Active ingredients in skincare: allies for healthy skin

Active ingredients: what is their purpose and how to use them?

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What are active ingredients in skincare really for? What properties and applications do they have? How are they used to keep skin healthy? In this article, the teams at French cosmetics private label ALPOL Cosmetique look into their types, properties and actions on skin.

What is a skincare active ingredient?

An active ingredient is an ingredient while a skin care product is being developed, such as moisturizing creams, lotions, serums, beauty masks or hair products.

Active ingredients are key components in skincare products that perform specific functions to improve the skin’s appearance, texture, and overall health.

Their purpose is to target specific skin concerns, such as anti-ageing for mature skin, nourishing for dry skin, moisturizing for normal skin, etc.

They can be either natural, such as shea butter, or synthetic ingredients, such as hyaluronic acids. There are several types of active ingredients, each of them with specific purpose depending on the product type and the desired results. Let’s take a closer look at these types along with their properties.


Actifs cosmétiques : les meilleurs alliés d’une peau saine
Active ingredients: what are the different types?

What are the different types of active ingredients?

Cosmetic brands and cosmetics private label manufacturers select active ingredients for their significant impact on the skin. Active ingredients can be divided into two major types:

  1. natural active ingredients
  2. synthetic active ingredients

Natural active ingredients

They are derived from natural sources such as plants, fruit, vegetable, algae and minerals. They also include animals, such as bees,  vegetable oils (olive oil, coconut oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, castor oil, etc.) and vegetable butters (shea butter, beeswax, etc.)

Natural active ingredients are usually organic and rich in vitamins, fatty acids and antioxidants.

Some of them have moisturizing properties, others protect the skin from free radicals and environmental stressors such as UV rays and pollution. Some can help fight signs of premature skin ageing. Others are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial or seboregulating.

Synthetic active ingredients

They are derived from petrochemical processes, usually are man-made and are created in a laboratory. However, they can be derived from natural ingredients and modified or reconstituted into synthetic molecules to address a specific skin problem.

They come from minerals, organic acids, peptides, lipids and vitamins. Synthetic active ingredients are commonly used in skincare products for their nourishing, moisturizing, firming or soothing properties. Synthetic active ingredients include:

  • Hyaluronic acid: these cosmetic ingredients penetrate the skin’s surface layer and retain water in the skin. They help to improve skin hydration and softness.
  • Glycolic acid: this active ingredient is an exfoliating agent that helps to remove dead skin cells and promote skin renewal including its lipid barrier in order to prevent water loss.
  • Retinol: it is derived from Vitamin A, which is a powerful antioxidant used to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone.


What are the properties of the main active ingredients in skincare?

The summary table below lists the main active ingredients’ properties according to their natural or synthetic category, their properties and the skin type they address.





Dry skin Nourishing/repairing Sweet almond Natural
Shea butter
Borage oil
Mature skin Anti-ageing/reduction in mature fine lines/anti-oxidant Collagen Natural and synthetic
Royal jelly Natural
Green tea Natural
Retinol Natural and synthetic
Vitamin C Natural and synthetic
Normal skin Moisturizing/softening Acide hyaluronique Synthetic
Aloe vera Natural
Glycérol Synthetic
Sorbitol Synthetic
Oily skin / combination skin Sebum regulator/reduction in sebum secretion Clays Synthetic
Jojoba oil Natural
Kaolin Natural
Salicylic acid Natural
Vegetable charcoal Natural
White nettle Natural
Zinc Synthetic
Sensitive skin Soothing Allantoin Synthetic
Azulene Synthetic
Cornflower Natural
Chamomile Natural

In conclusion, active ingredients play a crucial role in the effectiveness of skincare products as they aim to deliver its intended benefits.

Whether you have a project of skincare products or you are looking for a tailored support in active ingredients, contact ALPOL Cosmetique’s expert teams.