Finding the right products for your skin is a mish, we know. What works for your favorite beauty blogger may not work for you. What works for you in your early 20's may not work for you in your late 30's. Between this and that new skincare trend or 'miracle' ingredient, it's difficult to determine which skincare products really work and are really right for you. So we've done the work for you and are making it super easy. Today, we're breaking down the very best, tried and true, science-backed skincare actives for each skin type. Trust and believe, these are the ingredients you want to look for in your products. Sensitive skin? Check. Hyper-pigmentation? We got you. Read on for the best skincare actives and ingredients for your skin.
Squalane: Also known as squalene in it's natural, unprocessed form, this lightweight lipid makes up ~10% of your skin's natural sebum, creating a protective lipid barrier that allows the skin to retain moisture and stay hydrated. You can find high levels of naturally-occurring squalene in Amaranth Seed oil.
Beta Glucan: This active provides intense hydration, while also preventing moisture loss and is 20% more hydrating than popular hyaluronic acid - whaat? This skin-soothing polysaccharide sugar is found naturally in mushrooms, oats, and algae (like Japanese Umi Budo, which you'll be hearing more about soon!)
Ceramides: Ceramides are also found in your skin's natural sebum and help the skin retain moisture. Your skin slows down production of this important lipid in your 30's. Eating soy beans, pastured eggs, and/or brown rice can help to increase your ceramides from the inside out, while using a ceramide serum (ideally that contains cholesterol & fatty acids as well) can supplement them on your skin.
Vitamin E: This powerful antioxidant helps keep your skin's protective barrier fresh and in tact by preventing oxidation of the oils/lipids on your skin. This increases moisture retention between your skin cells so your skin stays healthy and hydrated. Look for 'Tocopherols' on an ingredient list to get your daily dose.
Linoleic Acid: Studies have shown that those with oily and acne-prone skin have abnormally low levels of linoleic acid - an Omega-6 fatty acids - in their skin's sebum. Supplementing your oily skin with the fatty acids it lacks can help to regulate sebum production. Guava Seed oil contains over 76% pure Linoleic acid, but you can also find the fatty acid in Rosehip Seed oil, Rice Bran oil, and more.
Gamma-Linolenic Acid: Known as GLA, this fatty acid is not only moisturizing, it also has the ability to block androgens, a type of hormones that cause the skin to overproduce sebum. Borage oil, aka. Starflower, is the highest source of GLA of any plant oil - double that of Evening Primrose oil (it does oxidize quickly, however, so look for a Supercritical / Co2 extracted version of this oil!)
Vitamin D: This essential vitamin has been shown in studies to help regulate and suppress sebum production, while also offering protective and skin-soothing benefits. Look for ingredients like Maitake or Shiitake mushroom for a plant-based dose of topical Vitamin D.
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): This essential vitamin is touted as having all kinds of miracle effects on the skin, but for some, the jury is out. What science has been able to prove, however, is niacinamide's ability to reduce excess sebum, inflammation and acne just as well as some prescription acne treatments. It does this by inhibiting the production of sebum when applied topically, making this a top active for oily and breakout-prone complexions. Mushrooms are a natural source of Vitamin B3, but an isolated active listed as Niacinamide on an ingredients list will be the most effective.
Linoleic Acid: As mentioned above, studies have shown that those of us with acne-prone skin have abnormally low levels of linoleic acid in our skin's sebum. The benefits of topically applying linoleic acid to acne-prone skin have been proven by scientific research. One study saw a 25% reduction in micro-comedones (clogged pores) after just one month of treatment. You can find crazy-high levels of linoleic acid in Guava Seed oil as mentioned above or in a number of other plant oils.
Curcumin: Most commonly known as the active found in turmeric, curcumin is renowned for it's anti-inflammatory benefits. While it's oral bioavailability (when taken internally) is questionable, it's topical bioavailability is way better! You can find this skin-soothing, acne-healing active in Turmeric or Temulawak, a more rare, Indonesian root from the same family.
Salicylic Acid: Exfoliation is vital to keeping acne-prone skin clear, especially because we tend to overproduce sebum and not turn over cells as quickly. However, some exfoliants - both chemical and physical - are too harsh and do more harm than good to acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid, naturally found in Willow Bark, is a beta-hydroxy-acid (BHA) that digs deep and cleans out pores, increases cell turnover and has been proven beneficial to acne-prone skin. A low % used 1-2x per week is all you need.
Zinc: This essential mineral is amazing for acne-prone skin for a few reasons. First, people who suffer from acne often also have a zinc deficiency. So getting your zinc internally through clean proteins like Organic chicken, grass-fed beef, legumes, seeds, or tofu is essential. Applied to your skin, zinc has anti-inflammatory benefits, fights off acne-causing bacteria, and helps to reduce sebum production. Wearing a daily mineral SPF is an easy way to get your daily dose.
CBD: That's right, CBD - aka. Cannabidiol - is not just a trend. These active cannabinoids found in Hemp extract have been shown to suppress breakouts by regulating sebum production. Not to mention, CBD has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects on the skin. Note that CBD is not found in Hemp Seed oil - look for Hemp extract that's extracted from the Hemp plant, not the seeds.
Linoleic Acid: We can't toot linoleic acid's horn enough. This lightweight Omega-6 fatty acid is moisturizing, yet non-comedogenic (meaning it won't clog your pores) and has anti-inflammatory properties that are perfect for soothing sensitive skin.
Lactic Acid: Stronger exfoliating acids like glycolic acid tend to be way too harsh for sensitive skin. Lactic acid is one of the best skincare actives for sensitive skin because it offers all of the benefits of an exfoliating acid - increases cell turnover, sloughs away dead skin cells - without irritating or causing uncomfortable skin symptoms. Look for a low concentration of lactic acid and use 1-2x per week in the evenings for best results.
Retinol (Vitamin A): The HG of skincare actives, right? Everybody loves retinoids. This essential vitamin is truly amazing for it's 'anti-aging' skin benefits - it increases cell turnover so your skin produces new, young and healthy cells on a regular basis (a process that slows as we age), it stimulates collagen to give skin a plump, fresh-faced appearance. Basically, if you don't have retinol in your routine yet, get. on. it. We love a good natural retinol over the synthetic stuff because they come with all of the benefits and none of the fuss. Look for plant oils like Cacay oil (it's 3x more powerful than Rosehip Seed oil) or look for botanical ingredients like Moth Bean or Bakuchiol.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant that protects your skin from damage and plays a critical role in collagen synthesis. Collagen is what gives your skin a plump and bouncy, youthful appearance. Because collagen production naturally drops as we age (this is why seniors' skin tends to have a more sunken appearance), it's super helpful to supplement the skin with actives that will boost collagen production. In addition, transport proteins just for Vitamin C are found in all layers of the skin, making it incredibly bioavailable and effective when applied topically. Be wary of L-Ascorbic Acid in a product unless they have a very well-formulated preservative system - without it, this form of Vitamin C oxidizes within days of being added to a product and is rendered completely useless. We prefer more stable and gentle forms of Vitamin C like Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate and Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate.
Caffeine: We wrote a whole blog on the science-backed skin benefits of Caffeine, but very simply, caffeine applied topically has the proven ability to increase microcirculation in your skin and boost skin cell regeneration. At the same time, it's potent antioxidant properties help protect your skin cells and slow down the process of photo-aging. The most common source of caffeine is, of course, Coffee, but botanicals like Guarana have 3x more caffeine!
Hyaluronic Acid (HA): This popular active keeps skin hydrated and youthful all day long by helping the skin retain moisture rather than losing moisture to the environment. This is a process called trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) that increases as we age, while natural HA found in the skin decreases. Applied topically, HA molecules can hold 1,000x their weight in moisture and deliver all that goodness deep into the layers of your skin. Here's the kicker - most of the hyaluronic acid found in skincare products has molecules that are way too big to delivery anything into your skin. This makes it effectively useless as it just sits on top of your skin. Be sure to verify that a product contains low molecular weight HA - anything over 500 Daltons will not penetrate the skin. The smaller the molecular weight, the better.
Note: all of the 'anti-aging' actives above have great benefits for hyper-pigmentation as well. The following are additional ingredients and actives to look for.
Carotenoids: Also known as pro-Vitamin A, carotenoids are antioxidants that have photo-protective properties and help to block the formation of melanin (which is what creates the appearance of dark spots and hyper-pigmentation.) In fact, those with a high concentration of carotenes in their skin have been shown in studies to look subjectively younger and healthier than others. Carotenoids can be found in plant oils like Sea Buckthorn oil (be sure it's the real thing!), Pequi oil, Buriti oil, and more.
Alpha-Hydroxy-Acids: Cell turnover and regeneration is key to reducing the appearance of hyper-pigmentation over time. As with any hyper-pigmentation treatment, visible results take time - a minimum of 12 weeks of consistent use is a good rule of thumb. Regular exfoliation can help with this process. Glycolic acid is great if your skin can handle it, and something like Mandelic Acid works well for more sensitive skin types (it's especially helpful for acne scars!) You can find these isolated acids in many skincare products, but for gentler botanical sources, look for ingredients like Hibiscus, citrus fruits, and sugar cane.
There you have it! The best skincare actives and ingredients for each skin type. Have questions or need custom recommendations? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free custom consultation and skincare routine.