Here’s what the ingredients in your favorite beauty products actually do!

Long before I started as a skin care specialist, I was intrigued by products ingredients and the role each one plays. But that didn’t make them any easier to understand. Even after two years working in the field, I still find myself looking up ingredients all the time. There are so many ingredients out there it can be overwhelming!

Understanding your skin care product choices really helps to expand your knowledge skin and can help you determine what might be missing from your skincare routine. That’s why I decided to create a simple beauty ingredient guide to make it a little easier. The journey to understanding the ingredients found in your favorite beauty products doesn’t have to be a long one! Start picking up a little knowledge here and there and you’ll have the know-how you need to craft the most effective skincare routine.

I’m sharing this beauty ingredient guide in stages. Each guide will focus on a specific group of ingredients that all have something in common. I’m starting with something people often ask me about: anti-aging superstar ingredients. This easy-to-follow guide will provide you with information on each ingredient, along with their  names as they appear on product labels.

Anti-Aging Beauty Ingredient Guide


Think about an avocado that has browned, or an apple that has changed in color. This happens when the fruit becomes exposed to free radicals and in turn oxidizes (turns brown) by the environment around it. The same thing happens to your skin — but with signs of aging instead of browning. Anyone who has ever stepped outside has been a victim of environmental damage. Antioxidants are needed to neutralize those free radicals and fight the oxidation of the cells that leads to premature aging.

Below are some main players when it comes to antioxidants. The italicized words are ingredients you would find on a label. The most important antioxidant ingredients in skincare are Vitamins A, C and E.

Common Antioxidant Ingredients

  • Vitamin A
    • Retinyl Palmitate
    • Retinyl Linoleate
    • Retinyl Acetate
  • Vitamin E
    • Tocopherol
    • Tocotrienols
  • Vitamin C
    • Ascorbic Acid
    • L-ascorbic Acid
    • Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate
    • Ascorbyl Palmitate
    • Ascorbyl Glucosamine
    • Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate
    • Ester
  • Green Tea (EGCG)
  • Ferulic Acid
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid
  • Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Resveratrol

Anti-Aging Beauty Ingredient Guide


Retinols are an all natural form of Vitamin A, and they are a power house against aging. They can be a quick fix for pigmentation, acne, wrinkles, fine lines — the list can go on and on. Basically you can just sum it up as a skincare ingredient superhero. Retinols, along with their cousins retinoids, work by stimulating cell repair and generating new cells. This is done with the help of a chemical reaction involving enzymes on the skin that turn retinols and retinoids into the active ingredient retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is what helps turn back the clock on your face.

Retinols take longer than retinoids to transform to retinoid acid. Because the process is slower and gentler, they’re better for sensitive skin. Retinoids take fewer steps to become retinoic acid, so they will produce quicker results. But since they’re so aggressive, they are not recommended for sensitive skin.

To help retinols penetrate the skin, you can pair retinol products with ingredients like salicylic acid. For example, retinyl palmitate has been proven to be extra efficient against UV rays when used as a serum during the day and paired with SPF 30 or higher. Below are retinols and retinoids that you would find listed as ingredients in skincare; usually they are associated with a percentage dictating their strength.

Common Retinol Ingredients

  • Retinol
  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Retinyl Linoleate
  • Retinyl Acetate 
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Retinoids
  • Tretinoin (prescription only)
  • Renova (prescription only)

Anti-Aging Beauty Ingredient Guide

Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Beta Hydroxy Acids and Enzymes

Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Beta Hydroxy Acids and Enzymes are what help you put a new face forward. In other words, these three ingredients are the main groups responsible for exfoliation. They do their best work on hyperpigmentation, skin renewal, shrinking large pores and diminishing fine lines.

Glycolic AHAs are the most effective against anti-aging because they have the smallest molecules, so they are able to penetrate the deepest. BHAs are less aggressive and better for people with acne prone skin. Both AHA and BHA ingredients work by loosening the bond between old cells and the epidermis so that new cells can take the old cells’ place.

Enzymes exfoliate using fruit acids. They works by eating away dead skin cells (keratin proteins) on the surface of the skin. Once the dead skin cells are removed, it is easier for products to penetrate the skin on a deeper level and will leave you with a glowing complexion. Enzymes are the mildest form of exfoliation.

Common AHA, BHA, and Enzyme Ingredients:


  • Glycolic Acid (sugar cane)
  • Lactic Acid (milk)
  • Tartaric Acid (grapes)
  • Citric Acid (citrus fruits)
  • Malic Acid (apples)
  • Mandelic Acid (almonds)


  • Salicylic Acid (willow tree bark)


  • Papain (papaya)
  • Bromelain (pineapple)

Anti-Aging Beauty Ingredient Guide

Essential Fatty Acids

These are the basic building blocks of the cellular membrane. Essential fatty acids are important in skincare products because these are ingredients our body does not make on our own. Essential fatty acids are responsible for regulation of the cell membrane. This means keeping water and essential nutrients and vitamins in the cell while allowing waste out.

As we age, the skin loses water retention and takes on a sallow appearance. A healthy membrane can prevent this as well prevent acne by flushing toxins out of the system. If you need an extra dose of hydration, look for a label that contains one of the following along with hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that holds 1000 times its weight in water).

Common Essential Fatty Acids:

  • Omega 3,6 and 9
  • Alpha-linolenic Acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acid
  • Gamma Linolenic Acid
  • Linoleic Acid

Anti-Aging Beauty Ingredient Guide


If dry skin is an ongoing skincare concern of yours, then ceramides might be what you are missing from your routine. The barrier skin layer, responsible for keeping the top layer of skin hydrated, is 50% made up of ceramides. These lipids are naturally made in the body, but we lose them as we get older. Lack of ceramides in the epidermis can result in dry, flaky and irritated skin. Keeping the barrier layer hydrated and moisturized is essential for a plump complexion, especially as the clock keeps turning.

Common Ceramide Ingredients:

  • Ceramide AP
  • Ceramide EOP
  • Ceramide NS
  • Ceramide NP
  • Ceramide NG
  • Phytosphingosine
  • Sphingosine

And that concludes the first installment of my beauty ingredient guide. Study up and stay tuned — there’s more knowledge coming your way.

Do you check the ingredients before buying beauty products? Tell us in the comments!

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