Facials give skin a healthy glow, but maintaining that glow between appointments requires a solid at-home skincare regimen. Luckily, buying products with high-quality ingredients won’t force you to break the bank—any drugstore will have affordable options, provided you know what to look for. Read on for a breakdown of seven widely touted skincare ingredients, their uses, and recommended products that contain them. Never again will you get so overwhelmed in the skincare aisle that you pour a bottle of water on your face and call it a day.
The ingredient: Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A
Found in: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
Anti-aging. Like the cold, hard stare of a noble elk, the tiny molecule can penetrate deeply, reaching into the bottom-most layers of the skin. Once there, it stimulates the production of collagen, one of the characteristic proteins found in youthful skin. It improves tone and texture, and alleviates fine lines.
Don’t get burned:
Retinol makes skin unusually sensitive to sunlight. That’s why it’s typically found in night creams like this one, rather than daytime products.
The ingredient: Salicylic acid
Found in: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control Power-Clear Scrub
Acne prevention. It strips excess oil from hair-follicle openings, keeping pimples from developing. It’s also a mild exfoliating agent, sloughing away dead skin that would otherwise dull complexions.
For people with sensitive skin:
Salicylic acid is for you. It’s one of the few acne treatments that also has a soothing effect.
The ingredient: Hyaluronic acid
Found in: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Moisturizing agent. The acid is often found in injectable dermal fillers, but applied topically, it acts as a humectant, sucking moisture out of the air and imbuing the skin with it.
Related eyeball fact:
Hyaluronic acid is found in high concentrations in our eyes, and helps them maintain their shape.
The ingredient: Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid
Found in: Lumene Vitamin C+ Pure Radiance Night Cream
Anti-aging. As an antioxidant, vitamin C (and vitamin E too, for that matter) protects against the oxidizing process that makes skin wrinkle over time. The same process causes metal to rust and rock stars to release Christmas albums.
Vitamin C is really vitamins C:
There are two types of vitamin C available in skincare products—water-soluble ascorbic acid and fat-soluble vitamin C ester. The latter has stronger anti-aging properties but is much more expensive.
The ingredient: Benzoyl peroxide
Found in: Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser
Acne prevention. It kills off the bacteria that cause zits, blackheads, whiteheads, you name it—and it works quickly, sometimes producing improvements in less than a week.
Pros and cons:
Though benzoyl peroxide fights acne ably, the improvements come at a price—it can cause redness, dryness, and cash losses of roughly $8.
The ingredient: Ceramides
Found in: Curél Daily Moisture Original Lotion for Dry Skin
Moisturizing agent. Ceramides permeate the skin and help it retain moisture.
Ceramides are also glue:
Although they dissipate with age, ceramides occur naturally in the skin—they’re the lipids that hold surface skin cells together.
The ingredient: Peptides
Found in: Olay’s Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Face Cream
Anti-aging. When they occur naturally, peptides signal that collagen has been lost and needs to be replenished. Applied topically, they trick the body into replenishing its collagen just the same, which in turn minimizes wrinkles and improves skin’s elasticity.
Applying peptides to your face isn’t enough—they need to be in a thin cream to penetrate the skin. In a too-thick cream, peptides sit on the surface of the face until they wash off, just like barnacles sometimes do.