[Makeup Beginner’s Guide] 5+ Active Ingredients You should Add to Your Skincare Routine

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So, unless you’ve been washing your face with hand soap for the last few years, you’ll have heard of active ingredients – or maybe a particular acid or vitamin. But, unless you have a lot of spare time on your hands, you probably don’t get around to googling it, and you’re certainly not going to ask the intimidating assistant at the beauty desk, who will look down her nose at you for not knowing the difference between a BHA and an AHA. So here is our beginner’s guide with all you need to know about active ingredients in your skincare routine. 

Before we start with the specific active ingredients, we need to first explain the golden question: what is the difference between an AHA and a BHA? AHA, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, are attracted to water and work best for treating surface level skin problems such as pigmentation, scarring or removing dead skin cells. They are found in natural products, such sugar cane, milk or almonds. They target the bonds that hold the cells together, breaking them down. BHA, or Beta Hydroxy Acids, are attracted to oil and penetrate much deeper into the skin. They are effective at treating oily and acne prone skin. They target underneath the oil at the top of the pores and remove dirt and dead skin from within the cell.

Hyaluronic acid – AHA

The ultimate moisturiser. It is naturally produced by the body, it holds water in the cells helps keep the skin hydrated. When skin is hydrated it appears plumper, more radiant and wrinkles are reduced. Hyaluronic acid can be used on all skin types and due to it being attracted to water it won’t affect the oil level on the skin. Skin specialist Katy Robinson gives us her opinion on Hyaluronic acid: “What’s so amazing is that it can be used on all skin types. It is such an easy product to add into our skincare regime and can be used am and pm.”

Salicylic acid – BHA

Ideal for oily and acne prone skin. It is a Beta acid and without sounding too sciencey it has a double carbon – basically meaning that it is oil soluble. This allows it to penetrate the skin deeply, allowing it to target acne and specifically whiteheads and blackheads. Salicylic acid also works well as an anti-inflammatory, therefore reducing red, swollen pimples.

Glycolic Acid – AHA

The holy grail of chemical exfoliates. The small molecule allows the active to seep deep into the skin, targeting the bonds of skin cells, breaking them down and removing the top layer of skin. Glycolic acid is perfect for reducing fine lines as well as treating dull, oily or pigmented skin.

Lactic Acid – AHA

Lactic acid is the perfect natural anti-ageing product. It stimulates skin renewal and increases cell turnover. Lactic acid helps to reduce pigmentation and fine lines in the skin my removing dead skin cells off the surface of the skin. It is often used to treat eczema, psoriasis and rosacea; it targets the ‘plug’ at the top of the skin cell, smoothing the surface of the skin. Scottish skin care blogger @skinbysisi tells _shift: “At the moment I am loving lactic acid. Lactic acid is an AHA which chemically exfoliates the skin but does not dry it out too much. So my skin is left looking more radiant and brighter.”

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is the all-rounder of the actives, it literally does everything. Acne, fine lines, pigmentation, dullness, texture – vitamin C has got you covered. Vitamin C has key antioxidant properties, allowing it to naturally help the skin regenerate and encourage collagen production. It is vital if you live in a big city or if you’re partial to a cocktail (or five). The antioxidant helps fight pollution and reduce the appearance of fatigue.


Retinol, or topical vitamin A, is the wonder product for anti-ageing. It improves skin production and reduces the breakdown of collagen, aka the path to fine lines. Retinol exfoliates the skin and helps improve the skin’s radiant appearance. Skin guru @_myskinguru describes retinol: “It’s the king of active ingredients and will help with almost everything. Breakouts, scars, pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles by speeding up our cell renewal.”

All images courtesy of lookfantastic.com

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