In the skincare products industry you often read about key buzz words of “active ingredients” that are used to market product launches in advertisements and magazine editorials.
Often these appear in the labeling of skin creams, toners, cleansers and even bath products to indicate active potency in reducing wrinkles, fine lines, age spots and acne.
These compounds don’t necessarily need to be created synthetically in a laboratory – they can often can be found in nature, within the plant kingdom, either to be eaten as part of a balanced diet or applied topically as an infusion, tincture, essential oil or balm.
Primarily “active ingredients” are added to skincare products in order to fight free radicals. These are toxic by-products of metabolism which create cellular damage by oxidative stress or stealing electrons from other cells. The vitamins and minerals that we eat or apply topically to our skins counteract oxidative stress and are called antioxidant.
Free radicals are most commonly associated with diets high in glycemic foods (rich carbohydrates and sugars), processed meats and red meats as well as exposure to pollution, smoking, alcohol, UV rays and chemicals.
Here are just a few of the key ingredients that are often mentioned in the beauty industry, their meaning and natural sources.
AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids
AHAs are exfoliators that remove the top layer of dead skin cells, allowing for new cell growth below. They are often found in skincare products to help repair sun damage and eliminate brown age spots. Glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid are all three powerful AHAs.
Natural sources include apple cider vinegar, grapefruit and yoghurt.
This is an anti-ageing, antioxidant molecule found in algae (specifically Haematoccus Pluvialis). Astaxanthin is 500 times more powerful than Vitamin E and 6000 times more powerful than Vitamin C.
Natural sources can be found in algae, yeast, salmon, trout, shrimp and crayfish.
Ceramides are lipid or fatty acid molecules that make up the upper layer of the skin. They are the building blocks of skin cells, holding them together and forming a protective layer that helps the skin retain moisture and acts as a barrier against microbes and environmental pollutants.
Natural sources, or phytoceramides, which are plant-based ceramides, can be found in wheat germ, brown rice, spinach and beetroots.
A naturally occurring antioxidant, the body uses Coenzyme Q10 for growth and maintenance. It prevents the generation of free radicals and helps protect the skin from sun damage and reduce fine wrinkles.
Natural sources include fish, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils.
Copper peptides promote collagen and elastin production in the skin – they are antioxidant, anti-ageing and antibacterial.
Natural sources include shitake mushrooms, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables
Electrolytes are dissolved minerals (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, bicarbonate) that work to balance the PH of the skin and the movement and distribution of water through layers of skin by stimulating channels known as aquaporins. Aquaporins are a microscopic irrigation system flowing through skin which maintain natural levels of hydration by moving fluids around the skin.
Natural sources include sea and rock salts, pickled foods, bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, seeds and nuts, green leafy vegetables and dairy products.
This is a gel like water holding molecule which is a powerful humectant and antioxidant. One molecule can hold 1000 times its weight in water. It is a naturally occurring connective tissue in our bodies and a major component of the framework on which our skin cells sit. As we age our natural production is reduced so our body’s ability to lubricate joints and keep our skin plump is lowered.
Natural sources can be found in glycerine (a by-product of soap making), rose oil and starchy root vegetables.
A form of Vitamin B3, niacinamide is an antioxidant that reduces water loss and is also used in creams to treat acne. It's known to strengthen the skin due to its ability to assist in keratin production and helps build the lipid barrier reducing inflammation.
Natural sources include foods high in yeast, also in fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables and grains.
These are protein building blocks, helping to boost collagen production, speed wound healing and help skin stay firm and smooth.
Natural sources include eggs, milk and whey.
Resveratrol is a natural antioxidant, a molecule that has been shown to protect against skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation and stress and cell damage responsible for skin cancers. It can form soluble, complex molecules with certain metal ions, inactivating them so they cannot produce free radical formation. It's known to stimulate healthy cell proliferation and for creating collagen.
Natural sources include red grape skin, peanuts, berries and dark chocolate
Also known as Vitamin A1, retinol helps to build collagen, the main structural protein found in skin and connective tissues. Retinol helps to fight the formation of fine lines, improve texture, fight acne and improve skin tone.
Natural sources can be found in foods containing high levels of beta carotene, such as carrots, seaweeds and sunflower seeds.
This is an anti-inflammatory acid that is lipid soluble, which means it can penetrate pores and clean them. It is often found in cleansers for acne prone skins.
Natural sources can be found in lemon essential oil, berries, cucumber, grapes and the herb meadowsweet.
A vitamin is an organic micronutrient that the body needs to carry out metabolic function.
Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant that stimulates collagen production.
Natural sources include citrus fruits, nettles (infused in nettle tea) tomatoes, peppers and brassicas.
Vitamin E helps to inactivate free radicals and protects the skin against cell mutation.
Natural sources can be found in sunflower oil, nuts and dairy.
A powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, Vitamin K helps prevent loss of elasticity, reduce varicose veins, decrease cell damage and synthesise collagen.
Natural sources include tea extracts (green tea, oolong tea and black tea specifically) as well as green leaves and brassicas.