Top 10 Active Ingredients You Need to Transform Your Skin: The Beauty Guru Cheat Sheet

A truly great serum can transform your skin. However there is a myth that serums can penetrate deep into the skin, but that’s not how it works. “The skin is a barrier, and with skin care even really potent skin elixirs only the top layer- the epidermis is accessible. A good molecule is a biological messenger for the epidermal cells. The message received triggers a series of cascading events able to reach the targeted cells in the skin’s deeper layers”, states award winning dermatologist-chemist Dr Colette Haydon.

I would advise on applying a serum twice a day and preferably one for day and another for night. Also, I personally prefer to use one active ingredient at a time. I’m a big skeptic when it comes to products that over 20 different active ingredients at a time. I tend to think to myself, having that many active ingredients could potentially cancel each other out. Plus, having too many things at once tend to confuse the skin. I would much rather using one product at a time and when I feel that my skin has gotten to where it has needed then I would move on to another active ingredient. Changing up a routine after a while works wonders for your skin, it’s giving it a change of scenery.

If you are in your early-twenties it is time to start thinking about serums as we start to loose our collagen and elastin by the age of 25. Plus the earlier you get into the habit, the bigger the payback as you get older.

Here is a brief list of which serums to consider:

1. Vitamin C (AM):

I would always advise on using a minimum of SPF30 during the day regardless of whether you are using Vitamin C or not, but more so when you use Vitamin C.  Vitamin C serum is known to help with lightening sunspots. So it’s a little like, you are trying to reverse the effects of sun damage and by using a sunscreen, it helps by preventing any further sun damage.

2. Niacinamide (AM/PM): 

Also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid, niacinamide is a very effective skin-restoring ingredient that offers multiple benefits for aging skin. Among these benefits is the ability to improve the appearance of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, dullness, and a weakened skin surface.

3. Squalane (AM/PM):

Not to be confused with squalene (with an “e”) squalane is known as being non-comedogenic (non-pore clogging). Our skin naturally produces squalane, the production of this chemical slows drastically after age thirty, thus contributing to fine lines. Using a squalane serum may help restore the proper balance of the skin’s oils.

Squalene was traditionally sourced from sharks but thanks to technology there is now plant-based squalane i.e.: Olive-derived or sugarcane derived. Squalane basically is a hydrocarbon derived by hydrogenation of squalene. Besides its anti-aging effects, it helps maintain healthy skin.

Squalane is rapidly absorbed and spreads easily over the skin surface without leaving an oily or greasy feeling. Squalane is a natural part of human skin and plays an important role in the repair of damaged skin. There are now even an entire skin care brand based on squalane, namely Biossance.

4. Retinol/ Retinoid (PM):

A vitamin A derivatives, it have been proven to boost collagen production (reducing wrinkles and preventing fine lines), speed cell turnover (evening out discolouration and brightening skin tone) and unclog pores (making them look smaller and reducing acne). I basically love retinol and have even added on Rose Hip (natural retinol) oil on top of my retinol to prevent from any flakiness as a side-effect of retinol. Since switching to The Ordinary Advance Retinol 2% (Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion), I’m happy to report there has been zero flaking. However, I’ve read that Health Canada (The Ordinary is produced in Canada) limits hydroxypinacolone retinoate to a 1% concentration, so there’s not actually 2% in here— and the formula only consists 0.1% of encapsulated retinol (a.k.a the real potent stuff).

The best part is that retinol/ retinoids also helps clear clogged pores and deters blackheads from forming. Which is excellent news for those with combination skin. Hallelujah!

Please note that it is more effective to apply retinoids/retinols on a daily basis on a lower % as opposed to applying it every other day on a stronger formula.

5. Alpha Lipoic Acid/ ALA (PM):

Alpha Lipoic Acid is a highly potent antioxidant. Research has found that ALA has more than 400X the antioxidant of a the network of Vitamin C & E combined. It can restore a renewed skin appearance, improving visible skin texture and tone when applied topically. It is both water and oil soluble and therefore makes it very easily absorbed into the skin. ALA can give you an “overnight glow” with just one application which is great especially if you are looking to take a “makeup day off”. Due to the photo-sensitivity nature of Alpha Lipoic Acid, it is advised to only use it at night time.

6. Alpha Arbutin (AM/PM): 

Alpha Arbutin helps reduce the appearance of dark spots, hyper pigmentation and minor acne scarring. It is also known as a skin lightening/ whitening agent. It works by slowly releasing hydroquinone through hydrolysis, which in turn blocks Tyrosinase activity and reduces the skin’s melanin (pigmentation) production. Alpha Arbutin is known to be much stronger in effect than Arbutin or Beta Arbutin.

If you intend to use Alpha Arbutin during the day, it is recommended that you apply a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF30.

7. Hyaluronic Acid (AM/PM)

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) can attract up to 1,000X its weight in water. The molecular size of HA determines its depth of delivery in the skin. Hyaluronic acid (also known as a glycosaminoglycan) is often touted for its ability to “reverse” or stop aging by many skin care products. Hyaluronic Acid is found in the skin naturally but its natural function within the skin is not hydration.

Many products have used HA to claim hydration benefits, but HA is too large of a molecule to penetrate the skin and instead sits on the surface and can draw moisture out of the skin- only making the surface feel soft and hydrated temporarily. Therefore, it is important to choose a formula that has  varying molecular weights, as well as an HA crosspolymer, to offer multi-depth hydration and visible plumping.

8. Beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) (PM)

Salicylic acid removes dead skin and can improve the texture and colour of sun-damaged skin. It penetrates oil-laden hair follicle openings and, as a result, also helps with acne. Therefore, most acne-focused skin care products available contain salicylic acid. Some are available over the counter and others need a doctor’s prescription. Studies have shown that salicylic acid is less irritating than skin care products containing alpha-hydroxy acids, while providing similar improvement in skin texture and colour.

9. Glycolic Acid (PM)

Glycolic Acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid that exfoliates the skin, which most commonly comes in a form of a toner. This active enhances and improve skin radiance and texture. Think of it as a mild exfoliator. Glycolic Acid is great for blemish prone skin. Ideally it should only be used at night as it may cause skin photo sensitivity. If you have a congested T-zone, I would highly recommend that you apply this on your T-zone (focusing on your nose area) as this would help unclog blackheads. For those those with sensitive skin, peeling or compromised skin should avoid glycolic acid at all costs.

10. Coenzyme Q-10/ CoQ10 (AM/PM)

Also known as ubiquinone, CoQ10 is an essential nutrient for the basic functioning of the human cell. As a topical formula, CoQ10 is known for its powerful anti-oxidant benefits, protecting the skin from environmental stressors (i.e.: protecting skin from ultraviolet damage/ neutralises harmful free radicals), tightens skin, and helps reduce fine lines by encouraging collagen production.



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