The Regimen

Top three ways to rate your ingredients

Beakers and skincare ingredients

They’re called key ingredients for a reason. They unlock changes in the skin. Or at least they should. But not all ingredients that promise Insta-worthy skin deliver. How can you tell which will perform and which are just full of empty promises? Three simple questions.


Is the ingredient readily absorbed by the skin?

Your skin acts as a barrier keeping things like bacteria, irritants, pollutants out while allowing requisite oxygen and hydration through to keep your body healthy. Only the smallest particles can make it through. Many skin care ingredients have too large a molecular structure to get past the skin barrier and reach the lower layers of the dermis where they can effect change. If the critical ingredients in your skin care can’t get to the lower levels of the skin, they can’t do the job of improving skin tone and texture. Some of the most lauded skin care ingredients can’t pass this test. Hyaluronic acid, which is critical for elasticity in skin, is one. Most topical varieties are too large to be absorbed by the skin. Instead, what’s required are agents like peptides, which reach into the skin and stimulate the production of the body’s own stores of hyaluronic acid.

The most common of retinoids, vitamin A palmitate, is another ingredient proving size matters. Its larger molecular structure keeps it from penetrating the skin, so it’s only able to work on the surface with limited results. Vitamin A Propionate, the patented ingredient in Vivant’s Vitamin A therapies, has a molecular size closer to pure retinoic acid, which allows it to reach the critical layers of the skin to bring faster, more dramatic results.


Is the percentage of the ingredient in the formula sufficient to make a difference?

Effective ingredients are expensive. Skin care manufacturers sometimes skimp on them to save money on formulation. If you’re buying a peptide serum and the word peptide appears at the bottom of the ingredient list, you’re not buying a peptide serum. You’re buying a lot of fillers that won’t do anything to boost your collagen or hyaluronic acid production.


Does the ingredient have a known specific biochemical mechanism of action?

Claims are one thing. Clinical studies are another. To earn their star status, key ingredients need to have been shown to work. They must target cellular components and impart change to be effective. Some of the most studied and proven ingredients include retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, mandelic acid, vitamin C, hydroquinone, niacinamide, and alpha-hydroxy acids.


One more test: Formulation.

If an ingredient can answer all three questions affirmatively, there’s still one more test: Formulation. A gold standard ingredient like Benzoyl Peroxide that ticks all the boxes can be rendered ineffective in the wrong formulation. On its own, benzoyl peroxide is an unstable ingredient. It needs to be suspended in the proper base, in this case a water-based gel, in order to maintain effectiveness and maximize its permeability. If you’ve ever bought a BP product and had so-so results, the formulation is to blame. Dr. Fulton discovered this in 1972 when he developed the stabilized form of Benzoyl Peroxide that has become an industry standard. 

If an ingredient can answer yes to all three questions regarding questions about permeability, targeting mechanism, and clinical effect, it deserves a place in our formulations and on your shelf.

Related Articles

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