Label Basics: Active vs Inactive Ingredients
What are you putting on your skin? Although the label lists ingredients, some labels also list an inactive or active ingredient. What does it all mean?The list on the side of your skincare products can read like a book with names that are difficult to pronounce. Ingredients are often listed in the order of concentration, meaning the formula contains more of the first ingredient than the last. However, many products also list inactive and active ingredients.
What is an “inactive” and “active” ingredient?Active ingredients address a primary skin concern. For example, salicylic acid is an active ingredient in acne medications and products. An “active ingredient” acts as a solution or treatment for the user’s skin concern. Inactive ingredients don’t directly address the skin concern. For example, Vitamin E is beneficial to the skin, but may not directly address the primary concern of the product, such as acne. The remaining ingredients relate to the appearance, texture, and smell of the product. They help the ingredients mix with and work well together and even help it come out of the tube or bottle easily.
What if the label doesn’t identify any inactive or active ingredients?Products without inactive or active ingredients are not making a medical claim. For example, a cleanser cleans your pores, which may help prevent breakouts, but the cleanser’s primary function isn’t to treat acne. Products that list active ingredients have ingredients considered “drugs.” A governing authority, like the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), outlines skin care regulations, which requires labels to include the name and concentration of drugs. That’s why on an acne treatment product, there is a percentage next to salicylic acid that can range from 0.5% to 2%. Treatments for lines and wrinkles will include the percentage of Retinol in the formula.
Why is an ingredient listed as an active ingredient in one product, but not another?Why is it a medication in one and not the other? The reason is simple: the cleanser doesn’t treat acne on its own. While the salicylic acid removes dirt and prevents clogged pores, people use the cleanser to clean their skin. If they do have acne, they can still reap the benefits of using the cleanser.
What are some active ingredients I should look for?
That depends on your skin concern. Some ingredients, such as Vitamin A and its derivatives and salicylic acid may be listed as an active ingredient on the label. Other times, you may have to hunt for it on the list.
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