Action Heroes: The Actives Our Skin Really Needs - The Gloss Magazine
10 months ago

Action Heroes: The Actives Our Skin Really Needs

No question – we now need skincare that does the business at home. And for results we need actives. Just as with diet, we need to feed our skin with the right nutrients for its health.

Streamlining our routines is the way forward this year – we’re looking to use less, but better. According to Mintel, 28 per cent of women reduced the number of products in their routine last year. Those ten-step routines aren’t necessarily doing our skin any good. “Less is more when it comes to skincare – especially when it comes to active ingredients,” notes consultant dermatologist Dr Niki Ralph. “There’s a particular form of acne, acne cosmetica, induced by using too many products.” You can have too much of a good thing, agrees cosmetic specialist Dr Rekha Tailor: “Actives can irritate the skin if overused or used in combinations that are not right for your skin type.” Dermatologists see a lot of over-exfoliation, for example, and overloading of skin with acids and retinoids.

If you use only one active, what’s the standout? “A sun screen is the single most important thing you put on your skin; up to 90 per cent of skin ageing is caused by UV exposure,” advises Dr Ralph. “My preference is a physical, zinc-based sunscreen that acts as a shield. And vitamin C is good for brightening skin. But the best active when it comes to visible signs of ageing is a retinoid.” Skin expert Nuala Woulfe cites tranexamic acid as one to watch: “It’s a relatively new topical ingredient that helps to break down stubborn pigmentation … Some studies show it can be as effective at fading melasma as 2-4% hydroquinone, with fewer side effects.” Skin Nerd founder Jennifer Rock cites vitamin A as her “can’t-live-without rock star ingredient”: vitamin A is an all-rounder that has benefits for essentially all skins. And it works incredibly well arm in arm with vitamins C and E. Here’s how the key actives fit into our new #WFH lifestyle …



1 For looking fresh on a Zoom call … VITAMIN C

Vitamin C was the most searched-for skincare ingredient so far this year (squalane, retinol and niacinamide were up there too). Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) neutralises free radicals and encourages collagen production, helps protect skin against damage from the environment and can improve pigmentation caused by sun damage. NEED TO KNOW Vitamin C is a powerful and proven antioxidant, but denatures when it hits the atmosphere, so needs to be in airtight packaging, used once a day only and kept away from air and light. A serum will be more concentrated than a cream; look for 15 per cent L-ascorbic acid for best results, as in Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Vitamin C Day Serum. Skin expert Nuala Woulfe cites vitamin C as one of her favourite actives for mature skin (along with glycolic acid, for improving brightness, texture and tone): “Vitamin C provides advanced environmental protection and visible anti-ageing benefits.” USE IT: Vichy Lift-Activ Vitamin C Brightening Skin Corrector (€36 at The newest formulation of Clarins’ cult Double Serum (from €70) combines vitamin C with antioxidant turmeric to speed up the turnover of dead skin cells.

2 For dull (skin) days… NIACINAMIDE

This active is a star of new skincare, including La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Serum for adult acne. Brown Thomas have seen a growth of +358 per cent in search terms for niacinimide since lockdown. A derivative of vitamin B3, it’s a powerhouse ingredient with a wide range of uses. It can help treat acne by normalising oil production in the skin. It’s an anti-inflammatory, so calms the skin and also regulates pigment-making cells and stimulates cell turnover, helping to fade hyperpigmentation. Its healing properties mean it’s often prescribed in tablet version for serious skin conditions such as blistering, says Dr Niki Ralph: “It’s a great ingredient in any product and it only does good, for all skin types.” NEED TO KNOW Expect increased brightness in the skin. Charlotte Tilbury Magic Serum contains “a five per cent concentration to minimise the appearance of pores.” USE IT: SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense Serum, €95, and Advanced Brightening UV Defense SPF50, €45 at Charlotte Tilbury Magic Serum Crystal Elixir, €72. La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Ultra Concentrated Serum, €30, at pharmacies.

3 To plump up the volume… RESVERATROL

We don’t all want to inject filler. A natural alternative is resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of grapes, as well as in berries and dark chocolate, that stimulates collagen production. NEED TO KNOW Caudalie claim to have been first to use resveratrol in skincare and, working with Harvard Medical School, have found their resveratrol and hyaluronic acid patent to be twice as effective as retinol for encouraging the natural production of collagen. In their new Resveratrol-Lift range, Caudalie have added a vegan collagen booster (collagen in skincare is usually of animal origin) to help firm skin. Resveratrol can be helpful during menopause, when your skin can become more dry, thin and sensitive. USE IT: Caudalie Resveratrol-Lift Firming Cashmere Cream (€45). SkinCeuticals Reseveratol BE (€145 at contains one per cent pure and stable resveratrol. The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% is a constant sell-out (€6.48 at

4 For lines and thirsty skin … HYALURONIC ACID

This has been the most popular active for some time now, featuring everywhere from serums to injectable filler such as Belotero Volume. NEED TO KNOW While hyaluronic is widely used (even in haircare) for hydration, everyone’s looking for the “new hyaluronic”. And polyglutamic acid, obtained through the fermentation of soybean, could be it: in Tilbury’s Magic Serum, it’s said to be “four times more hydrating than hyaluronic.” USE IT: In pretty well every beauty product. Elizabeth Arden Hyaluronic Acid Ceramide Capsule Hydra-Plumping Serum (from €50), combines vitamin C and various sizes of HA with ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier. Vichy Mineral 89 HA Hydrating Booster Serum, €16.50, at Boots.

5 To hit refresh … RETINOL

It’s surprising how many of us are still nervous of retinol. Yet we know that retinol is an ingredient with proven efficacy on skin. Derived from vitamin A, retinol exfoliates skin, encourage the turnover of skin cells and helps it to produce collagen. NEED TO KNOW “Retinol is not for everyone,” notes Dr Rekha Tailor. “It’s a highly active ingredient so it’s important not to over-use, or use on overly sensitive or problem skin.” No7 is bringing retinol to the masses, safely; researchers found 0.2 per cent to be the “sweet spot” for skincare that works without irritating. USE IT: No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night, €36, at SkinCeuticals new Tripeptide-R Neck Repair delivers this concentration in a neck cream, designed to target skin firmness and texture in this revealing area.


While recognising the power of retinol, the beauty industry is constantly searching for natural, more gentle alternatives. These include plant-based bakuchiol: find it in Oskia NutriBronze Adaptive Sheer Tinted Serum, €70, SpaceNK. The new Chanel Le Lift Crème de Nuit (€125) features a botanical concentrate extracted from alfalfa seeds which “has potential as effective as … retinol, while being gentle on the skin.” In L’Occitane’s reformulated Divine range, the Immortelle Super Extract (from €67) stimulates collagen production and has been tested alongside retinol, seeing the same results but without the sensitising effects.


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