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Skincare Product’s Active Ingredients Decoded

Don’t rely on marketing to tell you how to use skincare products. Instead, look at the active ingredients on the label of your skincare products to make certain you are not duplicating active ingredients. This could result in skin irritation or dryness from using more than the recommended dose of certain active ingredients.

List of commonly used active ingredients:

Benzoyl peroxide – a topical antibiotic, typically useful for acne. This can cause skin irritation and drying. This is a component in prescription acne products that accounts for 80% of the prescription creams efficacy, so this active ingredient is very effective otc treatment for acne.

Salicylic acid – a type of topical antibiotic, useful for acne. However, this can also be drying to the skin, especially when used in a leave-on product like a spot treatment or when used with other topical antibiotics like benzoyl peroxide.

Retinol – Vitamin A, beneficial for acne, dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin texture. This is best used on moisturized skin and best used in the evening. This can be drying and irritating to the skin. This is not to be used if you are pregnant.

Nicotinamide, also called Vitamin B3, also known as, Niacinamide – gives your skin more energy to repair itself from harmful UV rays damaging the DNA of the skin. Proven if taken orally in solid organ transplant recipients to result in less actinic keratoses (these are a precursor to squamous cell carcinomas). Useful for skin tone and skin cancer prevention.

Azelaic acid – organic compound used for acne, rosacea, and skin pigmentation. Generally, this does not cause skin irritation or significant dryness; this is one of the only things you can use for acne that is safe to use in pregnancy.

Zinc Oxide or Titanium dioxide – these are physical sunscreens. They act as mirrors and reflect the UV rays. These are the sunscreens recommended for children. They tend to be slightly thicker sunscreens and more difficult to spread as the molecules are larger.

Avobenzone/oxybenzone -these are chemical sunscreens they act as sponges absorbing UV rays they are typically smoother and easier to apply but can cause rashes in people with sensitive skin

Vitamin C, aka Ascorbic acid – helpful in collagen skin firmness scars, relatively unstable as a chemical component of creams/lotions.

Vitamin E – an antioxidant found in a variety of foods, including almonds, vegetable oils, and cereals. Vitamin E makes vitamins A and C more stable this is why you often see combo products.

Silicone sheets – frequently used for the treatment and prevention of hypertrophic scars and keloids, helpful for wound healing from 2-6 months after a trauma. Apply to the area topically for 3 days then wash sheet and reapply to the skin to reduce the thickness and improve the appearance of hypertrophic scars and keloids

Hydrocortisone – a topical steroid, helps with skin irritation, itching, redness. It can cause rebound redness and acne on the face if used regularly on the face.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid -The most commonly used alpha hydroxy acids are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Often used in peels to help with hyperpigmentation and acne.
Tea tree oil – derived from the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia tree, this possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and is useful in acne or seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff).

See Cynthia Griffith, MPAS, PA-C speak at a 2020 Skin, Bones, Hearts & Private Parts event in Destin • Pensacola Beach • San Antonio • Las Vegas