Now that you know what an active ingredient actually is (if you haven’t read our guide yet, catch up here), you might be wondering which one is best to start with. Read on to find out.
Actives are science-backed ingredients that target specific skin concerns and deliver physical results. So if your goal to see a noticeable change in your skin, using a product that contains the right active ingredients is essential.
To find out how to choose products based on their active ingredients, we asked two New York City-based dermatologists, Dr. Joshua Zeichner and Dr. Hadley King, to break down which are best for common skin concerns.
If you have acne, try…retinoids or benzoyl peroxide.
You may know retinol as an anti-aging ingredient, but did you know that it can also be successful at treating acne? “Topical retinoids help reduce inflammation in the skin and act like pipe cleaners to keep the pores clear,” says Dr. Zeichner.
A popular over the counter option is adapalene, which Dr. King says, “has a decreased risk of irritation compared to other prescription retinoids, and excellent efficacy for treating acne and acne scars.”
For something stronger, talk to your dermatologist about prescription retinoids like tretinoin or Altreno. The latter is a new formula that Dr. Zeichner says “contains 0.05% tretinoin in a specially formulated vehicle that minimizes skin irritation.”
Another option is benzoyl peroxide. “Benzoyl peroxide has mild [blemish-inhibiting] properties compared to salicylic acid but it also has other acne-fighting properties like anti-bacterial powers, which make it a great choice for both comedonal and inflammatory acne,” says Dr. King. ” With benzoyl peroxide, 2.5% is strong enough to be effective. Higher strengths are likely to be more irritating.”
If you have fine lines and wrinkles, try…retinoids or glycolic acid.
As mentioned above, retinoids are known for their anti-aging powers. “They are able to produce significant changes in the skin,” says Dr. King. “They increase the turnover of skin cells, reduce the tendency of cells and keratin debris to clump together and clog up pores, increase collagen production and decrease discoloration.”
An alternative (or supplement to) is glycolic acid, which isn’t just great at exfoliating. According to Dr. Zeichner, it has also been shown to “help stimulate collagen to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” For best results, he recommends using a formula that contains 10% glycolic acid like the L’Oreal Derm Intensive Glycolic Acid Serum.
If you have hyperpigmentation, try…vitamin C.
In addition to protecting the skin from free radical damage, vitamin C can also help block the production of abnormal pigmentation. To best target spots, Dr. Zeichner suggests formulas of 15% to 20% vitamin C. The Neogen Real Vita C Powder Lemon contains 17% ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C).
If you have dryness or dehydration, try…hyaluronic acid + an emollient.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. “It pulls in hydration to the outer skin layer,” explains Dr. Zeichner.
For best results, Dr. King recommends pairing hyaluronic acid with an emollient to lock in that moisture. “Good emollients include petrolatum, dimethicone, squalene, shea butter, coconut oil, beeswax, and ceramides,” she says.
If you have enlarged pores, try…salicylic acid.
“This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil from the skin which can fill and dilate the pores,” says Dr. Zeichner. “By removing oil from the skin, it is not there to stretch out their appearance.” To be most effective, look for products that contain 2% of the ingredient.