Smart Ingredients in Skincare

Understanding what’s in your goop

With so many effective skincare lines available, I have become a proponent of specific ingredients – or, more specifically, classes of ingredients – when I educate my clients about skincare. These categories are the big players that will bring the change you are seeking for your skin. Break out those cleansers, serums, and treatment tubes to ensure the following five classes are included in your current regime.

Stop the Damage

According to Mayo Clinic, “ Aside from age, smoking is the strongest predictor of facial wrinkling in men and women.” Nicotine causes narrowing of tiny blood vessels in the 1 skin, depriving your skin of essential oxygen and nutrients. Smoking is so hard on your skin that it has its own wrinkle named after it: smoker’s lines are those pesky vertical lines that appear just beyond the border of your lips.

The second most important way to arrest damage is to wear sunblock every day. Sunscreen protects your skin by either absorbing or reflecting harmful UVA and UVB rays.2 I recommend daily application of a product with broad spectrum protection and a minimum SPF 30. Frequently clients ask, “But what about January in Fairbanks?” I respond if she arrives in her office prior to sunrise and does not leave the building until after sunset, then she may skip sunscreen that day. Running errands? Sunblock! Hitting the gym at lunch? Sunblock! And to all who think they’re off the hook because the sun is now trekking south, I say, “Sunblock!” If you can bring yourself to take only one step towards healthier skin, start your journey by stopping the damage.

Best Bang for Your Buck

Now that you’ve slowed the process by diligently protecting your skin, take the next step most important step by applying Vitamin A. Topical Vitamin A aka retinol helps rewind signs of aging. By speeding up cell turnover, it works to rejuvenate and resurface the skin to significantly improve fine lines and wrinkles and increase the skin’s ability to withstand injury.3 Retinol also
helps treat acne, brown spots and hyperpigmentation.

Retinol can be used every night, starting with a lighter dose and working your way up as your skin adjusts. Starting with a stronger concentration may be too aggressive for first-time users.4 Retinol stands out in the crowd as the best anti-aging bang for your buck. When you’re ready to take action against the signs of aging, bring on the retinol!

Look on the Bright Side

Let’s talk antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the skin by limiting free radical production, which can damage the skin. Antioxidants are found in vitamins A, C, and E as well as other antioxidant-rich ingredients such as grape seed extract, acerola, and rosehip. Generally applied in the morning, Vitamin C is best for brightening and is particularly effective in diminishing the look of fine lines, dullness and uneven skin tone.5 Vitamin E is moisturizing and works synergistically with Vitamin C. While Vitamin C can be mildly irritating, resulting in some redness, the gradual addition of this powerhouse to your morning regimen will reduce sun spots and clinical signs of photo-aging.6

Relative Humidity

A human is basically about 60% water, but during the cold winter season your skin may feel and look as dry as the desert. Bring on the moisturizer! Moisturizers fall into three basic categories: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. A humectant draws and holds water; one of the oldest examples is glycerin. In recent years, hyaluronic acid has boomed onto the scene in dermal fillers, lip plumpers, as well as moisturizing facial creams and serums. Topical hyaluronic acid can draw water from the air, holding this moisture against your skin to help your skin look more youthful and supple. Emollients smooth roughened dry skin by filling in the air gap between dry skin cells. Examples include shea and cocoa butter. Occlusives provide a barrier over the skin to slow water loss by coating your skin with a thin oily layer.

Dehydrated skin appears wrinkled and old, so the addition of a quality moisturizer will help your skin look and feel refreshed and younger. I recommend starting with hyaluronic acid, then combining with an emollient or occlusive product if your skin remains dry and flakey.

Ahhh, the Acids

Commonly found in cleansers or utilized in chemical peels, alpha and beta hydroxy acids are some of the most widely used and studied anti-aging skincare compounds.7 Citric acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid are several types of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) commonly found in skincare products. In cosmetics, beta hydroxy acid (BHA) refers to salicylic acid. These ingredients mainly work to exfoliate surface skin cells, while AHAs are also beneficial to promote softer, smoother skin, lightening age spots, and decreasing blemishes.8 BHAs work synergistically with your other anti-aging products by enabling the skin to better absorb the other products in your regimen.9

Don’t be afraid of the term ACID! Your skin will love the addition of these friendly acids into your routine.

Too many steps!

The number of steps and amount of time required to adhere to an effective regime are top concerns of my clients. In reality, your routine doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Here is my personal routine that is simple and fast:

  1. Cleanse (AHA/BHA)
  2. Apply hyaluronic acid serum, allowing HA to absorb while brushing teeth (2 min)
  3. Apply Vitamin C in the morning, Vitamin A in the evening
  4. Finish routine with sunscreen in the morning or an emollient in the evening.

Find a personal routine that fits your lifestyle and commit to it twice daily for a minimum of 60 days to see the benefits. Your skin will reward your efforts!

Author: Stephanie Gho MS PA-C


1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking/expert-answers/smoking/faq-20058153
2. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/sunscreen.pdf
3. https://graziadaily.co.uk/beauty-hair/skin/skincare-ingredients/
4. https://www.dermstore.com/blog/how-to-use-retinol/
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030358/table/T2/?report=objectonly
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030358/
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941867/
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3047947/
9. https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/beta-hdyroxy-acid

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