Paulien Eeckels

9 Jun 2020

Ingredients in Skincare: What Do They Mean?

Ok, let’s talk ingredients. If you thought defining your skin type was difficult, then get prepared for this. These ingredients might look like Chinese at first, but I promise you, once you get the hang of differentiating them, it will make skincare so much easier. I’ve created a list of the most important skincare ingredients to help you figure out what’s best for your skin.

I know this is not the sexiest subject, but you’ll know what your skin needs and what you should look for in new products. Of course, there are a lot of ingredients in the skincare world, so I will only discuss the most important ones. During this series about skincare, I will refer to these ingredients or even bring up some new ones. I promise after this explanation, we will dive into the skincare routine itself.

Hyaluronic acid

Let’s start with the one that scared me for the longest time. It sounds so complicated, but it is anything but. I can give you a complicated, fancy-ass explanation, but it basically is a super-hydrator. Hyaluronic acid is actually something we produce naturally, it is a water-holding molecule. As we age, we lose this in our skin. So, products with HA retain moisture to hydrate and plump the skin.

Furthermore, it promotes collagen production, fights free radicals, and maintains our skin elasticity. As well as having anti-inflammatory properties to speed up wound healing. This ingredient can benefit literally everyone. And unlike most acids, it won’t cause irritation to sensitive skin types. This product can be used in your morning as well as your evening routine.


Peptides are one of the most talked-about ingredients for anti-aging. That won’t come as a surprise when you know that peptides are short-chain amino acids that build the foundations of the skin. They help restore the loss of collagen and elastin. From the age of 25, our skin starts to lose 1% of its collagen every year. Peptides trigger your skin cells to build collagen and elastin, which helps prevent aging.

Other functions are soothing, firming, and hydrating the skin. I would recommend this ingredient for anyone older than 25 wanting to prevent aging. You can use them both in the morning as well as in the evening and use it twice a day for maximum results. Peptides are perfect in a moisturizer or serum.


Ceramides are once again something we produce naturally, but when exposed to environmental and harsh chemicals, they can deplete. They are lipids that form and make-up to 50% of the skin’s barrier, helping it to retain moisture. As it forms our skin barrier, it helps to protect the skin against pollution, irritating products, and extreme weather conditions. Without sufficient ceramides, our skin barrier can become compromised which will lead to irritation, dryness, itching, and acne.

Ceramides can be used by anyone; it has lots of benefits for every skin type. I would especially recommend it for people that suffer from compromised skin barriers like acne, dry, and sensitive skin. I have some good news for the ceramide-lover, there is no such thing as using too many ceramides.


Let’s talk about vitamins. The most used vitamin in skincare is Vitamin C, also known as Ascorbic Acid or L-Ascorbic Acid. It is a water-soluble antioxidant that depletes as we age. If the skin is left unprotected from UVA rays and pollution, it can speed up the decline in the skin’s natural vitamin C. Vitamin C is key for brightening the skin and protecting the skin against environmental and free radical damage. On top of that, it helps even out our skin tone and demises the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

I would recommend using Vitamin C in your skincare for anyone age 20+ wanting to prevent aging or wanting to brighten the skin. You can use Vitamin C in both the morning and evening. But if you use it in the evening, combine it with another vitamin to see the maximum effect. Personally, I would try to find a serum that contains Vitamin C, as I’ve learned that it is most productive in a higher concentrate of the ingredient.


There are other vitamins out there as well. I will quickly go through them:

Vitamin A helps with aging, acne clearing, scars, and pigmentation;
Vitamin B helps with texture, it controls oil production and reduces the appearance of pores;
Vitamin D helps with aging, stressed-out skin and it strengthens your skin;
Vitamin E protects, moisturizes, and brightens your skin.

For a proper skincare routine, I would recommend two vitamins based on what your skin needs. Use one in the morning and one in the evening. Vitamin C and E are ideal in the morning. Vitamin A and B, on the other hand, are perfect for the evening.


Glycolic Acid

Before I dive into the explanation of glycolic acid, you must know that it belongs to the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) family. The AHA family is part of the hydroxy acids. Hydroxy acids promote a healthy, even, and glowing complex while helping to reduce superficial scars, pigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. The group exists of AHA, BHA, and PHA. The AHA group is a natural group of synthetic ingredients used to exfoliate the uppermost layer of the skin.

But glycolic acid especially is the most popular ingredient of the AHA group since it is able to penetrate deep into the skin. Because it can penetrate deeper into the skin, it allows the dead skin cells to become unstuck. Essentially it acts as an exfoliant to give a brighter, smoother, and more even texture. If you are a “The Ordinary” lover, you will definitely recognize the following.

GA comes in different percentages to suit different levels of skin tolerance. Everyone can use GA, but if the lowest percentage still irritates your skin, try its larger molecule cousin of the AHA family, lactic acid. GA performs best as a toner, both in the morning and evening. Do not use too much though; overuse can create an adverse effect and cause irritation and breakouts.

For people who suffer from mild breakouts, light surface scarring, pigmentations, fine lines, and wrinkles, I would definitely recommend using this ingredient in your skincare.

Salicylic Acid

Another common acid is salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). Just like the glycolic acid, it goes in and penetrates the skin deeper than the skin surface layer. Which makes it the perfect ingredient to help speed up, de-clog, and clear out pores as well as help calm inflammation.

This ingredient is perfect for anyone whose skin is clogged with white and/or blackheads. You should never apply salicylic acid to your entire face, just on affected areas. Also, be aware that you don’t use too much because you might dry out your skin. If you’ve read our last article about skin types, you know you don’t want that.

12 Ingredients to avoid

There are a few ingredients you don’t want in your skincare products, but unfortunately, most of these are used. In the skincare world, there is something called “The Dirty Dozen”: 12 ingredients you shouldn’t use on your skin. Some of these only appear in body care, so I’ve excluded these from the following list:

1. DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine): clear, colorless, viscous liquids with ammonia-like odors. These are usually found in products that foam like facial cleansers and soaps;

2. DMDM hydantoin and UREA (Imidazolidinyl): preservatives that often release formaldehyde which may cause joint pain, skin allergies, headaches, and loss of sleep;

3. Mineral Oil: a petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging its pores. You should avoid this product because it interferes with the skin’s ability to eliminate toxins, therefore increasing the likelihood of acne and other disorders;

4. Parabens (Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, Propyl): probably the most common one, because nowadays most products are paraben-free. Even brands are starting to avoid these ingredients because they may contribute to hormone imbalance;

5. PEG (Polyethylene glycol) is usually found in cleansers to dissolve oil and grease but it can alter and reduce the skin’s natural moisture factor;

6. PHTHALATES or also known as “fragrance”;

7. You have to look out for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone“. This isn’t necessarily harmful to your skin, but it is to fish and other wildlife. So be conscious about that too;

8. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): this is a harmful product used to make products foam, lather, and bubble. Apart from that, it doesn’t do anything good for your face. Be aware because this ingredient is found in 90% of personal-care products that foam.

9. Synthetic Fragrances: synthetic should always be a red flag. Such as artificial, don’t trust that shit. These are made up of hundreds to thousands of different ingredients not listed on the label, so you are never sure what you are actually being exposed to.

And just like that, we have finished the second topic of “the ultimate skincare guide”. I hope you learned something new. If you haven’t already read our latest article about skin types, what are you waiting for? Together with this article, you have a great basic knowledge for the upcoming weeks, where I will discuss every step your skincare routine should include. I’m looking forward to it, I hope you do as well.

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