What Are Active Ingredients in Skincare?

You can go to any pharmacy or beauty store, and the shelves will be packed with skincare products. There are moisturizers, toners, serums, sunscreens, and under-eye creams – and that’s just naming a few.

You can find skincare products that target acne, discoloration, dryness, or pretty much any skin concern a person may have. But not all skincare ingredients are created equal. That’s why it’s imperative to look at the active ingredients.

But what are active ingredients in skincare products, and why are they so important for your skin?

Active ingredients in skincare are ingredients that are designed to target a specific skin concern, whether that be acne or aging. Active ingredients are important to look for in skincare products because they’re what’s going to do the heavy lifting to help address your skin concerns.

To learn more about active ingredients in skincare and why checking ingredients is important, continue reading this article. Choosing skincare products that contain active ingredients can be your way of achieving glowy, radiant skin.

What Are Active Ingredients?

Active ingredients in skincare products are ingredients that have been scientifically proven to have a direct effect on the treatment of your skin concern. For example, if you’re suffering from acne, you want to choose a skincare product that contains an active ingredient that specifically targets breakouts.

Skincare products can contain a host of ingredients, but not all of them are active ingredients. But if you want to fix a specific skin condition, you need to choose a product that contains the active ingredients that are made for that.

Fortunately, there are many skincare products out there that contain active ingredients that are good for your skin.

Image of a Black woman in a robe pumping lotion into her hand.

Active vs. Inactive Ingredients

Just as there are active ingredients in skincare products, there are also inactive ingredients. Inactive ingredients are the opposite of active ingredients, meaning that they do not target a specific skincare concern.

However, that does not mean that inactive ingredients are completely useless. Most skincare products need to contain both active and inactive ingredients in order for them to function properly.

Inactive ingredients are typically what make skincare products feel and look nice on your skin. They provide additional benefits, such as moisturizing the skin. An inactive ingredient can also be used to preserve a skincare product so that it lasts longer.

Why Checking Ingredients Is Important

Now that we’ve answered “what are active ingredients in skincare” let’s talk about why it matters.

Skin conditions can seriously affect your confidence, so if you’re going to buy a skincare product, you want it to do the job it says it will. That’s exactly where active skincare ingredients come into play. Before you take that skincare product that promises to clear your acne off the shelf, make sure you check that it contains the ingredients necessary to accomplish that.

Skin care is important, but it’s just as crucial to make sure that you’re choosing the right products that’ll actually work.

Graphic with a beaker and text that reads, “Over 50% of sampled cosmetic products contained high levels of harmful PFAS ingredients. Source: American Chemical Society”.

4 Common Active Ingredients in Skincare That Are Toxic

There are active ingredients that are great for your skin, but there are also active ingredients that are terrible for your skin and harmful to your body. It’s important to be aware of these toxic ingredients so you can avoid purchasing skincare products that contain them.

Here are some common toxic active ingredients in skincare that you should avoid:


Parabens are typically used in skincare products as a preservative, but they do more harm than good for your skin. Parabens contain chemicals that can interfere with your endocrine system, causing adverse reproductive and immune reactions.


Fragrances are found in a majority of skincare products on the shelves because they make them smell good. Have you ever opened up a fresh skincare product and instantly got hit with a relaxing, floral scent? That's the added fragrances, but they’re often irritating and drying to your skin.

More than that, fragrances often use toxic ingredients that contain endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and developmental toxins.


Oxybenzone is usually found in sunscreen as it can help protect your skin from sun damage. However, oxybenzone isn't good for your body or the environment.

Oxybenzone contains a compound that interferes with hormones, but it can also have damaging effects on coral reefs. This is why it’s so important to choose the right sunscreen that is safe for your skin and the environment.

Plastic microbeads

Have you ever used a skin scrub that contains little beads that exfoliate your face? While those beads might be satisfying to use, they’re actually damaging your skin and are bad for the environment.

Plastic microbeads don’t dissolve in water and can be too abrasive on the skin, causing irritation and redness. They also make your skin more susceptible to micro-scarring, which can cause bacteria to enter your body. Since microbeads don’t disintegrate, they can end up in the ocean and harm marine life.

Young Asian woman in a lab coat mixing skincare ingredients.

What to Look for In Skincare & Cosmetics

So, what are good active ingredients in cosmetics?

When shopping for skincare and cosmetic products, there are certain ingredients that you should look out for. These ingredients are good for your skin and won’t pose any of the harmful side effects that toxic ingredients will.


Peptides are a popular skincare ingredient that is often found in products because they promote anti-aging and keep your skin looking youthful and glowy. Peptides can increase collagen, which is what helps with your skin’s elasticity.

Look for peptides in skincare if you want to use a product that has an anti-wrinkle effect and helps smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.


Niacinamide is often used in skincare products because of its anti-inflammatory properties. If you suffer from hyperpigmentation, acne, or rosacea, look for products that contain niacinamide, as it can help soothe your skin.

Niacinamide can also improve your skin’s elasticity and strength, meaning it’ll help you work toward fresh, plump skin. It helps build proteins in the skin, regulates oil production, and improves uneven skin tone, so you can achieve that glowy skin you’ve always wanted.

You can find niacinamide in many moisturizers and serums, or you can take it as a supplement. However, if you're considering a supplement, make sure to consult your doctor first to ensure it’s okay for you to take.

Graphic titled “Active Sunscreen Ingredients” with a circle divided in half. One side features a thumb’s up and text that reads, “Titanium Dioxide; Zinc Oxide” and the other side features a thumb’s down with text that reads, “Oxybenzone; Octinoxate”.

Titanium Dioxide

If you want to choose sunscreen products that will protect your skin from sun damage and are good for your health, look for products that contain titanium dioxide.

Titanium dioxide prevents sunburn and long-term sun damage, but it isn’t harmful to your skin like other sunscreen ingredients are. It’s also non-irritating and non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t irritate your skin or cause breakouts.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is another sunscreen ingredient that is great for your skin. Zinc oxide reflects UV rays from the sun, creating a barrier between the skin and the sun. This provides excellent sun protection without damaging the skin with harmful chemicals.

It also has antibacterial properties to reduce irritation and redness, as well as moisturizing effects to keep the skin looking supple and youthful. If you suffer from acne, opt for sunscreen containing zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t block your pores and can help reduce breakouts.


Bisabolol is an active ingredient that’s often used in skincare products because of its soothing, anti-aging properties. It’s a naturally occurring oil, which means it’s safe for your skin and won’t have any damaging effects on your body. It provides hydration, protects against free radicals, and contains antimicrobial properties that kill bacteria to prevent breakouts.

How to Find Out What Active Ingredients Are in Your Cosmetics

So now that you’re familiar with the active ingredients in skincare products, you’re probably wondering how to find them. You can easily find what active ingredients are in your skincare products by simply looking at the label on the back of the product or looking up the ingredients section online.

Illustration of a skincare product bottle with ingredients printed on the back and a label that points to the upper portion of the text that reads “Active Ingredients” and a label that points to the lower portion of the text that reads, “Inactive ingredients”.

Ingredients are usually listed out separately as active or inactive, so it should be pretty simple to find what you’re looking for.

If you’re not sure which skincare products are right for you, you can always check with your dermatologist. Dermatologist-recommended skincare products are those that these professionals trust, so you can be confident that they will do the job and will be good for your skin.

Protect Your Skin with Safe, Natural Products

Figuring out your skincare routine can be a long and arduous process. You have to figure out what your skincare problems are and then decide what products to use. Then, you have to actually buy the products and make sure that they contain the correct active ingredients that will target your specific skincare needs.

If you’re looking to add new skincare products to your routine but don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. Colorescience is known for skincare treatments that are not only effective but are gentle and good for your skin.

You can find everything from anti-aging serums to mineral sunscreens, so you can create the perfect skincare routine that works for you. Even our makeup products are made with natural ingredients that are much safer and gentler on the skin, so you never have to worry about makeup aging your skin.

With Colorescience, you can find quality skincare treatments that contain active ingredients that can help you directly address your skincare problems and work toward a beautiful, healthy complexion.


Graphic Statistic Sources:

  1. Yang, W., Hu, X., Zhang, Y., Li, Y., & Zhang, Y. (2021). Occurrence and Risk Assessment of SARS-CoV-2 in the Pearl River Estuary and Adjacent Coastal Area. ACS Estuaries and Coasts Letters, 4(6), 276-282. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00240