How to Select the Best Active Ingredient For Your Skin

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Active ingredients — like vitamin C, exfoliating acids, and niacinamide — are the workhorses of your entire skin-care routine. Like a great quarterback, or the person who was the most involved in group projects at high school, active ingredients are essential to the success of the whole team. Without them, the products you slather on may not do as much — so if you want to make a real difference in your skin, they’re especially important to include in your regimen. 
“An active ingredient refers to an ingredient that is responsible for an intended outcome, result, or effect within a product,” says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. “They are important because they refer to the main ingredients that we consider important in a skincare regimen.” 
Dr. Garshick advises that active ingredients be added to your daily routine in the form of a serum. This will give you the greatest bang for your buck. This type of product delivers high levels of actives with small molecular sizes. They can penetrate the skin quickly, so you will get faster results. “Because serums are lightweight and absorb easily, they can effectively deliver key ingredients into your skin,” she says. 

When deciding which actives to add to your routine, you’ll want to consider your primary goals. Are you looking to improve your skin’s appearance? Even out your skin tone? Reduce irritation? Chances are, there’s an active ingredient to address whatever complexion concern(s) you’re dealing with, and the good news is you don’t have to choose just one of them — thanks to a little technique called double serum. “It is okay to layer serums, though typically it is best to layer from thinnest to thickest,” says Dr. Garshick.  
That said, you’ll want to make sure to choose actives that play nicely together. “It’s also important to know what the active ingredients are in your skincare to ensure you are not combining too many or ones that are not meant to be used together,” says Dr. Garshick.
Combining too many intense actives can sensitize your skin, so it’s important to alternate the timing when you’re applying each one—for example, stick to vitamin C or niacinamide in your a.m. routine, and use exfoliating acids more sparingly (generally 2-3 nights per week). “In general, it is best to avoid combining serums that contain exfoliating acids and retinoids as this can lead to irritation,” adds Dr. Garshick. All Glow Recipe products can be combined in one routine. We do not recommend it.
Now that you know why you need active ingredients, we’ve broken down exactly what the most common ones do. Continue scrolling to discover the one that is right for you. 

It is composed of Alpha and beta Hydroxy Acids, which are the active ingredients

It does this: Smoothens texture

How it works: Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids — which you’ll often see listed on labels as AHAs and BHAs — serve as chemically exfoliants that work by melting the “glue” (aka breaking down cellular bonds) that holds dead skin cells to the surface of your complexion. They can improve the texture and appearance of your skin, reduce dullness and make your skin look brighter. They are found in Strawberry Smooth AHA+BHA Salicylic Serum.

Vitamin C is the active ingredient

It brightens and evens skin tones

How it works: As any derm will tell you, vitamin C is one of the most important ingredients you can use in your A.M. routine — second only to SPF. “Not only does it work to brighten the skin and help brighten discoloration, but it also serves as an antioxidant to fight against free radical damage that can occur throughout the day from environmental stressors,” says Dr. Garshick.” It can be used by all skin types and is especially helpful for those looking to help with the signs of skin aging.” You can find it in our Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum, where it’s paired with tranexamic acid (another powerful brightening agent) and guava.

Hyaluronic Acid is the active ingredient

It does two things: It hydrates and it plumps

How it works: Hyaluronic acid acts like a sponge, drawing moisture beneath the surface of your skin and locking it in — it’s famous for being able to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. It can hydrate skin and can plump wrinkles. Naturally, we’re big fans of the stuff, and you can find it in everything from our Watermelon Glow Hyaluronic Clay Pore-Tight Facial to our Plum Plump Hyaluronic Serum.

Niacinamide is the active ingredient

This product does the following: It helps to reduce redness, irritation, discoloration, and itchy skin

How it works: A do-it-all ingredient, niacinamide soothes irritation, reduces redness, boosts moisture, strengthens the skin barrier, provides antioxidant protection, and evens out discoloration — phew. Dr. Garshick explains that niacinamide is a great option for sensitive skin. It can also be used in conjunction with other active ingredients to reduce irritation. Our Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew drops combine it with mica-free luminizers to provide both immediate and long-term brightness.

Ceramides is the active ingredient 

It does this: Increase the skin barrier

What it does: Ceramides are often called the building blocks of the skin. They support the integrity of the skin’s skin barrier. “This can be especially important for those with dry or sensitive skin to help restore the skin barrier to help keep moisture in and keep external irritants out,” says Dr. Garshick. In our Avocado Ceramide Repair Serum, you will find five different types of ceramides.

Retinol is active ingredient

It does this: Firm and smooth skin

It works as follows: Retinol, a MVP active ingredient with tons of scientific evidence backing its effectiveness is a great example. That’s because it’s able to speed up skin cell turnover — helping skin shed dead skin cells for a smoother texture — as well as stimulate collagen production, keeping it firm. There are some downsides. The downside? It can be frustrating. While we don’t have a retinol serum in our lineup, you can find it in our Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Sleeping Mask. It is a capsulated version that permits it to penetrate without irritation. We also use it in combination with super-soothers such as avocado and Niacinamide. And if you’re using a prescription retinoid for your whole face, no sweat — just offset its effects with a moisturizer like Plum Plump Hyaluronic Cream.
Find out more about the top active ingredients.

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