Know about active and inactive ingredients in skincare | SkinQ

Know about active and inactive ingredients in skincare | SkinQ

Navigating the world of skincare can be quite confusing at the beginning. Especially with all these names you cannot pronounce, all these products that you must have, and several techniques and skincare routines that you should have already been aware of. As we said, confusing and misleading.
Today, we are going to focus on the much-talked-about term “active and non-active” ingredients in skincare products and cosmetics.

It is always important to know what is in your products. Go beyond reading just the label. Check out the ingredients, their concentration, and do a little research about how it would interact with your skin type. Take a ‘Skin Test’ to find your skin quotient. People with sensitive skin should consult their dermatologist before trying new products. Doing a patch test on your forearm helps too.

What are active ingredients in skincare products?
Reading labels while shopping for skincare products can be a bit overwhelming. Especially when all the products use the same keywords like nourishing, rejuvenating, glowing, and the likes of it. Active ingredients are the ingredients in skincare products that are intended to treat a specific problem. For example, if a product claims that it hydrates dehydrated skin, the active is the ingredient that's treating the lack of moisture.

Certain products have their active ingredients listed on the package. The elements mentioned here are the ones that will deliver the benefits mentioned in the package. Active ingredients make a skincare product effective.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made it compulsory for brands to list out the active ingredients (Drugs) in the product's packaging. The FDA also insists that the ingredients be mentioned in order of their concentration and prominence within the formula.

Some commonly listed active ingredients in skincare and cosmetics are AHAs, Vitamin C, Retinol, Salicylic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E, Sulphur, and Niacinamide, among other things.
  • A product is a cosmetic when it claims to alter your appearance. Cosmetics need not be pre-approved by FDA, but the ingredients must be safe for use, and the responsibility of that lies with the manufacturer.
  • If the product has drugs in it and claims to treat or prevent a medical condition, then it MUST have all the active and non-active ingredients listed.
  • A product that is meant for enhancing appearance but makes no medical claims need not list out the active and non-active ingredients.
Read the labels and packaging carefully before buying over-the-counter cosmetics and skincare products. You may find the same active ingredient in an OTC or drugstore option, a luxury option, and a prescription. Most often it's the way a product is marketed-including the intended use, what the consumer perceives it to do, and what the packaging claims it will do—that determines which category the FDA puts it in.

What are inactive ingredients in skincare products?
Listing out the inactive ingredients in the products is not an exercise in futility. The FDA has certain guidelines and rules that need to be followed when a product contains classified drugs and medically claims to enhance the appearance or provide treatments. The inactive ingredients, meaning any of the ingredients that are not considered actives by the FDA and regulated as such, are also important. In many cases, the product is simply not designed to treat a specific condition, even if it does a great job of cleansing or moisturizing your skin.
  • Think of inactive ingredients as the vehicle, and the active ones as the passenger. The inactive ingredients will ensure that the active ingredients reach where they are needed.
  • They also decide the form of the product that is cream, lotion, gel, serum, etc.
  • Inactive ingredients make the products smell good, ensure that there’s no microbial growth and chemical decomposition and help improve the product performance in general.
  • Some common inactive ingredients are in the form of emulsifiers, buffers, thickeners, fragrance, surfactant, preservatives, and emollients, among other things.
Now that you have a better idea of what active and inactive ingredients are, let us learn how these ingredients make the skin brighter, smoother, and softer.

Benefits of active and non-active ingredients in skincare
  1. AHAs are chemical exfoliators that help remove dead skin cells. You can find them in toners, cleansers, masks, and creams.
  2. Retinol helps to unclog pores, boost cell formation and give you smoother skin. It has the benefits of vitamin A derivatives and helps rejuvenate the skin at the cellular level.
  3. Hyaluronic acids help to keep your skin moisturized and hydrated in a way that gives your skin a dewy and supple look.
  4. Vitamin C helps keep our skin soft and youthful. It protects the skin from fine lines, sun damage, wrinkles, and free radicals.
  5. Salicylic acid is a BHA that works wonders on acne-prone skins. It helps prevent breakouts and reduces blackheads, too.
  6. Plant oils (like jojoba) make the perfect base for cleansers, moisturizers, and serums while plant butter is good for moisturization and skin protection (like shea butter).
  7. Aloe is a must-have in any skincare routine. Be it an extract, juice, or combined with other products. Its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties help prevent breakouts and give your skin the breather it needs.
  8. Natural clays like kaolin are good exfoliators. They leave the skin hydrated and moisturized too. Helps draw out impurities from the skin and stems bacterial growth if any.
Skincare is all about the formula. Finding the right balance goes a long way in helping skin repair and rejuvenation. It is imperative that you read and also understand the ingredients while making OTC purchases. Be a smart customer and look beyond labels and offers. Look for Dermatologist-formulated skincare, made for your skin type. Or consult a dermatologist for expert opinion. Talk to an expert to find all the perfect components for your daily skincare and health.


What are the potential side effects of recommended active ingredients like peptides or niacinamide for sensitive skin?

While generally well-tolerated, even beneficial ingredients like peptides and niacinamide can irritate sensitive skin. The most common side effects are redness, itching, and dryness. This can happen due to higher concentrations or interactions with other actives in your routine, especially acids or Vitamin C. To minimize risks, start with low concentrations, patch test on your inner arm, and introduce new ingredients gradually. If you experience any discomfort, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.

Are there natural alternatives to products containing synthetic active ingredients for skincare?

Absolutely! Many natural ingredients offer similar benefits to synthetic ones in skincare. For example, bakuchiol is a plant-derived alternative to retinol, promoting cell turnover and reducing wrinkles without the potential irritation. Shea butter and plant oils like jojoba can provide rich moisture comparable to synthetic emollients.  While natural options might not always be as precisely targeted, they can be a great choice for those seeking a gentler approach.  It's important to remember that some natural ingredients can also irritate sensitive skin, so a patch test is always recommended.

Is it safe to use products with multiple active ingredients?

Products with multiple active ingredients can be safe and effective, but there are some things to consider. While some ingredients can complement each other, others can irritate your skin if used together. It's important to understand how the ingredients work and if they're compatible. A well-formulated product with multiple actives can be a good choice, but be cautious about combining strong actives yourself in your routine. If you're unsure, consult a dermatologist or look for products with a proven track record of combining ingredients safely.

How much of each active ingredient should I use?

The amount of each active ingredient you should use depends entirely on the specific ingredient and your skin's tolerance. There's no one-size-fits-all answer!  Some ingredients, like retinol, are effective at very low concentrations (around 0.01%), while others, like niacinamide, can be used at higher percentages (up to 10%). Using more than recommended amounts won't necessarily give you faster results, and it could irritate your skin. It's always best to start with a low concentration and see how your skin reacts before increasing it. If you're unsure about what percentage is right for you, consult a dermatologist or licensed esthetician.

Can actives damage my skin if I use them incorrectly?

Actives can be harsh if not used properly. These powerful ingredients, like retinoids or AHAs, are designed to target specific concerns, but at high concentrations or with too frequent use, they can irritate your skin. This can weaken your skin barrier, leaving it vulnerable to dryness, redness, and even breakouts. So, the key is to introduce actives gradually, use them at the recommended frequency, and be mindful of combining them with other potentially irritating products.

Are there any interactions between actives that I should be aware of?

Understanding how different "actives" (likely referring to ingredients in cosmetics or medications) interact is crucial.  Some actives can complement each other, boosting their effectiveness.  For example, Vitamin C enhances the sun protection of sunscreen.  However, others can counteract or even irritate your skin.  For instance, combining retinol with benzoyl peroxide can cause excessive dryness.  Always check for interaction information on product labels or consult a dermatologist for personalized advice.

How long will it take to see results from using actives?

The wait for results from skincare actives depends on the specific concern you're targeting. Generally, expect to see some improvement within 4-6 weeks for issues like acne or uneven skin tone. However, for deeper concerns like wrinkles or sun damage, it can take up to 12 weeks for noticeable changes, as actives need time to work their magic on your skin's cell turnover. Be patient and consistent with your routine, and your skin will thank you!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.