I’ve always been using actives in one form or another since a long time ago. However I only started a more regimented actives routine around last year when I started to notice some fine lines on my forehead and really want to step up my anti-ageing game. Now I do love my beautiful face oils and creams but in my opinion, actives are a whole different ball game altogether. Actives are the ingredients which are scientifically tested and proven to actually work. Let’s face it alright? Rosehip oil may be nice for some slight anti-ageing effects but nothing comes close to the effects of prescriptive retinoids except aesthetic treatments like Botox and lasers or doing more invasive treatments like getting a face lift. I’ve never come across a “green” alternative to prescriptive retinoids that actually matches the effects of the chemical ones. Actives are the powerhouse in your skincare regime which will really make the most difference in the way your skin looks and feels. However, I still think that many people are apprehensive about adding actives into their skincare routine as it all feels so clinical and foreign. Or worse, there is a fear that their faces will melt from all these actives?!
In this post, I hope to demystify the role of actives and how to incorporate them safely in your skincare routine.
Just a word of caution for people with the following conditions, please tread slowly/ check with your dermatologist about the inclusion of actives into your skincare routine:
- People with compromised skin barriers e.g. flaky, itchy, extremely sensitive and easily irritated skin
- People with eczema
- People with rosacea
- People with sunburn (obviously do not start on actives if you had recently suffered from sunburn.. but I’m still gonna leave it here.. just in case..)
- People with severe acne (actives are actually good for people with acne but they need to be more cautious because actives actually can cause even more “purging” initially)
What are “actives” in skincare?
“Actives” in skincare terminology are the ingredients in a cosmetics product which are deemed to have a pharmacological effect that is documented by scientific evaluation and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use within a precise set of regulations. Products in this category are referred to as “over-the-counter” or “cosmetics that are also drugs” or “quasi-drugs”. Common skincare actives include AHA, BHA, Vitamin C, Retinol, Niacinamide, Benzoyl Peroxide etc. It is also important to note that skincare products with “actives” in it usually have a percentage of “XX” stated on the packaging. For example, a Vitamin C serum will usually state its percentage of Vitamin C that is formulated for that product.
Below are some tips that I would like to share with you when you are looking to start adding some actives into your skincare routine.
1) Sunscreen is a MUST – no compromises!
One thing you MUST do while you are adding actives to your skincare routine is that you definitely need to be diligent in your sunscreen usage. If you don’t want to use sunscreen/ cannot be bothered (why tho?), then please do not use actives at all! There’s absolutely no point in adding actives to your skincare to have your lovely smooth new skin coming out if you are not going to protect it! Also, you need to make sure that you are using the correct amount and type of sunscreen for your needs. There are many beautifully light sunscreen with strong protective powers on the market nowadays that are a far cry from the nasty oily sunscreens of yesterdays. Experiment and find one that your skin likes and that is also within your budget so that you can use it consistently at the right amount.
2) Tread slowly
Actives are a different beast from your normal creams and toners. They are actually meant to give you results and some of them are also prescriptive based so essentially they are like medicine, except for your skin. You do not want to load all of them onto your skin in one go, especially if you are just starting out. Also, some actives do not play well with others and must be used separately either on different days or different times. Additionally, if you generally have sensitive skin, please listen to your skin! Do not try to go all in and damage your skin barrier unknowingly! Remember, little but consistent use of actives is better than sharp spikes of unrelenting use than a drastic drop when your skin becomes too sensitised to even wash with water.
You can start with any skincare actives depending on your own needs and skin goals. Personally, I started with a gentle AHA (like the PIXI Glow Tonic) and then I gradually added more stuff. You need to give your skin time to adjust, especially when you are just starting out. I think that you can start by using the product on every 3rd day/night for around 2 weeks and then check your skin condition. If you discover that your skin can tolerate the product, then gradually increase its use to alternate day/night and then daily. I also generally give the product about 4 weeks time to check for any adverse reactions before I add in a different active (such as Vitamin C or Retinol). Patience is key! Do not go all in unless you are sure your skin can take it!
3) Mix the use of actives with skin fortifying ingredients
In my opinion, I think that while you want to use actives to sort of make your skin work “harder”, you also need to be very careful to maintain a balance to avoid damaging your skin barrier. A damaged skin barrier is the start of a long and bumpy road to skincare hell. When the skin barrier is damaged, the skin becomes dry, irritated, sensitive, and becomes prone to skin inflammation leading to psoriasis, eczema, severe dryness and acne. Therefore, you should always be mindful about over-exfoliation when you are using actives. I like to mix my actives (when I say mix, I mean layer and not to mix in one giant pot) with some of my favourite hydrating serums, face oils with omega fatty acids and moisturisers with ceramides that can repair and fortify the skin barrier. Also, you’ll need to take note of the type of cleansers that you are using. Harsh cleansers (especially those with abrasive scrubs) are out!
I’ll be sharing in a separate post on the exact steps (eg. Step 1: Use XXX, Step 2: Use XXX) on how you can use different actives together to form your daytime and nightime skincare routine.
Thank you for reading!