Skincare Ingredients 101: Actives Vs. Inactives

A well-executed skincare routine can change the way you look and feel. Skincare routines help the skin stay in top condition by treating wrinkles, preventing blemishes, and removing dead skin cells. Healthy, radiant skin can make you look more youthful and boost self-confidence.  

A skincare routine is only as effective as the products you choose. Perfecting your skincare routine means understanding active and inactive ingredients.  

There are thousands of skincare products on the market, all claiming to be the best. Below, learn more about the most effective active and inactive ingredients and how they combine to create the best skincare routine for your needs. 

This infographic was created by SeSpring, maker of a hydrating gel cream

Active vs. Inactive Ingredients 

The terms “active” and “inactive” ingredients are common on skincare product labels and advertisements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and efficacy of medical devices and drugs in the United States. This organization requires the labeling of active ingredients if the product makes medical claims or contains FDA-classified drugs.  

Active Ingredients 

An active ingredient serves the purpose of addressing or treating a skin condition. This ingredient must be FDA-approved to perform its designated function. Active ingredients in skincare products may boost cell regeneration, treat skin conditions, fight inflammation, or perform many other actions to improve how the skin looks and feels. Common active ingredients in skincare products include benzoyl peroxide, which treats acne, and hydroquinone to lighten dark spots. 

Inactive Ingredients 

Inactive ingredients do not perform a specific function in changing the look or feel of the skin. However, they are equally important in creating a top-quality skincare product. Inactive ingredients can carry active ingredients to the areas of the skin they need to reach, create the desired texture, preserve the product, and perform several other duties. Inactive ingredients are what make skincare products look consistent and delightful.  

Inactive ingredients must be safe to use on the skin, but they do not need to be FDA-approved for use in skincare products. Inactive ingredients still contact skin and enter the body. It is equally important to understand inactive ingredients as it is to understand active ingredients.

Research Before Combining Active Ingredients  

Many skincare products can be effective when used separately but ineffective when combined. One product’s active ingredients could negate the effects of another product’s active ingredients. This can render the products useless or even cause damage to your skin. Using more skincare products will not help you reach your skincare goals more quickly.  

Using two products with the same active ingredients will cause the pH levels of the two products to collide, forcing only one to act. The pH level of the product that’s more desirable for the skin will act, and the other pH level will become useless. An easy way to avoid this issue is to use the two products at different times of the day, such as one at night and one in the morning.  

Some active ingredients can be harmful to the skin when combined. Together, alpha hydroxy acids and retinoids cause excessive cell turnover resulting in irritation, scarring, burns, and undesirable effects. Alternate these products using a retinol product one day and a mild alpha hydroxy acid product another day. 

Other undesirable skincare product combinations include retinoids and salicylic acid, retinoids and vitamin C, and retinoids and benzoyl peroxide. Understanding which active or inactive ingredients cause unwanted reactions can help you create a more effective skincare routine. 

Create Your Skincare Routine With a Professional 

A dermatologist or qualified esthetician can play an integral role in developing your perfect skincare routine, especially if you are prone to certain skin conditions. This expert can help you determine which products will provide the skin changes or maintenance you’re seeking without causing harm. For further information, consult the accompanying resource by SeSpring.

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