Sesen Skincare School - Episode 5 of 8 - Decoding Active Ingredients

Sesen Skincare School - Episode 5 of 8 - Decoding Active Ingredients

Skincare ingredients are like celebrities - their popularity can ebb and flow with popular opinion. When I attend industry trade shows and conferences, I'm always on the lookout for new, innovative and exciting formulations. Many times it's not new but rather a tried and true ingredient, dressed up in the latest trendy nuances. The world of skincare is awash with a multitude of active ingredients, but a small handful have been meticulously researched and proven to address a wide array of skin concerns - making them clear favorites in many skincare formulations. Let's take a look at what made the list and why.

Unveiling the Powerhouses: the Most Popular Skincare Active Ingredients

pie chart of active ingredients

Hyaluronic Acid

Often hailed as the holy grail of hydration, Hyaluronic Acid is a naturally occurring substance in our skin that has a remarkable ability to hold water. This makes it a go-to ingredient for maintaining optimal skin hydration levels. Its lightweight texture ensures it's suitable for all skin types, and its moisture-retaining properties can plump and revitalize even the driest of complexions.

Vitamin C

A powerhouse antioxidant, Vitamin C is celebrated for its ability to brighten skin, combat free radicals and stimulate collagen production. It's an excellent choice for fading dark spots, evening out skin tone and providing a youthful, radiant glow. Additionally, Vitamin C plays a crucial role in protecting the skin against environmental stressors like pollution and UV damage.

Glycolic Acid

Part of the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) family, Glycolic Acid is a chemical exfoliant renowned for its ability to remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and promote cell turnover. It's a fantastic choice for addressing concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin texture. Regular use of glycolic acid can result in a smoother, brighter complexion.


This multi-tasking powerhouse, also known as Vitamin B3, boasts a wide range of benefits for the skin. Niacinamide helps to strengthen the skin barrier, regulate oil production, and improve the appearance of enlarged pores. It's also revered for its anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent choice for sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Retinol (Vitamin A)

Considered the gold standard in anti-aging, Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A that has been proven to stimulate collagen production, increase cell turnover, and unclog pores. This potent ingredient effectively reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation, making it a must-have for those seeking to turn back the clock on aging skin.

Which Active Ingredients Are Best For You?

The good news is that these ingredients aren't mutually exclusive. An effective skincare routine is also robust. By that, I mean that each one of your skincare products can have one or more of these ingredients in its formulation so that you can benefit multiple active ingredients.

For example, I prefer a cleanser that's formulated with glycolic acid because a leave-on topical can be a bit irritating to my skin. So in order to enjoy all the benefits that glycolic acid has to offer, I use it in my cleanser (which I can wash off and limit irritation). My morning serum is always vitamin C, followed by a SPF moisturizer. My evening serum is always retinol, followed by either a hyaluronic acid or niacinamide moisturizer (depending on the season).

You don't have to use all the things, all the time. Switch things up based on the season that your skin is in.

Active Ingredient Audit

Remember that chart you completed in Week 1? We audited the active ingredients in your current skincare routine. If you didn't complete it, click here for the handout. Completing this chart allows you to know which active ingredients are already in your product line up.

In that same handout, you listed your primary skin concerns. Now that you know what skin concerns are addressed by each active ingredient, you can discern which ingredient may be missing from your routine and how you might incorporate it.

As always, if you need help navigating this process, we're here for you. Book a complimentary virtual or in-spa consultation.