Active ingredients: what they are and what we should use based on our own needs.

A lot has been said about active ingredients and what role they play in our daily skincare but not all of them agree on the same thing, making it not easy to have an opinion. That’s because the definition of all Actives has been imported from the USA, where their usage is regulated by the FDAFood and Drug Administration – cause, technically, the actives are considered like drugs. In reality every Country has its own regulation and their categorization has been a controversy and not well defined. 

However, the topic is pretty interesting. And its acknowledgment, even if not deepened, is fundamental when deciding what product work the best for our skin’s needs: knowing what creams to choose, what toner, essence or cleanser to use based on their active ingredients, could make a difference between a targeted skincare and a totally useless one. 

Let’s see, then, how we can clear things up.

What do active ingredients mean?

Active ingredients are all those chemical products that actively target a specific skin problem – like acne, irregular pigmentation or wrinkles -, causing a physic change on the skin itself. This is precisely what differentiates it from any other “inactive” ingredient, but it’s fundamental anyways (we’ll talk about it later on). The efficiency of these ingredients has to be highlighted by scientific data. 

What these are: some of most common are.

The actives that are more easily to be found in skincare products are:

  • Zinc oxide  – especially used in solar protections, this ingredient is able to block a 100% of UVB rays and 90% of UVA rays. This ingredient is micronized for the best products out there, so that it can perfectly blend into the skin and leave an elegant finish.
  • Avobenzone – this too is used for solar protections thanks to its proprieties very similar to the previous one;
  • Salicylic acid – this is an extremely exfoliating acid able of stimulating cellular renewal, leaving it luminous and smooth. It is also capable of fighting acne scars and warts;
  • Hydroquinone – definitely not-recommended for women that are expecting, this active is highly illuminating. It is the best option to fight hyper pigmentation problems;
  • Retinoids – anti-aging, exfoliating, antioxidants capable of stimulating collagen production. They correct fine lines and wrinkles, shrink pores, cure acne and irregular hyper pigmentation.
  • Vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant capable of fighting damages from free radicals. It helps exfoliating skin, improving its tone and texture. It stimulates collagen production. To be effective, its concentration has to be at least 10% in every product;
  • Glycolic acid – it is one of the most famous alpha hydroxy acids. It is exfoliating, improves the skin tone and texture and helps collagen production;
  • Hyaluronic acid – it is, without any doubt, the most know acid there is. It is naturally produced by the human body and has incredible hydrating, anti age and healing proprieties;
  • Benzoyl Peroxide – an ingredient that destroys bacterium and that is what makes it particularly indicated for impure, oily and acne-prone skin.

And what about the inactive ingredients?

The inactive ingredients too are fundamental to make a high performance product. Its formulation is in fact very important and, in that sense, the inactive ingredients have a role to support active’s efficiency: the way in which the product is formulated determines how greatly the active ingredients will be absorbed by the sin. Going on, then, the products formulated only with inactive ingredients are, anyways necessary in a good skincare regimen: they generally help nourishing, hydrating, plumping, and revitalizing the skin!

Tell me what is your necessity and I’ll you what to use.

Let’s cut to the chase, then, with a clou argument: what active ingredient should I use based on my skin’s necessities?
The topic is wide, maybe even infinite, and to talk about it in an exhaustively way would be too much to ask. So, all in all, we can say that:

  • If your problem is acne, Retinoids and Benzoyl Peroxide are for you: the first one helps reducing skin’s inflammation and keep the pores deeply cleaned; the second one has antibacterial powers.
  • If you want to eliminate all fine lines and wrinkles and irregular pigmentation, you should use Retinoids and Glycolic acid: retinoids, in fact, stimulate cellular renewal and collagen production and keep the dead cells and keratin’s debris from clogging; glycolic acid, instead, is a perfect exfoliating, that minimizes the appearance of skin discoloration and fine wrinkles.
  • Hyperpigmentation? Look for Vitamin C, 10% at least: other than repairing free radical’s damages, it blocks the excessive pigmentation production.
  • If you have dry skin, mix hyaluronic acid and an emollient: the two are the perfect combo to restore your dry skin, with the emollient holding the hydration provided by hyaluronic acid in place.
  • For enlarged pores, try the Salicylic acid: it will remove all the excess sebum produced by the skin, keeping it from clogging the pores and causing the skin to break out.

How to properly read labels.


Now that we have all this knowledge about both active/inactive benefits, it becomes really important to learn how to recognize them out from the ingredients list that every product has on the back of their pack. Usually the active ingredients are the first 5 ones and you can find them listed from the higher concentrated ones, going down, while all the other ones are ordinary ingredients used to create the product’s formulation.

A little advice. A lot of products, for marketing reasons, promise way more than what is in their capability: remember to always read the inci! If the active ingredients are not to be found among the first names on the list, than, with all probabilities, that product won’t satisfy your expectations!


Content created by Maison Loo. Reproduction without consent is prohibited.

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Korean Cosmetics and Korean Skincare Routine

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Maison Loo

Korean Cosmetics and Korean Skincare Routine



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