Popular Skin Care Ingredients Explained – Cleveland Clinic

Popular Skin Care Ingredients Explained – Cleveland Clinic

Go to any supermarket or mom and dad store and you may find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of skin care products on the shelves. Whether you are just starting a skincare regimen for the first time or you are a longtime user of it, knowing what the specific ingredients in your most popular products do can be helpful.

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Popular ingredients for skin care

If you’re looking for something to help you with a specific skin condition, knowing what’s in your skin care products can be important information. Dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD, walks us through some of the most popular skin care ingredients, what they do, and how they work.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Over-the-counter skin care products containing alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids) have become increasingly popular in recent years. Creams and lotions with alpha hydroxy acids can help with fine lines and wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and age spots. It can also help shrink large pores. Side effects of alpha hydroxy acids include mild irritation and sun sensitivity.

“To avoid sunburn, you should apply sunscreen in the morning every day,” advises Dr. Bergfeld.

To avoid skin irritation, start with a product with a maximum concentration between 10% and 15% AHA. To allow your skin to get used to it, you should initially apply the skincare product only every other day, gradually progressing to daily application.

Glycolic acid

This AHA helps exfoliate the skin and increase the production of collagen (the protein that strengthens connective tissue). Not only does it help clear pores and smooth out fine wrinkles, it can also help moisturize the skin. Creams and lotions with this ingredient often help improve eczema, while cleansers that use this ingredient can help with blackheads.

Lactic acid

This AHA is produced in muscle cells and red blood cells. Like glycolic acid, products with this ingredient such as foot peels can help with exfoliation while others can help moisturize the skin.

Beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid)

Salicylic acid removes dead skin and can improve the texture and color of sun-damaged skin. It penetrates the oil-laden openings of the hair follicle and, as a result, also helps with acne. There are many skin care products available that contain salicylic acid. Some are available over the counter and others require a prescription.

“In many cases, salicylic acid can be less irritating than skincare products containing alpha-hydroxy acids,” explains Dr. Bergfeld. “But they provide a similar improvement in skin texture and color.”


Skin care products containing hydroquinone are often called whitening creams or lightening agents. These skin care products are used to lighten hyperpigmentation, such as age spots and dark spots (melasma or chloasma) related to pregnancy or hormone therapy. Over-the-counter skin care products such as AMBI® Fade Cream contain hydroquinone.

“The doctor may also prescribe a cream with a higher concentration of hydroquinone if the skin does not respond to over-the-counter treatments,” says Dr. Bergfeld.

Hydroquinone is also sometimes combined with sunscreen because sun exposure causes skin hyperpigmentation. It is best to test hydroquinone-containing products in a small area, as some people are allergic to it. If you are allergic to hydroquinone, you may benefit from using products containing kojic acid instead.

kojic acid

Kojic acid is also a remedy for treating pigment problems and age spots. Discovered in 1989, kojic acid works in a similar way to hydroquinone. Kojic acid is derived from a fungus and studies have shown that it is effective as a lightening agent by slowing the production of melanin (brown pigment). With continued use, kojic acid can make the skin more susceptible to sunburn.


Look for retinol to improve acne and acne scars, mottled pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone and color, and skin hydration levels.

Retinol is derived from vitamin A and is found in many over-the-counter “anti-aging” skin care products. Tretinoin, which is the active ingredient in prescription Retin-A® and Renova® creams, is a more potent version of retinol. If your skin is too sensitive to use Retin-A, over-the-counter retinol is a great alternative.

“Vitamin A has a small enough molecular structure to penetrate into the lower layers of the skin, where it finds and enhances collagen and elastin, a protein that strengthens skin flexibility,” explains Dr. Bergfeld.

L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C)

This is the only form of vitamin C you should look for in your skin care products.

“There are many skin care products on the market today that boast vitamin C derivatives such as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate as an ingredient,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “But L-ascorbic acid is the only useful form of vitamin C in skin care products.”

With age and sun exposure, collagen synthesis in the skin decreases, causing wrinkles to form. Vitamin C is the only antioxidant that has been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis, minimizing fine lines, scars and wrinkles. It can also improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin. Initial use of creams containing vitamin C can cause burning or redness, but these side effects generally disappear with continued use.

Hyaluronic acid

Skin care products containing this substance are often used with vitamin C products to promote effective penetration. Hyaluronic acid (also known as glycosaminoglycan) is advertised for its ability to “reverse” or stop aging. In the news, you may have heard of hyaluronic acid as the “key to the fountain of youth.” This is because the substance occurs naturally (and quite abundantly) in humans and animals and is found in young skin, other tissues and joint fluid.

“Hyaluronic acid is a component of your body’s connective tissues and is known to cushion and lubricate these tissues,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “As we age, however, the forces of nature destroy hyaluronic acid. Poor diet and smoking can also affect the level of hyaluronic acid in your body over time ”.

Niacinamide (vitamin B3)

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that helps build keratin and keep skin firm and healthy. It can help retain moisture and stop skin redness. If you have rosacea, face masks with this ingredient can help reduce redness and swelling.


This silicone-based ingredient is the second most common ingredient in moisturizers. If you are dealing with dry skin, moisturizers with this ingredient can be helpful, especially in the winter. This non-toxic ingredient can help with scar tissue and makes the skin incredibly soft.

It can also help protect hair from breakage and create a smooth, smooth feel in the follicles. That’s why you’ll find this ingredient in hair products that help reduce frizz and split ends. But it is important to note that it is heavy and builds up quickly, sometimes preventing water from entering the roots. If you use a product with dimethicone, we recommend that you use a clarifying shampoo once a week to eliminate any buildup.

Copper peptides

Copper peptide is often referred to as the most effective product for skin regeneration, although it has only been on the market since 1997. This ingredient promotes the production of collagen and elastin, acts as an antioxidant and promotes the production of glycosaminoglycans such as acid. hyaluronic. It also increases the benefits of your body’s natural tissue-building processes by firming, smoothing and softening the skin, and it does so in less time than most other anti-aging skin care products.


This natural moisturizing ingredient helps repair dry or cracked skin. You will find it in a number of lip balms or face creams. This is a great ingredient for oily skin that can help reduce blackheads, pimples and acne. Thanks to its ability to retain moisture, you can benefit from using products with glycerin at the end of the day to keep skin hydrated overnight.

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