Popular Actives and How to Use Them!

Oct. 11, 2020
Skincare products that focus on one ingredient (usually referred to as an active) are becoming more and more popular these days. The good news is we can customize our own skin routine. The bad news? If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could make your skin worse. 
When using actives there’s a fine balance to get the maximum benefits without overdoing it. Layering more actives does not equal better skin, nor does it mean your skin concerns will be treated faster. 
Let's talk about the most popular actives and how to properly use them.
Alpha hydroxy acids are actives that include glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids. They are water soluble and work on the skin’s surface, making them a gentle chemical exfoliant and suitable for dry and sensitive skin types. 
AHA’s are great at reducing sun damage, treating fine lines, and can help fight acne. They are also popular for their powerful effects on smoothing out skin texture.
AHA’s should be applied on dry skin, preferably at night, although some people do use them in the morning. I prefer night time because if you suffer from dry skin you can follow with a heavier moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.
Some popular AHA products:
A BHA, or beta hydroxy acid, is an oil soluble acid that works by penetrating the top layer of the skin and breaking up excess sebum and clearing out the dead skin cells. It’s a chemical exfoliant, so your skin may appear dry and flaky as it does it’s job. One of the most well-known BHA’s is salicylic acid. It’s been around forever and is most likely an active you’ve already used.
Salicylic acid is mostly known for treating pimples, but has a multitude of benefits. It works to treat psoriasis, hyperpigmentation, and can help improve skin texture.
To use salicylic acid and get it’s maximum benefits, you want to apply it to dry skin and follow up with a good moisturizer at night. While you can layer BHA’s with AHA’s I do not recommend it, even for the toughest skin. Using AHA actives and BHA’s alternating nights is the safest way to get the benefits of both without irritating the skin.
Some popular BHA products:
Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A and there are a few different types used in skincare. Retinol is available over-the-counter and is commonly found in serums and moisturizers. Tretinoin (brand name Retin-A) is available as a prescription and considered the gold standard, not just of retinoids but all skincare actives. Adapalene (brand name Differin) is another prescription-grade retinoid that’s now available over-the-counter. 
Retinoids work by penetrating the skin deeper than other actives and stimulate cell turnover, essentially creating new skin and shedding the old. Because they penetrate deeper than other actives, they’re known for fighting wrinkles and are often prescribed for anti-aging. They are also fight acne, help resurface the skin, and can even out hyperpigmentation. They basically do it all! 
Because they are so powerful, it’s imperative to build up your skin’s tolerance and wear sunscreen. It’s recommended to start with an over-the-counter retinol before moving onto something that’s prescription-grade. 
They should be used on clean, dry skin. You can also use them over a moisturizer if you have dry or sensitive skin as a buffer. They shouldn’t be used with anything else. When your skin’s tolerance builds up, you can experiment with alternating your retinoid and an AHA or BHA.
The Takeaway
Go slow and listen to your skin. With all the hype over new products, it's easy to get carried away and want to try it all. Always incorporate one active at a time and watch your skin's reaction. Remember that it can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to see the results of actives.
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