I don’t know about you, but having spent the majority of pandemic life glued to skin care TikTok, trying to justify a million purchases recommended by everyone from esthetician Caroline Hirons to #skinfluencer Hyram Yarbro, I feel I’ve learned a thing or two about sussing out the right — and wrong — ingredients in my skin care products. (However, I’ll leave the shareable Instagram infographics to the professionals.) But let’s be real: There’s still a ton of misinformation out there. From the oversimplification of skin care dos and don’ts to the inevitable #sponcon to new ingredients popping up every minute, it can feel nearly impossible to figure out which skin care ingredients are really beneficial and what’s just another gimmick.
As a consumer and all-round beauty lover, I want nothing more than to be in the know about which skin care ingredients might be game-changers within my routine — and if it’ll give me a lasting glow, I’ll take 10. It can, however, feel overwhelming to keep up with the latest actives and ingredients on everyone’s lips. I mean, just as quickly as I grasped the ins and outs of niacinamide (and how to pronounce it, for that matter), an influx of new, harder-to-pronounce ingredients were thrown my way. And as much as you might love your favorite #skinfluencer, though, they may not always be the best-equipped to give you the correct, no-B.S. answer when it comes to the skin care ingredients you actually need.
Instead, it’s best to go straight to the source: dermatologists. Thankfully, Elite Daily asked five dermatologists to share the one ingredient they believe you need in your skin care routine. I hope you’ve got your Notes app ready, because you’ll want to remember these.
Must-Have Skin Care Ingredient: Retinol
Retinoids are a class of vitamin A derivatives, which dermatologist Dr. Katie Beleznay, MD, FRCPC, a clinical instructor at the Department of Dermatology, UBC, describes as a commonly touted "holy grail" ingredient among dermatologists, and one that holds a multitude of benefits. “You’re probably familiar with retinol, which is a specific type of retinoid, usually available over the counter and not as strong as other retinoids,” says Dr. Beleznay. “Benefits of retinoids include promoting skin cell turnover, which can remove dead skin cells and prevent pores from clogging.” This ingredient can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with acne, as well as “photoaging, skin texture, fine lines, and pigmentation.”
If, like me, you might be a little hesitant to try a retinoid — its reputation for being harsh or irritating precedes it — Dr. Beleznay has some encouraging advice. “I realize that retinoids may feel intimidating to some, and while some people with sensitive skin ultimately may not be able to tolerate retinoids, the reality is most people do well once their skin has time to adjust,” she says. To help your skin learn to tolerate stronger ingredients like retinoids, Dr. Beleznay suggests different adjustments to your skin care routine, like pausing for “10 to 15 minutes after cleansing before applying your retinoid,” applying the product between two moisturizing products, and ditching the “harsh cleansers, exfoliating scrubs, and astringents'' when you’re using a retinoid.
Retinol-Infused Products To Try
Must-Have Skin Care Ingredient: Niacinamide
Niacinamide is an ingredient many experts predicted would flourish as a buzzy skin care trend well into 2021 — and they were absolutely right. This form of vitamin B3 is an all-round must-have that no one can seem to get enough of, so much so that brands are popping the ingredient into most formulas, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.
“Niacinamide is well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin,” Dr. Shaaira Nasir, Consultant Dermatologist at sk:n, says. “It is beneficial to those who have inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema by reducing redness and inflammation; strengthens the skin barrier; and combats skin-aging by reducing free radicals from pollution and the sun, among many other benefits.”
You can find niacinamide in a whole heap of skin care products, from serums to moisturizers to eye creams, and even in some makeup products, like mists or CC creams. Dr. Nasir says niacinamide is “best applied after washing your face and applied to dry skin.”
Niacinamide Products To Try
Must-Have Skin Care Ingredient: Humectants
Rather than one ingredient, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Angelo Landriscina, MD, FAAD recommends products formulated with humectants. “Humectants are molecules that attract water from your skin care products and the environment and hold them within the skin to optimize hydration,” says Dr. Landriscina. Humectants can be used by all skin types for added hydration in your routine. But for this class of ingredients, you’ll want to read the ingredient list closely to spot some common players.
“Without humectants, the skin can look dull and wrinkles may be more apparent,” says Dr. Landriscina. “Examples of humectants you may be familiar with include glycerin and hyaluronic acid.” Humectants will usually make an appearance in your moisturizers; however, if you’re looking to add more humectants into your routine to help relieve drier skin, Dr. Landriscina recommends “applying them before your moisturizer, since the moisturizer will help to seal them in.” You’ll want to look for products like serums or essences and apply them to damp skin “so they have water to hold on to.”
Humectant-Infused Products To Try
Must-Have Skin Care Ingredient: Hydroxy Acids
Dr. Camille Howard-Verovic DO, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Girl+Hair, also recommends using a class of ingredients rather than just one: hydroxy acids (i.e. alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, polyhydroxy acids). “Most of us know them as AHAs, BHAs, or PHAs. A few examples of alpha hydroxy acids are glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and lactic acid,” says Dr. Howard. You might also recognize salicylic acid as a type of BHA. “Hydroxy acids work by removing the very top layer of keratinocytes (cells of the skin), as well as aiding in increasing the firmness of the skin.”
Different types of hydroxy acids are commonly found in chemical exfoliants and toners, often marketed as helping tackle dullness and hydration, although they can be present in other skin care products, like cleansers and moisturizers. Because any type of acid can be harsh or irritating on your skin, it’s always best to read a product’s instructions to determine how frequently you should use it. “The utilization of alpha hydroxy acids is often formulation-dependent,” says Dr. Howard. “If you have sensitive skin, you should try to incorporate a more gentle hydroxy acid, like polyhydroxy acids — namely, gluconolactone.”
Hydroxy Acid Products To Try
Must-Have Skin Care Ingredient: Vitamin C
Last, and by no means least, is the one and only vitamin C. You probably don’t need convincing as to why this antioxidant is a great addition to your skin care routine, but in case you do, just know this ingredient is often your ticket to lasting, luminous skin. “Vitamin C is suitable for all skin types, as its concentrations of 10-15% are effective for nearly everyone,” says consultant dermatologist Dr. Mary Sommerlad, MBBS, MRCP. “Concentrations above 15% may irritate those with sensitive skin, eczema, or rosacea.”
Vitamin C is the perfect go-to ingredient if you’re looking for a glow-up, although it’s also proven effective at evening out your skin tone and boosting collagen production, too. Dr. Sommerlad also highlights that vitamin C “mops up free radicals generated from environmental stressors, such as pollution and UV radiation.” While vitamin C does help with sun exposure, it should not be a substitute for your daily SPF.