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Quick Reference Guide To The Best Skincare Ingredients

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

RESEARCHED: SKINCARE INGREDIENTS - WHAT TO USE

Mixing Guide Quick Search What to Use


The skin is the largest and also one of the most important organs on our body. It performs several vital functions for the body including protecting the other vital organs, bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. It only makes sense to be extremely mindful of what we are putting on our skin.

Here’s Why Up to 60% of what we put on our skin gets absorbed. That means that the products we put on our body affects our health and overall well being, either negatively or positively. Because the FDA does not regulate skincare, almost any ingredient can be incorporated in a formula, some of them being super dangerous to your health. Wondering what ingredients you should avoid? Find out here. Notes:

Many natural ingredients are synthetically produced. Synthetic equivalents are not inferior to, and are almost always chemically identical to, their “natural” counterparts. Sometimes, a synthetic version might even be better, if the chemical structure is tweaked to make it more stable or readily absorbed.


When purchasing your skincare, keep in mind the best anti-aging ingredients are often not stable. This means that their effectiveness reduces when exposed to light and air, similar to what happens when you open a jar. Therefore it’s better to use opaque tubes or bottles or airtight pumps. These will help ingredients to perform at their best.

A big question often asked: What order should I follow when applying my skincare? If you haven't already looked into this yourself, it's hard to find a consistent answer. So stay tuned for another post on my research for this...

 

MIXING GUIDE


This is meant to be more of a quick reference guide. If you want more info, I have all this information in detail with each ingredient below.


AVOID

A quick note: I only listed the serious ones that are research backed. If you look this up yourself, you will find that you can't mix anything together & every site contradicts the other.

  • Retinol & Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Retinol & Vitamin C

  • AHA & Vitamin C

  • BHA & Vitamin C

  • Bakuchiol & Glycolic Acid

  • Vitamin C & Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Ferulic Acid & other exfoliating acids

  • AHAs & Peptides


GOOD MIXES

Of course adding hyaluronic acid to everything is a good mix. Think of this list as more of a "bonus" list - mixes that will boost your results.

  • Retinol & Hyaluronic Acid

  • Ceramides & Niacinamide

  • Vitamin C & E (including Ferulic Acid)

  • Vitamin C & SPF

  • Niacinamide & Salicylic Acid

  • Retinol & Peptides

  • AHAs & BHAs

  • Benzoyl Peroxide & Salicylic Acid

  • Antioxidants & Peptides



 


QUICK SEARCH


THE GOOD

ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS (AHA)

ARGAN OIL

ASTAXANTHIN

BAKUCHOIL

BENZOYL PEROXIDE

BETA HYDROXY ACIDS (BHA)

CBD OIL

CERAMIDES

COLLAGEN

FERULIC ACID

GRAPESEED OIL

GLYCOLIC ACID

HYALURONIC ACID

JOJOBA OIL

LACTIC ACID

NIACINAMIDE

PEPTIDES

POLYHYDROXY ACIDS (PHAS)

RETINOL

SALICYLIC ACID

TEA TREE OIL

VITAMIN C

VITAMIN E



 


WHAT TO USE


CBD OIL (CANNABIDIOL)

Summary

  • Cannabidiol that is extracted as a powder and mixed with a type of oil. Not the same thing as hemp seed oil & does not get you high.

  • Many health benefits: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties, anti-aging, and skin-calming.

  • Buying CBD oil can be tricky. Refer to the tips below for more info.

What is it? CBD (also known as cannabidiol) is the non-intoxicating component of marijuana or hemp plants. CBD is extracted as a powder, and is typically mixed with an oil like olive, hemp, or coconut, all of which enhance application and effectiveness, hence the name “CBD oil”.

It is also important to know that CBD oil is not the same thing as hemp seed oil, which is another great ingredient for skin. The two are often marketed interchangeably, but CBD oil is richly concentrated in cannabidiol, whereas hemp seed oil only contains trace amounts of cannabidiol, if any.

Keep in mind that products formulated with CBD oil will not give you a ‘high’ because they do not contain THC, the chemical responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana. If you want to give products formulated with cannabis a try, the AAD recommends testing a small area of skin with the formula first. If no reaction occurs, apply the product as directed on the packaging.

Cannabis has been a hot topic for quite some time now, and more recently, the discussion has entered the realm of dermatology. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties, meaning there’s a possibility that topical formulations with CBD oil may help reduce inflammation associated with certain inflammatory skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. However, further research is required to understand the topical benefits of CBD oil and its properties.

Health Impact:

  • Acne-prone skin: Anti-inflammatory properties aid in visibly reducing breakouts and redness. Studies have shown CBD decreases excess sebum oil production.

  • Anti-aging: Antioxidant properties counteract free-radical damage, visibly diminish wrinkles, skin dullness and skin tone issues.

  • Sensitive skin: CBD has soothing properties and has shown to have skin-calming and skin-normalizing effects which helps with redness and other issues related to sensitivity.

Look for:

  • Products claiming to contain CBD, the FDA-regulated name that should be on the ingredient label is cannabidiol (this regulated labeling is called the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients—INCI). All other alternative names on ingredient labels, such as CBD-enriched hemp seed oil may or may not mean the product actually contains cannabidiol.

  • The CBD content listed in milligrams. Something to note: currently, there is no consensus on how much CBD is needed per application.

  • Look for stable packaging-no jars, clear bottles, or a container that exposes the ingredient to light or air. (it becomes less effective)

  • Some brands advertise their CBD as being being “isolate”, “full spectrum”, or “broad spectrum”. None of these terms are regulated, but they can be helpful differentiators:

  • CBD isolate means pure CBD, no other cannabinoids or other naturally occurring substances like flavonoids or terpenes.

  • Full spectrum CBD means everything that occurs in the hemp plant alongside the CBD, including trace amounts of THC and other cannabinoids such as CBG (cannabigerol) and antioxidant compounds.

  • Broad spectrum CBD means no THC is detectable. Trace amounts of THC can be detected in full spectrum CBD, but must fall below 0.3% in order to not be considered active.

Regardless, to be 100% certain you can always ask the company for their product’s specification, which is called an assay.

I currently do not use CBD in my routine, so here is a list of reviewed products.


 

HYDROXY ACIDS (AHAs, BHAs, & PHAs)

Summary

  • Three types: Alpha (AHA), Beta (BHA), & Poly (PHA)

  • Main function is to exfoliate.

  • AHAs are water-soluble and BHAs are oil-soluble.

  • PHAs deliver all the same benefits without any of the side effects.

What are they? There are 3 types of hydroxy acids: Alpha (AHA), Beta (BHA) & Poly (PHA) and their purpose is to exfoliate. One type is not necessarily better than the other as they are all very effective methods of deep exfoliates. However, PHAs do not irritate the skin as AHAs & BHAs do. The main differences lie in their uses.

  • AHAs are water-soluble acids made from sugary fruits. They help peel away the surface of your skin so that new, more evenly pigmented skin cells may generate and take their place. After use, you’ll likely notice that your skin is smoother to the touch.

  • Types: Glycolic (most common), lactic, tartaric, citric, malic, & mandelic acid.

  • Used for: Hyperpigmentation (age spots, melasma, and scars), enlarged pores, fine lines & wrinkles, & uneven skin tone.

  • Side effects: People with extremely dry or sensitive skin may need to work up to a daily dose to avoid irritation. Strong exfoliators tend to make your skin more sensitive to the sun so be sure to wear sunscreen.

  • How to use/buy: Maximum concentration between 10-15%, can be found in cleansers, toners, moisturizers, scrubs, peels, & masks.

  • Don't Use With:

  • Vitamin C: the combo can throw off the pH of your skin.

  • Ferulic Acid: acids can alter the pH, which then changes the effectiveness of the antioxidant.

  • BHAs are oil-soluble and get deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum.

  • Types: Salicylic & citric acid.

  • Used for: Acne & sun damage.

  • Side effects: Although BHAs don’t make your skin as sensitive to the sun compared to AHAs, you should still wear sunscreen every single day. This will help prevent further sun damage.

  • How to use/buy: BHAs are also designed for daily use, but you may need to apply a few times per week at first until your skin gets accustomed to them. Can be found in cleansers, toners, moisturizers, scrubs, peels, & masks.

  • Don't Use With:

  • Vitamin C: the combo can throw off the pH of your skin.

  • Ferulic Acid: acids can alter the pH, which then changes the effectiveness of the antioxidant.

  • PHAs offer the same benefits as the others without causing skin irritation. They are more moisturizing and can help strengthen skin barrier function.

  • Types: Gluconolactone and Lactobionic acid are the most common

  • Used for: Maintaining moisture, anti-aging, photoaging, acne, & smoothing skin.

  • Side effects: None with proper application-but it is still a facial acid, so use sunscreen.

  • How to use/buy: You can find PHAs in a variety of toners, creams, & serums. It is recommended to use once daily at first, then it can be used twice a day. Be cautious when using products with AHAs, BHAs, & PHAs if you have sensitive skin.

Can you combine all the HAs? Research has shown combining HAs yield fuller skin when used together, probably due to increased collagen production. It is not recommended to layer individual products on top of one another at the same time though. Instead, you can alternate each one by the time of day or alternate the day you use each HA. Another option is to use products that combine all 3 HAs as well as other ingredients that help to reduce skin irritation. I use a combo of the 3 and have not experienced any side effects when using once daily.

$14

here is what I use daily


 

GLYCOLIC ACID

Summary

  • Most well-known and widely used AHA.

  • Exfoliate, resurface, boosts collagen & elastin levels.

  • When buying, try to find a product that lists the pH as well as the strength. Read below for more info.

What is it? Glycolic acid is a water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is derived from sugar cane. It is one of the most well-known and widely used alpha-hydroxy acids in the skincare industry.

Health Impacts:

  • Exfoliate and resurface your skin.

  • Part of a group of acids known as alpha-hydroxy acids, this one is distinct in having the smallest molecular size, so it can penetrate deepest into the skin.

  • Glycolic acid features the traditional exfoliating benefits of any AHA, gently dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells to improve skin texture, tone, and pore size.

  • Bonus! It also boosts levels of both collagen and elastin in the skin, so it can help ward off wrinkles, too.

  • What's the catch? Glycolic acid can be irritating for some people, especially those with super sensitive skin or when used in high concentrations, so start using it gradually in order to give your skin enough time to get used to it.

Something to note: Using low concentrations of glycolic acid over long periods of time creates a cumulative effect; your skin will look better the longer you use it.

Also, when choosing any glycolic acid treatment, the percentage of glycolic acid is just one factor. The product's pH is the other. A more acidic product will deliver a stronger and more effective treatment than a less acidic product, regardless of the percentage of glycolic acid. So a product containing a low percentage of glycolic acid but with a lower (i.e. more acidic) pH will be more effective than a high percentage but low acidity product. Unfortunately, the vast majority of skincare products simply list the percentage of glycolic acid used. They are not required to list the pH, so it can make it difficult to compare products apples-to-apples.

Look for: Glycolic acid comes in: cleansers, masks, toners and moisturizers. Over the counter products usually comin in a strength up to 10%. For stronger treatments, glycolic acid is also utilized in chemical peels available at the salon or your dermatologist's office.

Don't Use With:

  • Vitamin C: could throw off pH balance of your skin

  • Ferulic Acid: acids can alter the pH, which then changes the effectiveness of the antioxidant.

  • Bakuchiol: could degrade the formulation

$9

my recommendation


 

LACTIC ACID

Summary

  • Another type of AHA that is gentler and less irritating.

  • Main benefit is to exfoliate resulting in a brighter complexion.

  • Be sure to use proper protection since it does cause sun sensitivity.

  • Can be found in a range of products, just be sure to start off with a low concentration and move up slowly.

What is it? Another type of AHA, that is generally gentler and less irritating than glycolic acid. It can be found in milk, but is mostly synthetically produced today. It is available in many OTC products and in stronger professional peels and treatments.

Health Impacts:

  • Exfoliate & improve skin texture

  • Speeds up cell turnover & stimulates cell renewal

  • Results in a visibly brighter complexion if used regularly

  • Improves skin's natural moisture

  • Anti-aging

  • Stimulates collagen renewal

  • Fades sun spots & age spots

  • Helps treat keratosis pilaris (bumps on the backs of arms), eczema, psoriasis, & rosacea

Side Effects: Like the other AHAs, lactic acid also causes sun sensitivity and skin irritation. These can easily be avoided with proper sun protection and moderate use in the beginning.

Look For: You can find lactic acid in cleansers, creams, lotions, serums, peels, masks, & professional peels. Concentrations vary from 5-30%. It's best to start off with 5-10% when first using to avoid irritation. Always move up in concentration slowly.

Don't Use With:

  • Vitamin C: could throw off pH balance of your skin

  • Ferulic Acid: acids can alter the pH, which then changes the effectiveness of the antioxidant.

$7

my recommendation


 

SALICYLIC ACID

Summary

  • BHA

  • Treats acne

  • For severe cases, use a face wash. Mild cases can use spot treatments.

What is it? One of the best OTC treatments for acne. Derived from willow bark, this oil-soluble BHA can easily penetrate pores & once inside, it works to dissolve the dead skin cells clogging your pores.

Health Impacts:

  • Exfoliant: considered a keratolytic medication which causes softening of the top layer of skin cells.

  • Gets rid of acne: loosens and breaks apart desmosomes (the attachment between your cells on the outer layer of skin) which are thought to be the etiology of acne.

  • Anti-inflammatory: helps reduce inflammation associated with pimples

Side Effects:

  • Skin tingling or stinging

  • Itching

  • Peeling

  • Hives

  • Salicylic acid toxicity: although rare, it is a possibility

Look For: For mild cases of acne, spot treatments are recommended. For severe cases, a salicylic acne wash is recommended. You can also find it in toners and masks. For really severe cases, you can get a chemical peel done at your dermatologist office.

Most products range between 0.5-2% salicylic acid.

Bonus: is also works great for dandruff

Use With:

  • Niacinamide: together they reduce pore size, clear up skin, and improve skin texture.

  • Benzoyl Peroxide: great acne-fighting combo

Don't Use With:

  • Ferulic Acid: acids can alter the pH, which then changes the effectiveness of the antioxidant.




$10 $7 $30

Face wash peel toner


 

RETINOL

Summary

  • Retinoid made from vitamin A.

  • Anti-aging, exfoliating, & unclogs pores.

  • Can be irritating to some & cause sun sensitivity.

  • Look for: cleansers, oils, serums, moisturizers, & creams.

What is it? Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is made from vitamin A. Rather than removing dead skin cells as many other anti-aging and acne products do, retinol helps neutralize free radicals to boost the production of elastin and collagen. This creates a “plumping” effect.

Retinols are not the same products as prescription retinoids, which are more potent. However, retinol is still the strongest OTC version available as compared to other OTC retinoids such as retinaldehyde and retinyl palmate.

Health Impacts:

  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and enlarged pores.

  • Retinol has an exfoliating effect on the skin’s surface that can further improve texture and tone.

  • Retinol can also help treat severe acne, as well as related scarring.

  • It helps keep your pores unclogged by creating comedolytic agents to help prevent the formation of comedones or blemishes.

  • Retinol has also been proven to balance your skin hydration levels.

  • Controls excess production of sebum in your pores.

Side effects: People who use retinols commonly experience dry and irritated skin, especially after using a new product. Other side effects may include redness, itchiness, and peeling skin. Sunburn is one of the greatest risks of using retinol. Some of the drying and irritating effects may also be worsened by sun exposure. Retinols aren’t recommended for pregnant women. They may increase the risk for birth defects and miscarriage. Using retinols may aggravate eczema. Avoid using if you have an active eczema rash.

Use With:

  • Hyaluronic acid: Helps to avoid potential side effects and sensitivities associated.

  • Peptides: Retinol has collagen-building effects & works to improve the penetration of peptide creams and serums which can help improve skin firmness.

Don't Use With:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide: when used together, they cancel each other out making them less effective.

  • Vitamin C: retinol can make vitamin C more unstable and less likely to penetrate the skin.

$107

retinol serum I use daily


 

TEA TREE OIL

Summary

  • Essential oil that has numerous benefits for your whole body. It needs to be mixed with a carrier oil.

  • Helps with dry skin, eczema, oily skin, itchy skin, inflammation, acne, infections, & hair & scalp treatments.

  • There are many options out there so read below to get all the tips.

What is it? Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has many benefits for the skin. Tea tree oil can be used to treat conditions and symptoms that affect skin, nails, and hair. It can also be used as a deodorant, insect repellent, or mouthwash. When used topically, tea tree oil can treat certain skin conditions or improve the overall appearance of your skin.

It does need to be mixed with a carrier oil of some kind: olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil. Add 12 drops of carrier oil to 1-2 drops of tea tree oil.

Health Impact:

  • Dry Skin & Eczema: reduces irritation and itching. Studies have shown tea tree oil is more effective than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams for treating eczema.

  • Oily Skin: antiseptic properties of tea tree oil allow it to combat oily skin.

  • Itchy Skin: anti-inflammatory properties make it useful in relieving discomfort of itchy skin. It soothes the skin and can also help heal infections that cause itchy skin.

  • Inflammation: anti-inflammatory effect of tea tree oil helps to soothe and relieve painful and irritated skin. It may also help to reduce redness and swelling.

  • Infections, Cuts, & Wound-Healing: The antibacterial properties of tea tree oil make it an effective wound healer. In a study, 9 out of 10 people who used tea tree oil along with conventional treatment, saw a decrease in healing time wen compared to conventional treatment alone.

  • Hair & Scalp Treatment: treat dandruff by removing chemicals and dead skin cells from the scalp. Using tea tree oil on your hair may help it to stay healthy and moisturized, promoting optimal growth. You can buy a shampoo that contains tea tree oil (get one that has atleast 5% tea tree oil) or you can make your own mix of tea tree oil and a carrier oil. Let it sit in your hair for 20 minutes.

  • Acne: anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties calm redness, swelling and inflammation associated. It also helps prevent and reduce acne scars. You can make your own toner: 3 drops of tea tree oil in 2 oz of witch hazel.

Side effects: Redness and irritation can occur if the area around the eye is exposed. It is recommended to do a patch test before use. Also, always mix with a carrier oil to avoid irritation.

Look for: Since tea tree oil varies in quality, it’s important to buy an oil that is 100-percent natural, with no additives. Buy organic tea tree oil if possible, and always buy from a reputable brand. The Latin name, Melaleuca alternifolia, and the country of origin should be printed on the bottle. Look for an oil that has a 10- to 40-percent concentration of terpinen, which is the main antiseptic component of tea tree oil.


 

BAKUCHIOL

Summary

  • Antioxidant very similar to Retinol except without the side effects.

  • Several anti-aging benefits

  • Few differences between bakuchiol and retinol: bakuchiol can be used twice a day, no known side effects, and less irritating.

  • Look for: strengths of 0.5-2% and make sure bakuchiol is in ingredient list. Refer below for more...

What is it? Found in the leaves and seeds of the babchi plant, bakuchiol is a potent antioxidant that visibly reduces skin discolorations from environmental exposure and has a pronounced soothing effect on skin. Bakuchiol can also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, which is why you’re seeing it in more skincare products. It is said to be a gentler retinol alternative.

Health Impact:

  • Regulates Collagen Formation: studies have shown it has gene-modifying and collagen-regulating benefits similar to retinol.

  • Prevents Oxidation: prevents the oxidative degradation of lipids (the natural fats in our skin).

  • Fades Pigmentation: inhibits melanin production by suppressing the hormone responsible for melanin formation in the skin. This is great if you're dealing with dark spots and discolorations.

  • Reduces Inflammation

  • Fights Bacteria

  • Improves Signs of Aging: studies have shown using 0.5% twice a day significantly decreases sun damage, fine lines, wrinkles and improves elasticity and firmness.

  • Protects from Free Radicals: stops free radicals from "stealing" electrons from the natural fats in your skin, a process that triggers their oxidative degradation (a.k.a lipid peroxidation, a major factor in skin aging). When skin lipids become oxidized, it causes changes on a molecular level that result in swelling and cell death. When it comes to this, bakuchiol beats out the most common antioxidant, vitamin E.

  • Reduces Acne: helps to treat and prevent acne. A study found that 1%, applied twice a day, reduced acne by 57% after six weeks. Researchers also compared it to 2% salicylic acid, applied twice daily, which only reduced acne by 48%. The best results of all were from both ingredients combined, which led to a 67% reduction in acne. Bakuchiol has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it kills acne bacteria and takes down swelling. Plus, it inhibits the oxidation of sebum, which is thought to be a driving force in the progression of acne.

Bakuchiol vs Retinol

  • Almost as effective as retinol: In a study, participants applied 0.5% bakuchiol or retinol once daily for 12 weeks and saw no significant difference between the two. Just keep in mind that bakuchiol won't be comparable to stronger retinoids, such as retinaldehyde or retinoic acid.

  • Gentle & non-irritating: Retinol is notoriously irritating. Bakuchiol is very gentle on your skin. In a study done comparing retinol and bakuchiol, the retinol users reported skin scaling and stinging while the bakuchiol users did not.

  • Can be used morning & night: Bakuchiol is stable in UV light and sdoes not make the skin more sun-sensitive unlike retinol.

Side Effects: Currently, there are no known side effects.

Look For: If using a serum or oil, research shows amounts between 0.5-2% are ideal. You may see products such as bakuchi seed oil or babchi oil, but it is not necessarily the same. Look for bakuchiol in ingredient list.

Don't Use With:

  • Glycolic acid could degrade the formulation.

$54

my recommendation & next on my list to buy


 

GRAPESEED OIL

Summary

  • By-product of making wine. Known for high amounts of omega chain fatty acids & vitamin E.

  • Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant properties.

What is it? Grapeseed oil comes from pressed grape seeds. Fun fact: it is a by-product of wine making. It is a popular topical treatment due to the high amounts of omega chain fatty acids and vitamin E.

It is very versatile: You can use it in its pure form directly on your face (preferably before bed), you can mix some with your favorite moisturizer, mix with essential oils, or you can purchase the grapeseed oil extract in liquid or capsule form.

Health Impacts:

  • Acne breakouts: proven antimicrobial properties help treat breakouts.

  • Softer, more elastic skin: research has shown this oil improves skin moisture, softness, and elasticity while preserving the skin. It also helps vitamin E & C perform better on your skin.

  • Evens skin tone: Proanthocyanidin, the powerful antioxidant in grapeseed oil, is known to even skin tone. Research has shown it will improve the symptoms of melasma.

  • Protects against sun damage: The powerful antioxidants in grapeseed oil help protect your skin from absorbing the full damage of UV rays.


 

HYALURONIC ACID

Summary

  • Occurs naturally in our body.