Active ingredients

What are the active ingredients?

Active ingredients are the ingredients used in cosmetic and esthetic products to act on the skin in a specific way.

When a cosmetic says that it acts, for example, against acne, this implies that one of its ingredients is an active ingredient that has that property.

We must bear in mind that active ingredients are not only used for the manufacture of cosmetics, but also of drugs.

In Spain, Royal Decree 1345/2007, of October 11, 2007, defines active ingredients as “any material, regardless of its origin, to which an appropriate activity is attributed to construct a drug”.

Some of the most commonly used active ingredients in medicine are paracetamol, ibuprofen and some muscle relaxants. These can be found in nature or isolated in the laboratory.

The active ingredients can be natural or chemical based. Laboratories research and try to enhance new properties of known and unknown active ingredients. The options are endless and make it possible to create cosmetics to treat all types of signs of aging and moisturize the skin.

Functioning of active ingredients in cosmetics

Cosmetic formulas may contain one or more active ingredients, each of which may be intended to perform a different function or combined to perform a more potent action.

On the other hand, not all active ingredients can penetrate the skin. This, which is the key to the effectiveness of cosmetics, is unknown to a large part of the public and sometimes to the professionals themselves.

Weight of assets

To do this, we must understand the so-called 500 Dalton’s Law, which indicates that only active ingredients with a molecular weight of less than 500 nanometers are able to penetrate the skin.

This means that when we look at cosmetic ingredients, if any include actives with molecular weights greater than 500 nm, they are not going to have any effect on the skin.

Concentration of assets

Attention should also be paid to the concentration of the active ingredient. Sometimes we see in some products, concentrations so small that they cannot cause any improvement in the skin.

The fact that a product has no active ingredients does not mean that it is useless. These ingredients are also regulated and, although they are not designed to have a specific effect, they probably act as cleansers or moisturize the skin.

They can also help the active ingredient by providing a more aqueous base or protecting more sensitive skin.

Most commonly used active ingredients in cosmetics

Often some assets are used simply because of a fashion trend or because a brand has decided to start advertising it.

However, the active ingredients most commonly used in cosmetics are:

  • Glycolic acid: used to treat small wrinkles and lack of luminosity.
  • Collagen: is a natural product, produced by the body, which is used as a firming and moisturizing agent.
  • Retinol: used to stimulate the natural production of collagen and elastin to improve the skin’s appearance.
  • Caffeine: although it may seem surprising, caffeine stimulates circulation, thus helping to eliminate localized fat, and is an antioxidant.
  • Hyaluronic acid: this is one of the best known and most widely used active ingredients, due to its action against skin aging and for retaining water, which makes it an excellent moisturizer.
  • Aloe vera: acts as a regenerator of skin cells, is moisturizing, soothing and antiseptic.
  • Coenzyme Q10: protects the cell membrane, resulting in firm and smooth skin.
  • Argan: has antioxidant and moisturizing properties.
  • Calendula: has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is widely used for the treatment of sensitive skin.
  • Rosehip: acts as a skin regenerator and prevents wrinkles.

These are just some of the many active ingredients used in cosmetic products.

Since not all assets perform the same function, a correct professional diagnosis is very important. Otherwise, the desired effects will not be achieved.

It is important to identify the skin type, which will help to set skin improvement goals.

Commitment to quality

This text on active ingredients has been prepared by professional editors and reviewed by Sisneo’s medical-aesthetic team. In addition, we have relied on experts in medicine, engineering and aesthetics as a source of information, as well as specific studies to maintain the quality of what we publish.

At Sisneo Bioscience we are committed to publish truthful and contrasted information. And to update or correct it as soon as new knowledge becomes available.

Among others, we have used the following references:

  • Zappelli C, Barbulova A, Apone F, Colucci G. «Effective Active Ingredients Obtained through Biotechnology» en Cosmetics. 2016; 3(4):39. doi:/10.3390/cosmetics3040039