Beauty,  Health

Skincare Ingredients: A-Z

In an effort to step up my skincare routine as a big birthday begins to approach, *cough 30 *cough, I wanted to learn more about the key ingredients I should be looking for. The price point for skincare can range from reasonable to bat-sh!# crazy for products with very similar active ingredients. After doing some research, I noticed a pattern in the biggest “work horse” ingredients. I have broken down ingredients that are beneficial below and how I have incorporated them into my skincare routine. Hopefully this will be helpful if you are also looking to step up your skincare game!

Here are some ingredients to look for:

Vitamin A/ Retinol/ Retinoids

What it does: Retinoids can treat a number of conditions including acne, discolouration, and signs of aging!

For acne, retinoids act as comedolytic agents and regulate skin cell turnover. They prevent clogged pores by sloughing away dead skin cells and can help loosen the plug of comedones (black heads/white heads) that have already formed.

To minimize signs of aging, retinoids help by repairing photodamage, including reducing hyperpigmentation, roughness, and fine lines. They do this by speeding up skin cell turnover, evening out pigmentation, and increasing the production of collagen.

How to use: Retinoids are best used at bedtime since they are photosensitizing – they can make you more sensitive to the sun. Due to this, SUNSCREEN is a must with any retinoid. Most people also have to build up a tolerance to retinoids since they can cause irritation and be very drying. Start with a low percentage product a few times per week and work up to using it more often as your skin tolerates.

There are prescription and non-prescription options available. Retinol and vitamin A derivatives can be found over the counter without a prescription. Prescription options include: Tretinoin (most studied for anti-aging of the prescription options), Tazarotene (mostly studied in acne, strongest formulation), Adapalene (mostly studied in acne, least irritating)

In my skincare routine: TactuPump* –prescription acne medication with adapalene and benzoyl peroxide. Helping with current Spencer problems: acne AND future Spencer problems: aging. Win win for me!

*avoid using retinoids at the same time as benzoyl peroxide unless combined in a product with tested stability (like Tactupump)

Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)

What it does: Topical niacinamide has been shown to have multiple benefits including helping to control oil production and inflammation (good for acne!). It can also help to fade dark spots and decrease redness or irritation. Niacinamide also increases the production of ceramides and lipids helping to restore moisture to the skin.

How to use: Niacinamide can be used day and night. Found in all sorts of formulations including cleansers, serums, and creams.

In my skincare routine: CeraVe eye repair cream, CereVe PM lotion – both have niacinamide listed very high in the ingredient list!

Vitamin C

What it does: Vitamin C, or L-ascobic acid, is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals to prevent skin cell damage and photodamage. It helps to brighten skin by decreasing hyperpigmentation/dark spots and has been shown to help increase collagen.

How to use: Look for L-ascorbic acid, the form of Vitamin C most studied for its skin benefits. Vitamin C is notoriously finicky to formulate for two reasons. One, since it is water soluble it is difficult to get it to pass through the skin lipid barrier. Second, it is not an overly stable compound and can oxidize when exposed to air or light. Due to this, I would stick with reputable tried and true products. Two that kept coming up in my research were Skinceuticals (CE Ferulic or Phloretin CF) and L’Oreal Revitalift 10% pure Vitamin C. Skinceuticals looks to have the most science based evidence but does come with a hefty price tag to match.

In my skincare routine: I am not currently using a vitamin C serum, but have been thinking about trying one. What Vitamin C product do you use? Any recommendations?


What it does: Ceramides are lipids that help to maintain the skin cell barrier. An improved skin barrier = less moisture loss and less damage from environmental stress. Using topically can help repair a lipid layer that has been damaged (ie. in eczema or dry skin) or keep it in fighting shape! The end result is smoother, more hydrated, less sensitive skin.

How to use: Can be used daily, multiple times per day. It is often found in combination with cholesterol, fatty acids, glycerin to repair and hydrate skin. Look for it in cleansers, and hydrating creams.

In my skincare routine: CeraVe !!

Hyaluronic acid (HA)

What it does: Hyaluronic acid is a humectant – it can hold up to 1000x its weight in water. It helps to hold moisture in our skin where we want it and prevent it from evaporating into the environment. More moisturized skin equals skin that looks more plump, glowy, and smooth!

How to use: Often found in hydrating creams, serums, lotions and cleansers. Can often also be called sodium hyaluronate, the salt that is derived from HA. Sodium hyaluronate has the same benefits but absorbs into skin more easily.

In my skincare routine: CereVe PM, CeraVe Cream, Neutrogena Hydro Boost gel cream, Glossier FutureDew


What it does: Zinc (look for zinc oxide or zinc PCA) has anti-inflammatory properties which helps to calm redness. It has been shown to be beneficial for acne, rosacea, eczema etc. Zinc oxide also protects against UVA and UVB rays and is used as a physical sunscreen.

How to use: Zinc oxide tends to be the sunscreen ingredient best tolerated in an individual with sensitive, reactive skin due to its calming and anti-inflammatory effects. By wearing a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide you are also preventing sun damage. In addition to sunscreen, you can also find zinc, usually zinc PCA, in serums designed to and calm skin and breakouts.

In my skincare routine: Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense. No white-cast, silky smooth, doesn’t feel like sunscreen at all! Plus all of the benefits of zinc oxide while protecting my skin from the sun. Another win-win!

A lifestyle blog inspired by all of the things I share with my twin sister. Skincare and style finds, food ideas, health and advice.

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