Hyaluronic-what? Saly-who? If these are the questions that pop into mind as you try to understand (let alone pronounce) the multi-syllabic ingredients on the labels of your skincare products, you’ve come to the right place. Although they can be downright intimidating, knowing which elements work for your specific skin type and using beauty products accordingly can make a world of difference for your skin.
We totally understand that with so many products being pumped out and all the marketing hype around innovative ingredients, finding the best for your skin can be overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help. We’ve broken down all of the key players by skin type: normal, dry, oily, acne-prone, and sensitive, so you can find which ingredients are best for your unique skin.
Before we start, here are a few pointers on understanding ingredient labels on skincare products:
Pay attention to the order! Just because the front of the product proudly boasts a star ingredient does not mean the product contains a high concentration of it. Generally, ingredients are listed on the label in order of high to low concentration.
But… As usual, there are exceptions to this rule.
- Any ingredient classified as a “drug” is listed at the top of the list, regardless of concentration.
- Fragrances, dyes, and colors are usually listed last, even if they have a higher concentration than other ingredients.
- Ingredients with less than 1% concentration can be listed in any order, after those with 1% or more concentration.
- Hyaluronic Acid: This powerful, naturally produced humectant (moisture-binding ingredient) keeps skin plump, firm, and hydrated, like baby skin. In fact, we’re born with a high level of this heaven-sent goodness, but as we age, the supply diminishes. Fortunately, serums, moisturizers, and creams that contain hyaluronic acid can help make the skin look and feel softer, smoother, and more hydrated. Gotta love science!
- Aloe: Tried, and true for a reason, this cactus plant treats sunburns, moisturizes skin, fights to age, and may even reduce the appearance of stretch marks. No wonder the ancient Egyptians called it the “plant of immortality!”
- Amino Acid: This potent protein can be found in foods like leafy greens, fish, nuts, eggs, soy, and milk. Applied topically and even better when also taken internally, it can help fill lines, smooth skin, and improve tone and color. As if that’s not impressive enough, this little guy improves the skin’s ability to stay hydrated, which is key to more youthful-looking skin!
- Ceramide: Another naturally occurring element in the human body, ceramide, is the glue that holds skin cells together at the top layer of the skin. It helps plump, protect, and moisturize the skin, but sun exposure, dryness, and aging decrease ceramide content. Thankfully, skincare products with ceramide replenish the loss of nature’s best!
- Lavender: Not only does it look and smell pretty, but this flowering plant puts up a mighty fight against environmental toxins and daily stress that are harmful for the skin. It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that combat acne, swelling, and redness. Who knew lavender was so sassy?
- Collagen: This magical protein helps skin maintain its elasticity, which fights wrinkles and, in turn, results in youthful, firm skin. It sounds like a dream! But the sad reality is collagen decreases as we age (about 1% each year after the age of 20!), hence the wrinkles, saggy skin, and age spots. Thankfully, there are skincare products galore made of this ingredient, and although they can’t penetrate into the deepest layers of the skin, anything is better than nothing!
- Wheat Germ Oil: Packed with 23 different nutrients like protein and omega-3 fatty acids, the wheat germ is the most nutritious part of the wheat kernel. So it’s no wonder that its oil also packs a powerful punch when applied topically, moisturizing and soothing skin with its magical mix of vitamin A, vitamin D, B vitamins, antioxidants, and fatty acids. This oil also contains vitamin E, which evens skin tone, heals skin damage, and promotes collagen formation.
- Elastine: Very much like the elastic on our pants’ waistband, this powerful protein helps skin to revert back to its shape after stretching or contracting. It works in conjunction with collagen to help our skin hold its shape.
- Sorbitol: This humectant draws water from the environment to the skin’s surface. This increases the skin’s retention of moisture, helping dry skin become more hydrated.
- Chondroitin Sulfate Sodium: Um, what? Yes, it’s a long, geeky word for a naturally produced skin conditioning agent. It boasts the ability to moisturize and soothe skin, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Aloe: see “Aloe” in the “Normal Skin” section
- Lemon: When life gives you lemons, that’s a good thing! Lemons are rich in vitamin C and citric acid, which can help brighten skin over time (even erase age spots, some say!), reduce excess oil, and boost collagen production. Lemons also have antibacterial properties, which can help in the fight against annoying acne and blackheads. Just remember to wear SPF when applying lemon juice or lemon-infused products because the fruit can make your skin more vulnerable to UV rays.
- Bentonite Clay: Clay, especially bentonite, is known to draw excess oil and toxins out of the skin. When used as a mask, the clay not only clarifies the surface of the skin but also extracts residue from within the pores. This helps prevent blemishes, a common side effect of oily skin.
- Eucalyptus Oil: This tree oil has been used medicinally for generations, and clinical research confirms its effective healing powers for skin issues, too! When contained in diluted forms in skincare products, eucalyptus oil helps prevent acne outbreaks and dries up blemishes and pimples.
- Jojoba Oil: This “wax ester” is the most similar to human skin oil, or sebum, so when applied on the skin, it reportedly tricks the skin into thinking it already produced enough oil. It also doesn’t evaporate like other moisturizers can, so it offers consistent and steady moisturization all day long. Good news for the acne-prone: jojoba oil is non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t block pores, so it won’t cause breakouts!
- Almond Oil: Studies show that applying almond oil on the skin shields it from the sun’s harmful rays, delays the skin’s aging process, and even reverses existing damage. It also acts as an emollient, rejuvenating and softening the skin, evening out the skin tone, and improving the complexion. It’s especially beneficial for acne-prone skin since its fatty acids dissolve the sebum that clogs pores, leaving skin and pores cleaner. Amazing!
- Azulene or Chamomile: You’ve probably already heard of the soothing powers of chamomile. So it’s no surprise that azulene, derived from chamomile, targets problem skin with its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It decreases inflammation and irritation caused by acne and razor bumps, making it a pampering ingredient for acne relief.
- Sulfur: Soaking in sulfuric hot springs has been around for centuries now since sulfur is known to dry up excess oil and exfoliate dead skin cells. But this non-metal mineral is also growing as a popular ingredient in skincare products, especially masks, thanks to its antibacterial properties that help eliminate skin bacteria and clear up acne. We’re all for reaping the benefits of a sulfur bath sans that rotten egg smell!
- Salicylic Acid: The most widely used form of BHA (beta hydroxy acid) for skincare, this ingredient exfoliates deep into pores, removing dead skin cells within and on the surface. It’s great for clearing out blackheads and calming red, inflamed spots. BHA is most effective in lower concentrations of 1-2%, with a pH of 3-4.
- Allantoin: This gentle ingredient soothes the skin without irritating it, so it’s a perfect complement to stronger ingredients like salicylic acid. It’s a natural protectant, locking in moisture, ridding the skin of dead cells, and growing new cells. Moisturizers and creams containing allantoin are promising options for those with sensitive skin who’ve had negative reactions to other products in the past.
- Bisabolol: Another gentle giant, this skin conditioning agent, is the primary component of chamomile oil. It reduces flakiness and restores suppleness, healing dehydrated or damaged skin. It also allows other skincare ingredients to be more deeply and effectively absorbed. Its beautiful floral aroma is an added bonus!
- Azulene or Chamomile: see “Azulene or Chamomile” in the “Acne Skin” section
- Aloe: see “Aloe” in the “Normal Skin” section