2nd Sep 2020

Keeping our skin looking youthful, bright and clear can be a real challenge, but over the last few years, the skincare industry has focused on the use of active ingredients. It appears that new and allegedly miracle ingredients appear every week, so today’s blog post hopes to not only educate you on what these ingredients are but how to use them and the best products on that are out there to use. 

Active ingredients are ingredients that can be found within skincare formulas that work to target and address specific skin concerns.

These ingredients are not just said to be clinically tested, but also clinically proven. This is fundamental within skincare and means that there is scientific evidence that the ingredients and product will do what it claims and promises. Whilst these specific ingredients are backed by scientific and clinical evidence, that does not mean that the other ingredients within the formulas are useless or inactive. Products are created with an array of other components to help the active ingredient perform its role with the highest efficacy possible. 

All products that we recommend are active ingredient formulas which have scientific evidence and testing, great customer reviews and amazing results.

Here is our beginners guide …

There may be some ingredients that you have heard of, but here you will find not only an explanation of the ingredient but also what this benefits this can have for your skin, application of the product and some of our favourite products to deliver these ingredients to achieve the perfect complexion. 

Do not forget to gradually introduce these ingredients into your skincare regime carefully. Try application once of twice a week, then slowly increase the usage as your skin’s tolerance improves. This can take up to a month, but will ensure you avoid any irritation or sensitivity. If you experience a reaction to any products, immediately stop use.

We hope you find this guide helpful and cannot wait to here what your favourite active ingredients and products are …

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

AHAs are chemical exfoliants that exfoliate the skin. Every minute of the day, around 30-40,000 dead skin cells flake away from the skin, but this process of regeneration can be slowed down as a result of aging and dry skin. This causes the complexion to appear rough and can cause blocked pores. By using an AHA, this gently dissolves the bonds between surface skin cells, allowing for the dead skin cells to be removed from the outermost layer. Chemical exfoliants therefore are a great product to incorporate into your skin routine to speed up the process of skin renewal and to clear congested pores.  

AHAs have a wealth of skincare benefits including reducing the appearance of aging, evening skin texture, reducing pigmentation, helping with acne/scarring and brightening the skin. After using AHAs the skin should appear smoother, plumper and brighter. 

Common AHAs include lactic acid and glycolic acid, which can be found within serums, creams, cleansers and toners. Lactic and glycolic acid are the most common forms of AHA that are found within skincare because of their gentle formula, which means they are less likely to irritate the skin than some other forms. 

Depending upon the formula and delivery method of the product, the dosage of the AHA can vary however because they don’t penetrate deep below the skin surface, they’re ideal for all skin types, even sensitive skin. 

Our favourite AHA products include:

  • The Inkey List lactic acid serum – £7.99
  • REN ready steady glow daily AHA tonic – £27
  • Skinceuticals glycolic renewal cleanser – £30
  • Drunk Elephant framboos glycolic night serum – £76

Beta hydroxy acids

BHAs are another form of chemical exfoliants, that are perfect for those on the oiler side of the skincare spectrum. Just like AHAs, BHAs help remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin however instead of being water soluble, BHAs are oil soluble. BHAs are therefore able to penetrate the skin’s surface, deeper into the pores. This allows BHA products to clear pores of excess sebum and dirt to reduce the appearance of oiliness. These products are therefore able to remove dead and dull skin cells, without stripping the skin of its essential oils. They also possess anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so this helps for spots to disappear and calm any redness. 

BHAs have a real variety of skincare benefits including diminishing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, unclog pores, reduce overproduction of sebum and lessen formation of acne. After using BHAs the skin should appear softer, less shiny/oily and firmer. 

The most common and popular form of salicylic acid. It can be found in a range of different formulas and concentrations to target blemishes and spots. Salicylic acids are great for teenage skin. 

Our favourite BHA products include:

  • The Ordinary salicylic acid 2% masque – £9.90
  • La Roche Posay effaclar clarifying lotion – £12.50
  • Malin and Goetz salicylic gel – £19
  • Kate Somerville eradikate salicylic acid blemish spot treatment – £49


Ceramides are fat molecules (lipids) that can be found within the skin barrier. Lipids help the skin to retain its moisture and keep it looking smooth and plump and are found in the surface and upper layers of the skin. The lipids help to act as a barrier and protect the skin from exposure to pollution, dry air, and debris. Over time, these environmental stressors weaken the skin barrier and it is then compromised. 

When the skin does not contain enough ceramides and lipids, it appears dry and redness. It has been shown that conditions such as eczema and dermatitis occur as a result of low ceramide levels in the skin. 

Ceramide skincare benefits include the skin looking supple, increased natural moisture and hydration and reduced appearance of fine lines. 

To restore the lipids, it is important to use the appropriate skin care which will help to restore the ceramides in the skin and allow the skin barrier to perform optimally. By using skincare products that contain ceramides, this restores the skin’s hydration and moisture. Ceramides are most commonly delivered to the skin in serums and moisturizers to build the skin barrier and increase hydration and moisture in the skin. Since ceramides are a natural component of the skin barrier, they’re actually suitable for use on all skin types. 

Our favourite ceramide products include:

  • Mario Badescu ceramide herbal eye cream £12
  • Paula’s Choice ceramide enriched moisturizer £44
  • CeraVe moisturizing cream £16
  • Elizabeth Arden ceramide capsules line erasing night serum £42

Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

Over the last few years hyaluronic acid has become one of the staples in everyone’s skincare regime. Hyaluronic acid is a hydrophilic molecule, which means “water-loving”. Its main function is to absorb water and retain moisture in the skin, whilst stopping the loss of water from the skin through evaporation. 

Hyaluronic acid has huge benefits to the skin; these include increased hydration, reduced visibility of lines and wrinkles, noticeably supple skin and increased radiance and glow.  

Whilst we do naturally produce moisture-binding ingredient, as we age our skin’s natural hyaluronic acid production diminishes as we age. Therefore, by using products which contain hyaluronic acid will boost the skins hydration. Hyaluronic acid is perfect for those who are on the drier side of the skin spectrum in addition to anyone with fine lines and wrinkles or skin which feels tight, lacking in elasticity. Hyaluronic acid can be used twice daily, morning and night in serum or day/night cream form. 

Our favourite hyaluronic acid products include:

  • No7 hydraluminous water concentrate £16
  • Clarins hydra-essential rich cream £36
  • Paula’s Choice hyaluronic acid booster £34
  • Skinceuticals hyaluronic acid intensifier £67


Niacinamide is a derivative of vitamin B3 and is crucial for the functioning of the skin’s natural barrier. Niacinamide is a much loved skincare ingredient on the market because of its amazing ability to fight inflammation, reduce redness and irritation. It is most commonly used to treat conditions such as acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. In addition to this it is able to improve our skin’s elasticity, strengthen the outer layers of our skin and helps to boost the levels of fatty acids (which results in plumper looking skin). Niacinamide is therefore suitable for most skin-types including young and teenage skin, sensitive skin and those concerned with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Our favourite niacinamide products include:

  • The Ordinary niacinamide 10% £5
  • Paula’s Choice niacinamide booster £41
  • Drunk elephant f-balm electrolyte waterfacial £44
  • Skinceuticals metacell renewal B3 £87


Retinol is a potent derivative of vitamin A which is converted into retinoic acid (the form of vitamin A which the skin needs) once it has been absorbed into the skin. Retinol is one of the increasingly used active ingredients on the market after its numerous skin benefits have been scientifically proven. 

The skincare benefits are endless. Retinol increases skin cell turnover and renewal, which leaves its users with brighter and softer skin. It is also able to help reduce any  pigmentation. Retinol is loved for its acne-fighting ability and ability to reduce texture and uneven skin tone. One of its greatest properties is its anti-ageing ability, where retinol is able to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and look visibly younger in just several uses. 

Retinol comes in several formulations and in different concentrations. Whilst many think that the higher the concentration of something, the better the effects will be, with retinol there is a “sweet-spot” which creates the best results with minimal irritation. Formulas which are too concentrated can cause irritation to the skin and increase sensitivity to the sun, so it is important to only use retinol in th evening and layer skin in the day with an SPF. 

Our favourite retinol products include:

  • No7 advanced retinol 1.5% advanced night complex £34
  • Drunk Elephant a-passioni retinol cream £62
  • The Ordinary retinol 0.5% in squalene £11.90
  • Paula’s Choice 1% retinol booster £48

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates collagen and elastin production. This creates a younger-looking complexion, allowing the skin to look firmer and imcrease radiance. Increased vitamin C in the skin protects the skin from environmental aggressors and prevents damage. It is used for skin-brightening, hyperpigmentation-correcting, and skin tone-evening as it helps to reduce scars or spots without changing your normal skin pigmentation. 

Our favourite vitamin C products include:

  • Super Facialist glow boost skin serum £17
  • La Roche-Posay 10% vitamin C serum £38
  • Ole Henricksen banana bright vitamin C serum £53
  • Drunk Elephant c-firma day serum 15% vitamin C £67

So that concludes our first active ingredients guide. We hope that you find this really helpful and that it allows you to take your skin routine to the next level! 

Don’t forget to use the right amount of each product and be sure not to overload your skin with serums and ingredients. By following the image below, you will make sure to get all of your proportions just right and you’ll have glowing skin in no time!

Don’t forget to download WowHow for free on the App Store and Google Play where you can try, apply and buy a range of cosmetics and skincare products using our incredible technology.

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