Do You Need Actives in Your Skincare Routine?

I know I haven’t been great about answering comments and questions here latelyand I’m super sorry and am working to catch up!, but since I manually approve every comment that comes through, I have still been reading them. Lately I’ve noticed one particular type of question come up more often than most. Lots of you have been asking:

Should I use actives in my skincare routine?

It’s a great question, especially with all the affordable and presumably effectively formulated actives on the market these days. I talked briefly about the actives I use and why I chose them when I wrote about my anti-aging skincare routine a while back, but not generally enough to really answer the question at hand. So let’s get down to it!

 

Curology anti-aging prescription

It’ll give me a reason to procrastinate picking up the little paper crinklies I just discovered behind the sofa! THANKS, CUROLOGY!

But first, we should probably clarify…

What are actives in skincare?

When I talk about actives, I’m not talking about those Rare and Fancy Proprietary Botanical + Scientific Biosynthetic Molecular Complexes that brands sometimes advertise as their miracle “Active Ingredients.” Around these parts, “actives” are either:

  • Skincare ingredients that have been Shown By Research™ to be capable of altering the actual structure or function of skin when used in a properly formulated product (for example, retinoids, AHA and BHA chemical exfoliants, or various vitamin C derivatives), or
  • Skincare products that deploy those ingredients in an objectively effective formulation (for example, an L-ascorbic acid vitamin C serum that doesn’t offer the L-AA at such a low concentration and such a high pH that the whole product becomes a pointless atrocity like the one at the bottom of this post from the Holy Snail herself).

Basically, actives can actually change skin (some so much that the FDA regulates them as drugs rather than cosmetics), not just temporarily improve its appearance.

Garnier anti-aging product marketing claims

So, not these, I’m guessing.

Actives sound great, right? Ingredients and products with real and (more or less) proven effects on skin–the opposite of snake oil! Who even needs anything else? We should totally just use actives!

No! Not so fast!

Should I use actives in my skincare routine?

I think of the actives in my beauty stash the way I think of the medicine in my pill drawer. I trust them to do what they’re supposed to do, and I use them when I need them, but I don’t use them for everything. Not every skin improvement is worth the risks (like photosensitivity with AHAs) or the possible side effects (like extreme dryness and peeling with retinoids) of these products and ingredients. If I have a headache, I’ll happily pop a pill, but if I’m just dealing with a mild case of overall blah, I might look at a nice herbal tea instead. Personally, I don’t think every skincare routine needs actives. In fact, sometimes they can do more harm than good.

In my opinion, serious actives can be a good idea if:

  • Your skin is basically healthy, with no extreme sensitivity, overexfoliation, barrier issues, or medical conditions, and
  • You’re tackling a specific skin problem, like acne or visible skin aging, that the active you’re considering has been shown to reduce, and
  • The skin problem you want to treat is high-priority enough that you’re willing to make other adjustments to your skincare routine if your actives call for it.

don’t think serious actives are a good idea if:

  • Your skin is extremely sensitive or compromised due to medical conditions or practices like overcleansing or overexfoliation,
  • You’re very new to skincare and unfamiliar with your skin’s tolerance to various ingredients or product types, like chemical exfoliants, and/or
  • You’re unable or unwilling to incorporate additional products into your routine to compensate for possible side effects (for example, if you want to start an AHA or a retinoid, you’ll need proper sun protection, full stop, no exceptions except for cave people and vampires, neither of which are dealing with UV damage-induced skin aging or hyperpigmentation anyway).

If you don’t have any particular skin problems to treat, or your skin problems could be solved with some healthy skin habits like gentle cleansing and appropriate hydration and moisturization, then I don’t think you “need” actives. Again, actives are like medicine. You take them when you need them. Not just because.

(And, like medicine, if you’re pregnant, nursing, or under a physician’s care for any skin conditions, check with your doctor before starting any actives. Despite all my family’s best efforts during my childhood, I am most definitely not a doctor.)

So we’ve got medicine on one hand and herbal tea on the other. In my next post, I’m going to talk about a time when herbal tea wasn’t enough for me as well as a time when no medicine was needed for amazing results!

Do you use actives in your skincare routine? Why or why not?

 

21 responses to “Do You Need Actives in Your Skincare Routine?

  1. I use the Cosrx BHA every night and have had great results. I get a lot less blackheads now, that used to be my biggest problem. I like the Cosrx version because it is pretty gentle and because my skin over all doesn’t have any other real concerns. I have tried multiple Vit C serums and they all just succeed in clogging my pores so I have given up.

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    • How do u just the BHA? Directly apply on your face or using facial cotton. I tried both ways but I am just not seeing results at all. So I don’t know I am not using it correctly or not using it frequently (using it alternate nights). My nose still has a bunch of blackheads.

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      • I use it with my hands, and I also use a pH adjusting toner, like cosRx’s version or Mizon’s version beforehand (I have used both, and like both). That being said, I have gotten different result levels at different times of year. I use it once a day, some people do twice a day — depends on you and your skin, of course.

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    • I have also tried Vit C serums, got fed up with the hassle of refrigerating them, and also concluded they weren’t helping me. Into the trash they went. I do really like the cosRX BHA and AHA. I would like to try Curology if/when it becomes available in my state, as I seasonally seem to have some acne issues in spring and fall.

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    • How often to use a particular active will depend on how much your skin can tolerate. Some use them every day or even twice a day, while others have to skip days. And per my Curology derm, BHAs and retinoids can be used in the same routine though I’d apply them at separate steps rather than attempting to mix them into one super-product due to their need to be at different pH levels.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Please help, which one do you think i should use the BHA or AHA if my main concern is breakout and clogged pores? Thank you😊😊😊

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  3. Hi Fiddy! I just started reading your blog and I found it very helpful in starting my skincare journey 😁 I’m planning to incorporate these into my evening routine: vit C20 serum, COSRX skin returning A-Sol, COSRX BHA blackhead power liquid, Secret Key FTE rose edition. What do you suggest would be the best order to use them? Thanksss 😊

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  4. Hi Fiddy,
    I just wanted to ask you something, so I was looking for a topic to lock into. Best Practices seemed appropriate – so I hope that’s ok. I’ve been reading a lot about EGF – growth factor. I’m wondering if you’ve had any experience of this and if it’s included in Korean skincare. I’ve also seen information about high frequency currents etc to enhance collagen levels, help with pigmentation. Likewise, have you had any experience of that? – especially in combination with actives?
    Thanks,
    Gail.

    Like

    • Sorry to pop in on your question but I use a Korean product with EGF!! It’s Tosowoong’s Dr. Troubex Sparkling Toner Concentrate Treatment. I buy mine through eBay from the Rose Rose Shop. It’s notable ingredients are Witch Hazel Extract, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Bifida Ferment Lysate and rh-Oigopeptide-1(EFG). I’ve used it for a few months now only at night, after my BHA and AHA (both cosrx) or Tretinoin cream (I only use the tret every other night because I’m just starting out). I have noticed an improvement in my fine lines, especially the crinkles around my eyes. It’s hard to say 100% if it’s directly from this product (because I also use Vitamin C in the morning along with the rest of the stuff in my aresonl) but I like it enough that I just received my second bottle of it. I use it right after the Missha FTE and it wasn’t until I looked up the ingredients that I realized that it should be used for best results after an active. So I was already doing that because of the thinnest-thickest line up. Score! In closing, I should also mention that back in June I got THE WORST acne scar. It was awful and huge. Worst zit of my life. WELL IT IS ALMOST COMPLETELY GONE. Filled in as if it never was there. It used to be so noticeable and now it’s just barely dented. I’ve had smaller acne scars disappear completely as well. I can’t say for certain what product in my line up is responsible for it (I follow Lady Fiddy’s philosophy of all the things on my face!!) but I’m not taking a single one out!! I can’t comment on hyperpigmentation because I use lots of items that treat that isssue. The tosowoong product is pretty inexpensive as well. I originally got tons of samples of it whenever I ordered other products and finally got around to trying it and I’m so glad I did. I don’t know if there are other Korean products with EGF because I haven’t looked, mainly because I’ve been happy with this one. Hope that helps you somewhat!

      Like

    • Sorry to pop in on your question but I use a Korean product with EGF!! It’s Tosowoong’s Dr. Troubex Sparkling Toner Concentrate Treatment. I buy mine through eBay from the Rose Rose Shop. It’s notable ingredients are Witch Hazel Extract, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Bifida Ferment Lysate and rh-Oigopeptide-1(EFG). I’ve used it for a few months now only at night, after my BHA and AHA (both cosrx) or Tretinoin cream (I only use the tret every other night because I’m just starting out). I have noticed an improvement in my fine lines, especially the crinkles around my eyes. It’s hard to say 100% if it’s directly from this product (because I also use Vitamin C in the morning along with the rest of the stuff in my arsenal) but I like it enough that I just received my second bottle of it. I use it right after the Missha FTE and it wasn’t until I looked up the ingredients that I realized that it should be used for best results after an active. So I was already doing that because of the thinnest-thickest line up. Score! In closing, I should also mention that back in June I got THE WORST acne scar. It was awful and huge. Worst zit of my life. WELL IT IS ALMOST COMPLETELY GONE. Filled in as if it never was there. It used to be so noticeable and now it’s just barely dented. I’ve had smaller acne scars disappear completely as well. I can’t say for certain what product in my line up is responsible for it (I follow Lady Fiddy’s philosophy of all the things on my face!!) but I’m not taking a single one out!! I can’t comment on hyperpigmentation because I use lots of items that treat that isssue. The tosowoong product is pretty inexpensive as well. I originally got tons of samples of it whenever I ordered other products and finally got around to trying it and I’m so glad I did. I don’t know if there are other Korean products with EGF because I haven’t looked, mainly because I’ve been happy with this one. Hope that helps you somewhat!

      Like

      • Hi Erin,
        So nice of you to reply! All I can say is I’m trying it. I’ll let you know how it goes, but like you said, with so many products, it’s hard to work out what is doing what! Thanks again!
        Best,
        Gail

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  5. Hi, I know you are very busy. I was wondering if you had posts regarding compromised barriers (overexfoilation, etc.)? I have searched the tag and haven’t found information. I have tried reddit but I am not satisfied with the provided information. Thank you and I look forward to a response..

    Bests.

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  6. I bought the Biore sunscreen cause it’s ur fav and I’m loving it so far! I’m planning to add actives into my skincare routine. If it’s not too much, can you tell me the name of your physician from Curology? Some people said it wasn’t the best service for them and I hope mine to be a good one, so just wondering if I can choose the doctor that’s prescribing mine.

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  7. Thank you for writing this post. I thought actives HAD to be part of a routine in order for other products to work, see results, etc. I havent used actives as they always seem intimidating and I didnt know where in my skincare routine to put them.

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  8. Pingback: Exfoliation Part II: Chemical Exfoliants – I buy crap so you don't have to.·

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