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Your A to Z Guide to Common Skincare Ingredients

Here's where to start with your beauty regimen.

If you want to build a skincare routine, you’ve probably Googled a lot of beauty products and how they promise to give you that soft, dewy skin that’s all the rage these days. However, the world of skincare is so vast and complex, you might buy products that are not really suited for your skin type.

So to help you navigate, here’s a glossary of the common skincare ingredients found in beauty products and how they benefit your skin. After all, we want to get our money’s worth— and when it comes to our skin, we cannot take any chances!

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

AHA is a type of chemical exfoliant that loosens the bonds that hold skin cells together. This allows them to be easily swept away to reveal new skin cells underneath. If you have a dull complexion, it’s best to go for products that contain AHAs.

Photos from (THE INKEY LIST Alpha Hydroxy Acid Serum) Shopee Malaysia and (background) Freepik

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common acne treatments on the market. It can kill the type of bacteria that’s often responsible for inflamed acne. However, if you plan to use a product with this ingredient, make sure to use a moisturizer as it can irritate or dry out your skin. (Read: 5 Beauty Brands That Are Cruelty-Free, Vegan, or Both)


Collagen is a protein that makes up 80% of the skin. The fibers present in collagen make skin firm and strong. As we age, collagen naturally breaks down— exposure to UV radiation degrades collagen as well. A word of caution though, many products claim that they can boost the production of collagen but drinking collagen supplements haven’t been scientifically proven to help much. To preserve collagen, wear sunscreen!

Decyl Glucoside

If you’re a fan of sudsy cleansers, having this ingredient will be beneficial for you. Decyl glucoside is a surfactant that helps substances like oil and dirt dissolve and washes away in water. Cleansers with this ingredient foam satisfyingly without the harshness and sticky feel on your face. It’s gentle on the skin and biodegradable, too!

Vitamin E

Vitamin E’s main role in the body is to act as a fat-soluble antioxidant. When it comes to sun protection, a topical application will get you the best results.

Photo from Healthline

Ferulic Acids

Ferulic acid is commonly found in anti-aging products. It is best to use in combination with Vitamin C and E for sun protection, combat pigmentation, and prevent fine lines and wrinkles. (Read: Skincare during quarantine: Three easy tips from a dermatologist)

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is one of the most popular face acids because it helps loosen the upper layers of dead skin cells to reveal smoother, clearer skin. However, too much can be irritating and may damage your skin barrier. Use SPF in the day when trying this out as acids increase sun sensitivity.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is responsible for keeping your face plump and hydrated. You can find hyaluronic acid in moisturizers and serums. It helps in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. If you’re using a serum that’s mostly hyaluronic acid, apply it over moist skin to maximize its hydration benefits.

Photos from (The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5) Allure, (Boots Ingredients Hyaluronic Acid Sleep Mask) What’s in my jar, and (background) Freepik

Iron oxide

Iron oxide is responsible for the skin-colored pigment in foundations. It usually comes in red, yellow, and brown and are combined with white to have different shades of skin tones. Iron oxide is found to absorb UVB and UVA, two of the most harmful light rays. If you’re stepping outside, using a foundation albeit very light can be helpful to fight skin pigmentation and sunburns. (Read: 5 Easy Ways to Make a Relaxing Spa at Home)

Jojoba Oil or Beads

If you have oily skin, consider using jojoba oil or products that have jojoba oil. Because of the beauty industry’s raised consciousness to be environment-friendly, jojoba beads are replacing plastic microbeads in exfoliators. Another plus is they are gentle on the skin because of their soft texture. Jojoba oil/beads are helpful in removing visible skin flakes and help brighten dull and rough skin. 

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is usually present in whitening soaps and is proven effective at fading hyperpigmentation and discoloration in your skin. It also acts as an antioxidant. It can be used daily but experts say that it really depends on the acid’s concentration levels.

Photo from

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is a milder type of AHA. It is specifically used to treat age spots, dark spots, and is helpful in reducing pore appearance. (Read: 4 Amazing Health Benefits of Avocado)

Micellar Water

Micellar water is the holy grail of lazy people when taking care of their skin. This no-rinse liquid cleanser cleans makeup, oil, and dirt and is mild enough for sensitive and acne-prone skin.


Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 and is considered one of the holy grails of skin. Aside from curing pesky skin problems, it also protects your skin barrier to prevent water loss and dehydration. Products with niacinamide can be used by people of all skin types. It is present in almost all beauty products.


Oatmeal has been proven effective by skincare gurus and dermatologists alike. It is a powerful anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory product and is beneficial for skin suffering from eczema and psoriasis. The oatmeal extract is common in cosmetic products because it an antioxidant and has UV-protective effects. You can DIY beauty regimens using oatmeal such as a mask, serum, or essence, and for soothing skin irritation.


Parabens are chemicals or preservatives used to protect beauty products and cosmetics against the growth of bacteria and fungi. Though many people would opt for paraben-free products, experts agree that it is safe when used at very low levels.

Photo from Birchbox


Retinol is derived from vitamin A and is useful to increase collagen production. OTC products only allow 1% retinol but you could opt for less irritating forms such as retinyl palmitate and retinaldehyde.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is helpful in reducing the appearance of pores because it is capable of loosening the top layers of your skin leaving behind brighter, smoother skin. It can also calm down redness and acne-prone skin.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is usually used to target acne-prone skin. If you don’t like benzoyl peroxide, try tea tree oil as it is less irritating. It is usually used as a serum or as a spot treatment for pimples. (Read: 3 Ways You Can Help Small Businesses Without Paying Out)


Urea acts as a moisturizer ingredient because it can hold water to keep your skin hydrated. It also acts as an exfoliant to help remove dead skin. Hand creams and foot treatments usually have a high concentration of urea because it can be anti-itching and antimicrobial.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel has had a cult following as a toner ingredient but since these products are usually alcohol-based, they can dry out your skin. As an astringent, it temporarily tightens pores, reduces puffiness, and refines skin texture. It also decreases skin redness. 

Photo from

Z Zinc oxide

Zinc oxide can be found in sunscreens, calamine lotions, and diaper rash creams. Sunscreens with zinc oxide as base tend to be thick and sticky but are actually good for people with sensitive skin. If you are not a fan of sticky products, it is best to use zinc oxide-based sunscreens when you’re at the beach because it is proven effective to reduce sunburn, skin cancer, and premature sun-induced aging. Perfect for beach bums!

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