You probably would have known that when you read the labels of your skin care and make up products, the ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.

How well do you know each ingredient and how would you know if this ingredient is good for your skin? Here, we take a look at some of the common ingredients found in some face products and you can be the judge whether this ingredient is something you would rather see high up in your ingredient list or not.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA)

AHA are water-soluble acids that are extracted from natural sources like grapes and sugar cane. They work by breaking the bonds between dead skin cells so that they can be easily removed, making way for a smoother skin surface. AHA work on the uppermost surface of the skin, so they don't penetrate deep below the surface of the skin, but are capable of reducing the appearance of fine lines, acne scars and dark spots. 

Some examples of AHA are Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, Citric acid, Tartaric acid, Malic acid and Mandelic acid.

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHA)

BHA are oil-soluble acids that can penetrate deep into the skin's surface, pulling excess sebum from the pores and reducing oiliness. This is more suitable for blemish-prone and/or oily skin types. Unlike AHA that work on the surface of the skin, BHA work from inside out. 

A clear example of BHA is salicylic acid. Some Citric acids can also be considered as BHA.

Retinol (vitamin A)

Many anti-ageing products contain retinol in their ingredients because retinol aids in the production of collagen and fighting free radicals. Retinol can be applied topically on the skin like a face cream, or consumed as medication. It boasts of its wide capabilities in treating acne, reducing fine lines and fading pigmentation. While retinol has its advantages, they don't work equally well on everyone as retinol are also known to cause skin dryness and irritation. If you suffer from rosacea, eczema or psoriasis, retinol can cause inflammation, making your symptom worse than before. It is also best recommended to avoid applying retinol during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Some of the side effects of retinol are peeling, excessive dry skin, an immediate stinging sensation after applying, photosensitivity, burning, redness and swelling. In some cases, acne worsens during the first 2 to 4 weeks of retinol application.

L-Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)

Before we get down to what L-ascorbic acid is, you should know that L-ascorbic acid is not vitamin C. Rather, it is an isolated nutrient that is part of vitamin C and not the whole vitamin itself. 

Like vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid is highly antioxidant. This means that it is capable of protecting or even reversing your skin from the damages of UV exposure. L-ascorbic acid helps the skin in a variety of metabolic ways; one such example is by exfoliating and repairing itself. In this process, it stimulates collagen for tighter, firmer skin. L-ascorbic acid also slows down the production of melanin, and when applied regularly, it helps to improve skin texture and quality.

Additional information:

Because L-ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant, it should not be exposed to UV light, therefore to preserve the effectiveness of this ingredient, it must be kept away from heat and sunlight.

Hyaluronic acid

This name needs no introduction. Hyaluronic acid is the best-known ingredient for hydrating the skin and retaining moisture for all skin types. Here is a surprising fact: Hyaluronic acid is capable of holding 1000x its weight in water!

Hyaluronic acid is naturally present in our skin where it binds to water to help retain moisture. However, as we age, the amount of hyaluronic acid decreases, and our skin gets dehydrated. By supplementing our skin with more of this acid, it increases the skin’s moisture level and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles since our skin is more plumped up with water.

Arbutin

Derived from the berry plant family such as bearberries, mulberries and cranberries, arbutin is believed to be one of the best natural ingredients for lightening and brightening the skin. More notably, arbutin is effective in evening out skin tone. Most pigmentation-targeted beauty products would have contained at least a small percentage of arbutin in its ingredients list.

What arbutin does is it inhibits the formation of melanin, a pigment that gives us these dark spots, and gradually releases hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening bleaching agent which is helpful for treating hyperpigmentation.

Be warned however, too much of Arbutin may cause skin irritation leading up to acne or photosensitivity. The safe recommendation is to use only 2% concentration or lower for your daily whitening products.