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Skincare Ingredients 101: Actives Vs. In-actives

by Parba
Gel cleanser for face

Skincare routines are a great self-care ritual. Putting in the extra effort to keep your skin healthy and nourished can help you look your best and prevent issues such as acne scarring, deep wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. However, have you ever taken a deep dive into exactly what’s in your products? Each ingredient makes up the final product, but what does it mean when an ingredient is considered active or inactive?

Understanding the differences between active and inactive ingredients in your skincare products could make the difference between a routine that stresses your skin out and one that makes it glow. Read on for an overview of both ingredient types, including their benefits and uses.

What Are Active Ingredients?

An active is ingredient has been lab tested and proven to have an identifiable impact on the skin. Actives are approved by the FDA and perform a specific function. For example, if you buy a product that targets acne, the active ingredient might be salicylic acid. This acid works to dissolve the cells and dirt that cause breakouts in the skin’s top layer. In other words, salicylic acid has been proven to effectively change your skin.

Uses and Benefits of Actives

Active ingredients are typically used to treat or address a skin condition. They can enhance collagen production, help speed cell turnover, prevent and reverse photo-aging, and fight inflammation and free radical damage, among other benefits.

The following are the most common actives that you might see on skincare ingredient labels, as well as their benefits:

  • Hyaluronic acid: Hydrates the skin
  • Niacinamide: Reduces inflammation
  • Benzoyl peroxide: Treats breakouts
  • Retinoids: Smooths skin and minimizes the signs of aging
  • Vitamin B3: Eases inflammation

What Are Inactive Ingredients?

An inactive is any other component of a skincare product that hasn’t been clinically proven to have an impact on the skin. While the FDA doesn’t designate in-actives as treating a specific issue, they can still do a great job of moisturizing and cleansing the skin.

Uses and Benefits of Inactives

While active ingredients tend to get the spotlight, inactive ingredients are still vital in a product in order for it to work properly. They are used in skin care products for three main reasons:

  • To deliver the active ingredients to the skin
  • To preserve the final product
  • To make the product look, smell or feel nice

Some inactive ingredients found in skincare formulas include:

  • Essential oils
  • Plant butter
  • Aloe

How to Evaluate Skincare Products

Once you understand what active and inactive ingredients are, you can use that information when shopping for skincare products in-store or online. Here are some tips that can help you evaluate skincare products:

  • Read the ingredients list: Make it a habit to turn the product over and find out what’s in the formula. Learn what active and inactive ingredients are included.
  • Avoid certain ingredient combinations: Certain skincare components have been shown to not work well together, such as salicylic acid and retinoids. Alpha hydroxy acids should not be combined with retinoids, either. If a product contains these ingredient combinations, skip it.
  • Consult a dermatologist: While actives and in-actives can be effective and helpful, some ingredients can cause unwanted skin reactions and irritations. Moreover, high levels of actives can damage the skin. For example, benzoyl peroxide is a common activity used to treat acne. However, it can dry out the skin, causing flakes and irritation. For these reasons, it’s important to consult your dermatologist before adding new skincare products or active ingredients to your routine.

For more information about active and inactive ingredients, see the accompanying resource, by SeSpring.

This infographic was created by SeSpring, cruelty-free Korean gel cleanser for face

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