The Most Important Ingredients For Your Skin

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Last updated on: 01/21/2020 at 6:55 am

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Exploring the best ingredients you should be including in your skincare routine

Photo: Imaxtree

While some skin concerns are unique to the individual, there are a host of issues that we all share in common (eventually, anyways). Keeping your skin hydrated, promoting cellular activity, protecting the surface and preventing damage are all important mechanisms for maintaining its health. So when it comes to your skincare routine there are certain ingredients that we can pinpoint as essential. These are items that your skin can’t, or at least shouldn’t, live without. They not only target the things we all struggle with as we age, they also work to prevent those problems before they even occur. We’ve put together a comprehensive list of all the skin care ingredients you should already be using and what you can expect from their regular use.



This over-the-counter ingredient falls within the family of retinoids – derivatives of vitamin A that differ mostly in strength. Retinol is one of the less aggressive forms of vitamin A.  It offers all of the effectiveness of its counterpart, Retin-A, but it’s (generally) more tolerable and less irritating. This cell communicating agent stimulates collagen production, leading to firmer skin and the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. By improving cellular activity, retinol also allows your cells to regenerate at healthy levels. That natural exfoliation process sheds dead and damaged cells to reveal healthy, fresh layers of skin underneath, therefore diminishing sun damage and discoloration. The peeling effect is also useful for unclogging and shrinking pores, making it an excellent ingredient for acne-prone skin.


Retinol can do so much for reversing damage as well as the visible signs of aging. It works on fine lines and wrinkles, texture and tone as well as firmness within 2-3 months, with advanced results occurring with 6-12 months of use. But in terms of its effects on acne, you only need as much as a month to see a significant difference.


For all of these details and more, check out our guide on how retinol changes the skin.



The UV rays emitted by the sun are the most common and aggressive cause of skin damage. Think about how often your skin is exposed to the sun on a daily basis – even in the winter, those rays are damaging. Discoloration, accelerated skin aging in terms of fine lines and wrinkles as well as dehydration are all direct results of that exposure. It follows that the best way to treat sun damaged skin is to prevent it entirely. And this is accomplished, of course, with a good sunscreen. Specifically, look out for physical (mineral-based) sun protection agents like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These reflect the sun’s rays while chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays before pushing them back out from your pores.


If you’re unsure of what to look for when choosing a sunscreen, we can help you with our article on what to look for in your sunscreen: there’s more to it than you think.



Your skin can’t get enough vitamins and vitamin B3 is no exception. Commonly known as Niacin (the Nicotinic Acid derivative of Vitamin B3 complex), or Niacinamide (the amide of Nicotinic Acid), this ingredient helps your skin cells communicate more effectively to repair and maintain your skin’s structure and overall health.

Its most positive effect is on the skins lipid barrier which is responsible for trapping water molecules and preventing dehydration. Keeping your skin hydrated is essential to stave off wrinkles, a healthy complexion, as well as well-regulated oil production. But a healthy lipid barrier is also able to prevent environmental, chemical and biological irritants from entering the skin’s surface. Niacinamide can even reduce hyperpigmentation and boost collagen production.

Niacinamide can have an effect on elasticity, pigmentation, lines and redness after 12 weeks of use, but it could take up to 2 or 3 months to see significant improvement.


Curious?  Check out our overview that deep dives into the multiple benefits of niacinamide.



The major benefit of using antioxidants on your skin is there preventative function. Free radical damage comes in the form of pollution, UV rays, environmental toxins and bacteria as well as smoking, and your skin is exposed to these pretty much every time you venture outside the comfort of home. Antioxidants protect your skin by safely interacting with free radicals and neutralizing them before vital skin molecules can be damaged. You can find antioxidants in a host of natural ingredients and because their biggest benefit is their protective properties, they go to work on your skin right away!


Vitamin C, for example, is beneficial for redness and other pigmentation issues caused by sun damage, hyperpigmentation and scarring. Vitamin E increases those protective properties offered by vitamin C and also helps your skin heal and fight inflammation and redness.


If you’re looking for a great vitamin C serum, we’ve listed the Best Vitamin C Serums and what they’ll do for your skin.




Some people swear that uneven skin tone is a bigger contributor to your skin appearing older than fine lines and wrinkles. It’s caused by a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, which gets worse as we age and the body’s ability to shed dead skin cells decreases. The only way to combat the lack of cell turnover is to give your skin a little boost in shedding those cells. You can kick-start the process with at-home, chemical exfoliants that peel away dead skin and let the fresh, healthy skin beneath shine through.


AHA’s (alpha-hydroxyl acids) and BHA’s (beta-hydroxyl acids) are mild exfoliating treatments that can be used on all skin tones to restore texture and a balanced, more radiant complexion. AHA’s are best for normal to dry, sun damaged skin and BHA’s are great for oily skin because it unclogs pores and helps treat blemishes and breakouts.


Both of these hydroxyl acids are effective overnight in terms of exfoliating and peeling, but it takes continued use for significant improvement on stubborn discoloration. Use your AHA or BHA regularly for 3 or more months for great results.


AHA’s and BHA’s only scratch the surface of the ingredients particularly suited for treating skin tone. To learn more about the difference between AHA’s and BHA’s as well as other effective ways to achieve a healthy complexion, check out our article that covers the best ways to treat uneven skin tone.



For as long as we’ve been treating our skin with anti-aging creams and serums, there have been peptides: fragments of proteins which make up the building blocks of our skin. Without these fundamental proteins, our skin loses firmness, develops fine lines and wrinkles, appears uneven and/or dull and is unable to bounce back to the same degree it did in our youth. But by applying peptides topically, we can help maintain the integrity of the surface of our skin and revitalize its building blocks. Some peptides can also boost collagen production, further adding to its ability to return firmness and plumpness to the skin.


As the age-old ingredient for skin care products that target aging, there are lots of different peptides out there, and there’s more being discovered all the time. We’ve covered several of the most important peptides in-depth:


Although it may be a relatively new peptide find out more about the benefits of Matrixyl for the skin through our in-depth overview.

Explore our article to find out why Snap-8 has been compared to Botox.

If you’ve heard anything about peptides, you’ve probably heard about copper peptides.  Check out our guide to learn more about how copper peptides help the skin.



Like food and water, there are just some things you can’t live without. In terms of making sure your skin is well taken of, these ingredients are your lifeline. Not only do they treat skin concerns that you’re already afflicted by, but they act as protective and preventative agents too. For everything from hydration to cell regeneration, skin tone to fine lines and wrinkles, use this list to maximize what you’re getting out of your products for your particular skin concerns.


Trish Keatings
Published on: 03/06/2018 Last updated on: 01/21/2020

Trish Keatings is Lead Writer at The Youthist since 2018. Her writing career began after graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Master of Arts Degree, where she focused on Political Studies. Trish is currently traveling the world and fills her free hours with yoga, meditation, wellness workshops, and eating her way through new cuisines. With a passion for all things beauty and skin, she is particularly inspired by holistic and ayurvedic approaches to health and personal care. A student of these philosophies herself, she enthusiastically explores her passions through her writing and finds no greater joy than taking her readers along with her.

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