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What an “Active Skincare Ingredient” Does for You

If you’ve ever looked at the label of a beauty or personal hygiene product, you’re sure to have seen “active ingredients” and “inactive ingredients.” But what does that really mean? Better yet, what do active ingredients really do for you? Let’s explore this a bit and find out.

What to Know About Skin Care Ingredients

The Difference Between Active and Inactive Ingredients

Active ingredients, also known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), are ingredients found in beauty and hygiene products that are responsible for taking care of the main issue the product sets out to treat.

For example, if you have whitening toothpaste, the active ingredient would be whatever ingredient causes your teeth to become whiter.

Inactive ingredients, on the other hand, are everything else that makes up the product but has no effect on what the product actually does.

Both active and inactive ingredients together make up the entire composition of the product.

Yet, it’s clear that the active ingredients are the most important.

Understanding Active Ingredients in Skincare

As we mentioned, active ingredients are ingredients that do all of the leg work in a product. However, that can mean so much when it comes to skin care. Each product targets a specific issue, and different companies have different ideas on which ingredients offer the best help. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of active ingredients around. Still, there are a handful of ingredients that seem to always appear as an active ingredient like retinoids, salicylic acid, AHAs, hyaluronic acid, and even steroids.

The active ingredient chosen for a product all depends on what the product sets out to do. Here’s a quick list of common skin care issues and the active ingredients that help.


Acne is a pesky condition to treat, but whether you decide to go the over-the-counter route or you get prescription treatment, it’s very likely that the product you use contains retinoids and/or salicylic acid. These active ingredients work to reduce inflammation and promote healing of the skin.


Wrinkle creams are notorious for containing retinoids, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), or hydroxy acid as active ingredients. That’s because they tend to restore healthy cells and promote the production of collagen.

Dry Skin

Nowadays, almost all dry skin products rely on hyaluronic acid as their active ingredient. This miracle protein is responsible for lubricating joints and our eyes, and of course hydrating the skin. It’s an easy and natural way to keep the skin from being dry.

Skin Conditions (e.g., psoriasis, eczema, etc.)

Skin care products for skin treatments are most often prescribed by a doctor and may contain medication like steroids or antibiotics. Even over-the-counter products for skin conditions may contain small amounts of these active ingredients.

Uneven Skin Tone

Pigmentation issues like dark spots and uneven skin tone can be corrected through the use of active ingredients like AHAs and hydroquinone. Correcting one’s complexion can be risky, however, as too much of the active ingredient can actually cause more harm than good.

That’s why it’s important to note that each of these active ingredients comes with its own risks and possible side effects. With that being the case, you should always consult with your dermatologist before committing to using a product.

If you are in Cincinnati, Ohio, our experts at The Dermatology Group can help you make informed decisions based on your skin care needs. Give us a call today!

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