9 Most Useful Types of Skincare Ingredients

9 Most Useful Types of Skincare Ingredients

What is most useful in skincare products is not only the litter of active ingredients! There are a lot of ingredients that must be found in different types of skincare products. Also, some are useless and may be damaging to your skin. In this post, we will take a look at ingredient classifications you should watch out for in your next skincare product.

How Do You Determine An Ingredient Is Useful?

The usefulness of ingredients in skincare products not only depends on whether these ingredients are good for the skin. They are also useful if they can make the product work efficiently.

For example, in face wash products, surfactants are not good for the skin. But they are very important for the cleansing effect of the product.

Also, in sunscreen products, sunscreens are not good for the skin. They may even be harmful if the solubility is high, but they determine the SPF and PA values ​​of sunscreen products.

So to determine that the ingredients are really useful, they need to be distinguished according to the type of raw material and the type of formula.

What Are the Most Useful Types of Ingredients in Skincare?

Below, we will answer this question by analyzing according to raw material classification and formula composition.

1. Surfactants

As a cleansing ingredient in facial cleanser, shower gel, shampoo, makeup remover, and other wash-off products, there are the following categories of surfactants.

  • Anionic amino acid: The surface activity of amino acids is relatively mild to the skin, but it also depends on the quality of the raw materials. Some domestic amino acid surface activities have higher impurity content and may not necessarily be low in irritation. Therefore, anionic amino acid is good for facial cleanser or cleansing product and determines the mildness of the product.
  • Non-ionic alkyl polyglycosides: Alkyl polyglycosides, abbreviated as APG, is a green surfactant synthesized from renewable resources, natural fatty alcohol, and glucose. It can be used as an emulsifier or a cleanser. It is also mild to the skin. It is generally formulated with amino acids and is synergistically clean. Skincare products with APG have octyl glucoside, decyl glucoside, lauryl glucoside, and cocoyl glucoside.
  • Anionic fatty acid: Fatty acid salts, also known as carboxylates, or soaps, are the oldest anionic surfactants. However, some soap-based facial cleansers may not be very friendly to sensitive skin because the skin is originally weakly acidic.  Using a weakly alkaline soap-based facial cleanser may destroy the chemical barrier of sensitive skin.

2. Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers are used as substances that stabilize the skin cells during the water-in-oil or oil-in-water emulsification process.  They’re used in creams, lotions, essences, body lotions, sunscreens, liquid foundations, makeup removers, makeup removers, and other products.

Even in pure oil products like cleansing oil, emulsifiers are added. Because the subsequent cleansing oil needs to be rinsed with water, it needs to be emulsified by water, and whether the cleansing oil is cleaned or not depends on the emulsifier.  

Emulsifiers do not need to be added in some dry powder and ointment products except for transparent toners. Almost all cosmetics need emulsifiers.  

According to the molecular structure of emulsifiers, it can be roughly divided into several categories: non-ionic polyglycerol esters, non-ionic polyethylene glycols (also known as PEGs), non-ionic carbohydrate derivatives, anionic surface activity, and cationic emulsifiers. The latter is generally used in hair care products as conditioning ingredients.

3. Moisturizers

Moisturizers are humectants (that is, any ingredient that promotes water retention). The main function of humectants is to reduce the loss of transepidermal water and keep the skin in a hydrated state.

Generally, it has one or more functions such as water retention, replenishment, and water storage. Speaking of skin moisturizing; this is the most basic effect of skincare products. The surface of the skin has natural moisturizing factors (NMF) such as lactic acid, sodium PCA, urea, and other natural moisturizing factors. So, moisturizers act as supplements.  According to the different types of raw materials, moisturizers can be divided into basic moisturizers and active moisturizers.

  • Basic moisturizers: These can include polyols (xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol, 1-3 propylene glycol, 1-3 butanediol, etc.), betaine, glycerin and polyglycerin, hydroxyethyl urea, urea, and vegetable oils.
  • Active moisturizer: These are sodium hyaluronate, amino acids, polysaccharides (trehalose, mannose, rhamnose, β-glucan), natural moisturizing factors (NMFs like lactic acid, PCA sodium), panthenol, and plant extracts, such as aloe vera extract, etc.

4. Whiteners

Whiteners protect the skin from ultraviolet rays. They are mainly found in some sunscreens. They protect melanocytes (skin cells responsible for melanin pigment production) from producing inflammatory factors due to ultraviolet radiation.

Whiteners also inhibit the activation of tyrosine and melanocytes like arbutin, kojic acid, 377, tranexamic acid, and undecylenoyl phenylalanine. They hinder the oxidation process of melanin.  Examples of the ingredients are vitamin C and its derivatives, glutathione, astaxanthin, and plant extracts containing polyphenols.

Whiteners are also responsible for blocking the transport of melanin produced to epidermal keratinocytes: nicotinamide.

It also accelerates the shedding of melanin from keratinocytes. Examples of these whiteners include fruit acids, salicylic acid, and its derivatives (such as potassium methoxysalicylate, 4MSK for short), vitamin A, hydroxyethyl piperazine ethane sulfonic acid.

5. Anti-Aging Actives

The anti-aging active ingredients are roughly divided into two categories.

Some promote collagen synthesis: These are small molecule hyaluronic acid, vitamin A alcohol, small molecule active peptide, fruit acid, boson, functional plant extracts (such as Centella Asiatica)

Secondly, there are some which resist photo-aging, free radicals, saccharification, etc, preventing aging. Some of these include Vitamin C, lysate of yeast fermentation product, carnosine, etc.

6. Sensitive Skin Repair Active Substances

Sensitive skin-repairing ingredients mainly repair the sebum membrane and intercellular lipids in the outer layer of the epidermis. They alleviate some inflammatory reactions in the skin. According to the source of raw materials, they can be divided into synthetic and plant extracts.

  • Synthetic: These include squalane, ceramide, panthenol, allantoin, dipotassium glycyrrhizinate, bisabolol, etc.
  • Plants: These include purslane extract, Calendula extract, Chamomile extract, and Centella Asiatica extract.

7. Anti-Acne

Ingredients for anti-acne helps include:

  • Exfoliating acids like: salicylic acid, azelaic acid, fruit acid, mandelic acid, etc.
  • Oil control ingredients like: zinc PCA, niacinamide, perlite, and other minerals
  • Ingredients for adjusting the balance of Propionibacterium acnes: Lactobacillus and its fermentation lysates and other probiotics
  • Ingredients with relieving inflammatory factors: Portulaca oleracea extract, white willow bark extract, silane diol salicylate, etc.
  • Ingredients for repairing acne marks: Vitamin C, Centella Asiatica, blue copper peptide, etc.

8. Sunscreen

Sunscreens can be divided into two categories according to the different mechanisms of anti-ultraviolet rays. One is chemical sunscreens or organic sunscreens. These are also called ultraviolet absorbers.

They are mainly used to activate sunscreen after absorbing the energy of ultraviolet rays.  The energy transition of electrons in the agent then releases non-radiative energy.  

The other type is physical sunscreens, which are what we generally call inorganic sunscreens or ultraviolet scattering agents. These mainly resist the damage of ultraviolet rays through the reflection and scattering of ultraviolet rays.  Common physical and chemical sunscreen agents are as follows:

  • Physical sunscreen: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide.
  • Chemical sunscreens: para-aminobenzoic acid ester derivatives (such as PEG-25 para-aminobenzoic acid, dimethyl PABA Ethylhexyl ester, etc.), salicylate compounds (such as Ethylhexyl salicylate, Homo Salyl esters, etc.), cinnamate compounds (such as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate), xylenones (such as benzophenone-3,4), dibenzoyl methane, camphor derivatives, etc.

9. Antioxidants

Not all ultraviolet rays can be isolated by sunscreen. There are always some fish that slip through the net. For this reason, antioxidants are needed.   

The active oxygen components generated in the skin by sunlight, pollution, or other harmful substances (energy) will further cause a chain reaction, causing aging, dullness, and uneven skin tone.

If a skincare product contains more antioxidants, it can fight against these disruptive molecules (in fact, antioxidants sacrifice themselves to protect the skin).

Such compositions are vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and the likes. Of course, many natural extracts such as soybean extract and green tea extract belong to this category also.

However, this type of active substance is often used as a gimmick because of its beautiful name. You must look carefully: in the end, this is usually in the formula table. Forward or backward. Don’t choose the product if it’s rank outside the top ten (or even the top five), because this means the content is too few.

Final Thoughts

We have seen top 9 of the most useful categories of ingredients in skincare products and their various compositions. But there are still more of which we didn’t mention.

In addition to the above ingredients, there are some auxiliary ingredients such as thickeners, dispersants, fillers, or rheological agents. They adjust the skin feel of the formula, maintain the stability of the formula, and disperse the toner or filler products, as well as oils. Such raw materials are also very important to the skin feel of the formula.

There are also preservatives for discoloration, which are also indispensable in the formula. Except for some pure oils or dry powders, and some canned products for aseptic operations, most cosmetics need to include preservatives. Otherwise, it cannot pass the microbiological test. So don’t resist preservatives. However, preservatives are mildly irritating.

A good preservative must first ensure that the product does not deteriorate or become moldy during the shelf life. The second function of this is to ensure that the formula is stable and effective. But the least and gentlest preservative system must be used.


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