Popular Skincare Ingredients Explained – Cleveland Clinic

Go to any supermarket or family store and you might find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of skin care products on the shelves. Whether you’re just getting started on a skincare regimen for the first time or you’re a long-time user, it can be beneficial to know what specific ingredients do in your most popular products.

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Popular ingredients for skin care

If you are looking for something to help you with a skin physical condition, knowing what’s in your skincare products can be important information. Dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MDintroduces us to some of the most popular skincare ingredients, what they do and how they work.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Over-the-counter skin care products containing alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids) have become increasingly popular in recent years. Creams and lotions containing alpha hydroxy acids can help wrinkles and fine lines, irregular pigmentation and age spots. It can also help reduce large pores. Side effects of alpha hydroxy acids include mild irritation and sun sensitivity.

“To avoid burns, you should apply sunscreen in the morning every day,” advises Dr. Bergfeld.

To help avoid skin irritation, start with a product with a maximum concentration of 10% to 15% AHA. To allow your skin to get used to it, you should only apply the skin care product every other day at first, gradually progressing to daily application.

Glycolic acid

This AHA helps exfoliate your skin and stimulate collagen production (the protein that strengthens connective tissue). It not only helps clean out your pores and smooth out fine lines, but it can also help moisturize your skin. Creams and lotions containing this ingredient often help improve eczemawhile cleansers that use this ingredient can help black spots.

Lactic acid

This AHA is produced in muscle cells and red blood cells. Like glycolic acid, products containing this ingredient, such as foot peels, can help with exfoliation while others can help moisturize your skin.

Beta-hydroxy acids (salicylic acid)

Salicylic acid removes dead skin and can improve skin texture and color. sun damaged skin. It penetrates the openings of the oil-laden hair follicles and therefore also helps to acne. There are many skin care products that contain salicylic acid. Some are available over the counter and others require a doctor’s prescription.

“In many cases, salicylic acid may be less irritating than skin care products containing alpha hydroxy acids,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “But they provide a similar improvement in skin texture and color.”


Skin care products containing hydroquinone are often called bleaching creams or lightening agents. These skin care products are used to lighten hyperpigmentation, such as age spots and dark spots (melasma or chloasma) relative to pregnancy Where hormone therapy. Over-the-counter skin care products such as AMBI® Fade Cream contain hydroquinone.

“Your doctor may also prescribe a cream with a higher concentration of hydroquinone if your skin does not respond to over-the-counter treatments,” says Dr. Bergfeld.

Hydroquinone is also sometimes combined with sunscreen because exposure to the sun causes hyperpigmentation. It is best to test products containing hydroquinone in a small area, as some people are allergic to it. If you are allergic to hydroquinone, you can use products containing kojic acid instead.

kojic acid

Kojic acid is also a remedy for the treatment of pigmentation problems and age spots. Discovered in 1989, kojic acid works similarly to hydroquinone. Kojic acid is derived from a fungus, and studies have shown to be effective as a lightening agent, slowing the production of melanin (brown pigments). With continued use, kojic acid can make your skin more susceptible to sunburn.


Look for retinol to improve acne and acne scarsmottled pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone and color, and your skin’s hydration levels.

Retinol is derived from vitamin A and is found in many over-the-counter “anti-aging” skin care products. Tretinoin, which is the active ingredient in prescription Retin-A® and Renova® creams, is a stronger version of retinol. If your skin is too sensitive to use Retin-A, over-the-counter retinol is a great alternative.

“Vitamin A has a molecular structure small enough to penetrate the lower layers of your skin, where it finds and boosts collagen and elastin, a protein that helps your skin become more flexible,” says Dr. Bergfeld.

L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C)

It is the only form of vitamin C that you should be looking for in your skin care products.

“There are many skin care products on the market today that contain vitamin C derivatives like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate as an ingredient,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “But L-ascorbic acid is the only useful form of vitamin C in skin care products.”

With age and sun exposure, collagen synthesis in your skin decreases, leading to wrinkles. Vitamin C is the only antioxidant proven to stimulate collagen synthesis, minimizing fine lines, scars and wrinkles. It can also improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin. Initial use of creams containing vitamin C may cause tingling or redness, but these side effects usually go away with continued use.

Hyaluronic acid

Skin care products containing this substance are often used with vitamin C products to aid in effective penetration. Hyaluronic acid (also known as glycosaminoglycan) is touted for its ability to “reverse” or stop aging. In the news, you may have heard hyaluronic acid referred to as the “key to the fountain of youth.” Indeed, the substance occurs naturally (and quite abundantly) in humans and animals, and is found in young skin, other tissues, and joint fluid.

“Hyaluronic acid is a component of your body’s connective tissues, and it’s known to cushion and lubricate those tissues,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “As you age, however, the forces of nature destroy hyaluronic acid. Poor diet and smoking can also affect your body’s level of hyaluronic acid over time.

Niacinamide (vitamin B3)

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that helps build keratin and keep your skin firm and healthy. It can help retain moisture and stop skin redness. If you have rosaceaface masks containing this ingredient can help reduce redness and swelling.


This silicone-based ingredient is the second most common ingredient in moisturizers. If you have dry skin, moisturizers containing this ingredient may be beneficial, especially in winter. This non-toxic ingredient can help remove scar tissue and make your skin incredibly soft.

It can also help protect your hair from breakage and create a smooth, smooth feel in your follicles. That’s why you’ll find this ingredient in hair products that help reduce frizz and split ends. But it’s important to note that it’s heavy and builds up quickly, sometimes preventing water from entering your roots. If you’re using a product that contains dimethicone, you’ll want to use a clarifying shampoo once a week to help remove any buildup.

copper peptide

Copper peptide is often considered the most effective skin regeneration product, even though it has only been on the market since 1997. This ingredient promotes collagen and elastin production, acts as an antioxidant and promotes the production of glycosaminoglycans such as hyaluronic acid. It also boosts the benefits of your body’s natural tissue-building processes by firming, smoothing and softening the skin – and it does it in less time than most other anti-aging skin care products.


This natural moisturizing ingredient helps repair dry or cracked skin. You will find it in a number of lip balms or face creams. It is a great ingredient for oily skin that can help reduce blackheads, pimples, and acne. Due to its ability to retain moisture, you may benefit from using products containing glycerin late in the day to keep your skin hydrated overnight.

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