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All You Need to Know About Using Actives


Some skin actives. Photo BalmLala

Some skin actives. Photo BalmLala

Actives are vital to a functional skincare routine. This is why you would always come across the mention of actives in every skincare routine. Actives refer to those ingredients in skincare products that treat whatever skin concern the product is targeted at. They are natural ingredients scientifically proven to change the skin’s structure at a cellular level.


Actives are often targeted at specific skin issues, including signs of ageing, dryness, acne, psoriasis, eczema, and hyperpigmentation. Active ingredients work to repair, rejuvenate, hydrate, nourish, and protect the skin. Before choosing an active ingredient, you need to know what skin concern you need to treat. Here is a guide to solving your skin concerns with actives:

To Exfoliate: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) 

Exfoliating works to improve the skin tone and texture, at the same time, care must be taken to choose the right exfoliator. This is because not all skin types can handle an abrasive physical exfoliator (sugar or salt-based scrubs).

Alpha Hydroxy Acids such as Glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids are chemical exfoliants often added to cleansers, toners, masks, and creams. AHAs help with exfoliation by loosening dead skin cells and smoothening the skin without scrubbing. This makes them an excellent exfoliator for sensitive skin.

fresh skin

Fresh skin | Photo Lionesse

To Clear Breakouts: Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)

Beta Hydroxy Acids such as Salicylic Acid are proven acne-treating ingredients found in spot treatments and serums. BHAs slough off dead skin cells by acting as a comedolytic agent to loosen blackheads and clear the skin pores.

BHAs are scientifically proven to act as a saviour for anyone dealing with skin congestion. They enter into the skin’s follicle, exfoliating the sebum and pores. Beta Hydroxy Acids dissolve dead, dull skin to smoothen the skin and brighten its complexion.

To Brighten: Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that treats and protects the skin from free radicals caused by UV damage and also improves the potency of sunscreen. Vitamin C helps with collagen production, which thickens the dermis, and reduces fine lines allowing for firmer, youthful-looking skin.

Vitamin C also helps lighten hyperpigmentation in the skin, even out the skin’s tone, and enhance skin radiance. It also allows for healthy turnover and regeneration. Vitamin C skincare products often come as serums to be applied in the morning after cleansing before applying moisturiser and sunscreen.

To smoothen and firm: Retinol

Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative, is an active ingredient that helps boosts skin cell turnover, smoothen the skin and unclog its pores. Retinol also helps refine the skin texture and lightens age spots, it is scientifically proven to have anti-ageing ingredients.

Over-the-counter retinol is gentler and should be added to your nightly skincare routine. When applied on the skin, retinol breaks down into retinol acid. Retinol acid impacts the skin’s cell structure stimulating collagen production, reducing wrinkles, fading dark spots, and also evening out the skin’s tone and texture.

To Hydrate: Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

Hyaluronic Acid is a naturally occurring sugar molecule, which is also a humectant active that absorbs and retains moisture within the skin. HA, when applied to the body holds water, retaining moisture in the skin and preventing it from evaporating into the air.

When included in skin care products such as creams and serums, HA helps draw moisture to the skin’s surface, keeping the skin moisturised all day. They are often paired with peels, retinol, vitamins, and other acids.

Woman putting on serum

Woman putting on serum | Photo Getty

To Improve Barrier Function: Ceramides

A healthy skin barrier helps protect healthy skin, and Ceramides are the protection you need. Ceramides are an oily wax ingredient found naturally on the skin which keeps pollutants away from the skin and helps the skin retain moisture and regulate the skin’s cells.

Ceramide production reduces with age, which is why it is essential to use a Ceramide based moisturiser to form a barrier between your skin and pollutants from the environment.

To Protect: Vitamin E

Vitamin E is often paired with other antioxidants, especially Vitamin C because it helps stabilize these antioxidants. Vitamin E helps support the immune system by improving cell function and the total health of the skin. It also effectively combats free radicals caused by UV damage, which makes it a great combination with Vitamin C.

To Fight Inflammation: Niacinamide

Environmental aggressors such as pollutants, stress, and poor diet are often attributed to being the root cause of skin inflammation. Niacinamides are a Vitamin B3 derivative with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties used in the treatment of skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea.

To Boost Collagen: Peptides

Peptides help with clearing wrinkles on the skin while improving collagen production and decreasing collagen degradation giving the skin a youthful glow.

To Glow: Curcuminoids

Curcuminoids contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidants properties which help the skin glow when incorporated into a skincare routine.

When shopping for actives, remember that the skin concern you intend to treat determines which you would opt for. These actives are often found in skincare products such as creams, lotions, and serum. They can be easily purchased and added to your skincare routine.

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