Understanding the Ingredients in Skin Care Products
(Also Called 'Facial Cosmetics')
The information in this document will help you understand the latest ingredients in skin care products that may benefit your skin.
Use this information to sort through various skin care products on the market. If you’re still unsure which skin care products are right for you, ask your dermatologist or consult with a skin esthetician at your local salon or beauty counter.
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
Over-the-counter skin care products containing alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric acids) have become increasingly popular over the last five years. In the U.S. alone, there are over 200 manufacturers of skin care products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids. Creams and lotions with alpha-hydroxy acids may help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation and age spots, and may help decrease enlarged pores. Side effects of alpha-hydroxy acids include mild irritation and sun sensitivity. For that reason, sunscreen also should be used every morning. To help avoid skin irritation with alpha-hydroxy acids, it is advisable to start with a product with concentrations of AHA of 10 to 15 percent. Also, make sure you ease into it. You want to get your skin used to alpha-hydroxy acids, so you should only initially apply the skin care product every other day, gradually working up to daily application.
Beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid)
Salicylic acid also has been studied for its effect on skin that has aged prematurely due to exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. It exfoliates skin and can improve the texture and color of the skin. It penetrates oil-laden hair follicle openings and, as a result, also helps with acne. There are many skin care products available that contain salicylic acid. Some are available over-the-counter and others require 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 color.
Skin care products containing hydroquinone are popularly referred to as bleaching creams or lightening agents. These skin care products are used to lighten hyperpigmentation, such as age spots and dark spots related to pregnancy or hormone therapy (melasma or chloasma). Some over-the-counter skin care products contain hydroquinone, but your doctor can also prescribe a cream with a higher concentration of hydroquinone if your skin doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments. If you are allergic to hydroquinones, you may benefit from use of products containing kojic acid instead.
Kojic acid is a more recent remedy for the treatment of pigment problems and age spots. Discovered in 1989, kojic acid has a similar effect as hydroquinone. Kojic acid is derived from a fungus, and studies have shown that it is effective as a lightening agent, inhibiting production of melanin (brown pigment).
This is a derivative of vitamin A, and you will see that a lot of skin care products contain retinol. Retinol’s stronger counterpart is tretinoin, which is the active ingredient in Retin-A and Renova. If your skin is too sensitive to use Retin-A, retinol is an excellent alternative. Here’s why skin responds to skin care products with retinol: vitamin A has a molecular structure that’s tiny enough to get into the lower layers of skin, where it finds collagen and elastin. Retinol is proven to improve mottled pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone and color, and your skin’s hydration levels. You may also hear about retinyl palmitate. This falls into the same family as retinol, but if the skin care product you choose contains retinyl palmitate, you will need to use more of this product than one that contains retinol to get the same effect.
This is the only form of vitamin C that you should look for in your skin care products. There are many skin care products on the market today that boast vitamin C derivatives as an ingredient (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate, for example), but L-ascorbic acid is the only useful form of vitamin C in skin care products. Vitamin C is the only antioxidant that is proven to stimulate the synthesis of collagen as well, which is essential since your body’s natural collagen production decreases as you age. Sun exposure will also accelerate the decrease in collagen. Studies have shown that vitamin C helps to minimize fine lines, scars, and wrinkles.
Skin care products containing this substance are often used in conjunction with vitamin C products to assist in effective penetration. Hyaluronic acid (also known as a glycosaminoglycan) is often touted for its ability to "reverse" or stop aging. In news reports, you might have heard of hyaluronic acid as the "key to the fountain of youth." This is because the substance occurs naturally (and quite abundantly) in humans and animals, and is found in young skin, other tissues, and joint fluid. Hyaluronic acid is a component of the body’s connective tissues, and is known to cushion and lubricate. As you age, however, the forces of nature destroy hyaluronic acid. Diet and smoking can also affect your body’s level of hyaluronic acid over time. Skin care products with hyaluronic acid are most frequently used to treat wrinkled skin.
You may have heard of alpha-lipoic acid as "the miracle in a jar" for its anti-aging effects. It’s a newer, ultra-potent antioxidant that helps fight future skin damage and helps repair past damage. Alpha-lipoic acid has been referred to as a "universal antioxidant" because it’s soluble in both water and oil, which permits its entrance to all parts of the cell. Due to this quality, it is believed that alpha-lipoic acid can provide the greatest protection against damaging free radicals when compared with other antioxidants. Alpha-lipoic acid diminishes fine lines, gives skin a healthy glow, and boosts levels of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C.
If you’ve heard of fish referred to as brain food, you can thank DMAE. This substance is naturally produced in the brain, but DMAE is also present in anchovies, salmon and sardines, boosting the production of acetylcholine, which is important for proper mental functions. DMAE in skin care products shows remarkable effects when applied topically to skin, resulting in the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.
Draelos ZD. Cosmeceuticals. In: Alam M, Pongprutthipan M, editors. Body Rejuvenation. 1st ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2010: Chap 8.
Reszko AE, Berson D, Lupo M. Cosmeceuticals: practical applications. Clinics in Dermatology 2009; 27(4):401-416.
Grossman R. The role of dimethylaminoethanol in cosmetic dermatology. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology2005; 6(1):39-47.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/24/2011...#10980
** Superior Skin Secrets use all of these ingredients in our products. Please check out the ingredient lists on our website.