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Active Skincare Ingredients: Top 5 Actives for Gorgeous Skin

Active skincare ingredients have become a huge deal in the world of skincare. But what do 'actives' actually do? And which ones should we be adding to our skincare routines? Let me explain...

What are active skincare ingredients?

Active ingredients (also referred to as just 'actives') are the hero ingredients that have been scientifically proven to work on our skin and tackle our different skin concerns. So, which active ingredients work on which skin concerns? Below, I've covered the top 5 active skincare ingredients and highlighted what skin issues they help with.

Vitamin A

There are various subtypes of vitamin A (or ‘retinoids’) for the skin, all of which have been steadily growing in popularity over recent years- and for good reason. In the right form, vitamin A can work wonders for the skin by exfoliating, unclogging pores, increasing cell turnover and stimulating dermal collagen synthesis. Our skin is only able to use retinoids once they are in the form of retinoic acid. How potent and how effective the product is therefore depends on how many steps are involved to get it into this active form.

Here are a couple of examples of vitamin A products:

Tretinoin (retinoic acid)

Tretinoin is the strongest and most efficient topical form of vitamin A and is only available via prescription. No conversion is required, so it can work its magic immediately on receptors for quicker results. However, as the most potent vitamin A product, it can be poorly tolerated- you are much more likely to get the side effects of redness, irritation, peeling and itching that can occur.


Most people have heard of retinol, and many of my patients have already started to introduce it into their routine by the time they meet me for an initial consultation. It is an over the counter vitamin A derivative and therefore more widely accessible. Once in the skin, it has to convert to its active form of retinoic acid- and this requires 2 steps. How effective retinol is depends on its concentration. Unless you have particularly sensitive skin, aim for a high concentration e.g. 0.5-1.0% and introduce slowly into your routine.


Niacinamide is often referred to as vitamin B3 but, actually, it is only part of the vitamin B3 molecule- together with niacin. Niacinamide is one of those ingredients you can’t really go wrong with - suitable for every skin type and concern! It increases ceramide and free fatty acids in the skin, which are key components of the vital protective lipid barrier. Without an intact lipid barrier, collagen and elastin in the skin can breakdown, moisture will be lost and skin conditions will be exacerbated by poor healing. Along with keeping in moisture and boosting hydration, it also brightens skin, has anti-inflammatory effects and calms redness.

Vitamin C

Another umbrella term for a confusing myriad of derivatives, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant protecting our skin from ageing free radicals, plus it evens out skin tone and texture, brightens skin and increased collagen and elastin production. Check out Glowday's fabulous guide to vitamin C for the full lowdown.

Hyaluronic acid

A sugar molecule that occurs naturally in the body, hyaluronic acid (HA) is intensely hydrating. It improves skin elasticity while drawing water in to the skin making it plumper, softer and smoother. Dewy, radiant skin? Yes please!

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid (1,7-heptanedicarboxylic acid) is a naturally occurring saturated dicarboxylic acid. It is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and has anti-keratinizing effects. It also inhibits tyrosinase, a vital enzyme in the production of melanin, and thus formation of that unwanted pigmentation.

So, if you're looking for glowing skin - or even just a subtle but effective improvement - consider adding active skincare ingredients into your routine.

Glowday is now offering a fantastic new Virtual Skin Consultation service, where you can speak with an expert to find the best skincare products for your skin concerns.

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