HA are used to reduce scarring. However, HA should not be applied directly on broken skin as it can take germs along that may cause allergic reactions.
**Niacinamide** is another name for vitamin B3, one of the essential nutrients acting as an antioxidant in the body. Applying skincare products consisting of niacinamide is valuable in **reducing inflammation**.
According to the research, niacinamide reduces skin inflammation by blocking the activity of the proteins causing inflammation.
One such example is **inhibition of the activity of Nf-kB** – nuclear factor kappa B, a protein which gives rise to inflammatory molecules to promote skin inflammation. Together with these inflammatory molecules, **Nf-KB results in skin swelling, redness, and other signs of inflammation**.
Luckily, **niacinamide treats the root cause of the inflammation by blocking Nf-KB proteins**. This helps repair the barrier damage and remove the rashes.
As niacinamide lowers the inflammation, it becomes helpful in treating acne and associated scars and enlarged pores. This makes niacinamide an essential ingredient in skincare creams targeting sensitive skin.
**Peptides are chains consisting of building blocks of proteins – the amino acid**. A single protein is usually made of many chains of peptides.
Providing peptides to the skin means supplying the skin with building blocks of proteins, including the 2 essential proteins of the skin – **collagen and elastin**. Collagen imparts strength, and elastin gives elasticity to the skin. Without these proteins, your skin can experience wrinkles and lose elasticity.
**Smoking, sun exposure, and aging** can break down collagen and elastin, leading to stretched skin. But, making peptides a part of your skincare regimen can increase collagen and elastin formation in the skin.
When applied topically, **peptides do not just sit on the skin but sneak into the outer layer, acting as tiny messengers**. Within the outer layer, peptides give the message to the skin cells to build collagen and elastin, which brings resilience to the skin structure.
Hydroquinone is a **skin-lightening compound**. It exists to lighten the darker patches of the skin due to hyperpigmentation.
**The dark patches observed during the hyperpigmentation result from increased melanocytes** – the cells that produce skin pigment. As the melanocytes increase, the skin pigment also increases, turning the skin darker.
**Hydroquinone stops the melanocytes from creating more skin pigment to lighten the skin’s darker patches**. As it reduces the number of pigment-producing cells, **hydroquinone provides an even tone and brightens skin**. Research suggests that creams or lotions consisting of hydroquinone should be used regularly to have effective results .
**Hydroquinone also helps to reduce freckles, acne scars, and age spots to promote better skin tone**. However, using hydroquinone can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is advisable to use sunscreen when using hydroquinone.
**Dark circles and puffiness under the eyes** are something we all dread and often stem from those all-nighters and late-night parties. When you skimp on sleep, your skin starts to complain.
**When you don’t get enough sleep, the blood vessels under your eyes expand**. This allows more blood to flow in this region of the skin, making the skin darkened: the dark circles are a sign of a high amount of blood. **Using eye creams containing caffeine can reduce these dark circles**.
**Caffeine narrows the otherwise expanded blood vessels**. Constricted blood vessels allow less blood to flow under the eyes. This turns the skin lighter and helps you bid farewell to the eye bags.
A lack of sleep can also increase the amount of water under your eyes, resulting in eyes looking puffier and swollen. Applying **caffeine-rich eye cream** absorbs the build-up of the water to reduce the puffiness.