With the global beauty industry worth a whopping $532 billion and constantly generating new products, it can be difficult to know where to start with finding the right items for you. With firm, youthful-looking skin the goal, wading through the long, scientific names on the back of a tube of eye cream, or knowing the benefits of vitamin E over vitamin K when it comes to selecting your night mask can be overwhelming.
Here, we’ve put together an A to Z guide of essential ingredients you should be looking out for when choosing your skincare, sunscreen and cosmetics. From oils that will nourish and hydrate, to acids that will anchor moisture to the skin, and extracts that will tone complexions and reduce redness, these 26 ingredients are guaranteed to add to your glow.
Scroll through our gallery above to learn about the best ingredients for all skin types.
A for Avocado oil
Found in both haircare and skincare products, avocado oil is packed full of beta carotene, protein, lecithin, fatty acids, and vitamins A, D, and E, all of which moisturise skin and help protect it from UV damage. It also helps increase collagen production, helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
B for Buriti oil
Mostly found in sun protection products, this oil from the fruit of the buriti plant has a high beta-carotene content, making it perfect for pre and post-sun exposure use. It’s high in fatty acids such as oleic acid, which helps improve the skin’s elasticity. Buriti oil can also strengthen hair fibres.
C for Caviar
An effective anti-ageing ingredient, caviar extract has antioxidant properties that protect skin against UVA and UVB sun rays by preventing the breakdown of collagen and elastin. It works to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and is a popular ingredient in facials and face creams.
D for DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol)
A substance that is naturally produced in the brain, DMAE is also found in oily fish such as anchovies, salmon and sardines. When used in skincare, it’s been shown to be effective in the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles.
E for Evening primrose
Also taken in tablet form, evening primrose oil has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Ideal for soothing stressed and irritated skin, and effective as a moisturiser, it also improves skin texture elasticity and combats dryness.
F for Ferulic acid
Usually extracted from wheat and maize bran, this antioxidant soaks up reactive free radicals that can lead to premature ageing. To increase its effectiveness, seek products that combine ferulic acid with vitamins C and E for sun protection, reducing pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles.
G for Glycolic acid
One of the most popular face acids on the market, this is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that works to loosen the upper layers of dead skin cells to reveal smoother, clearer skin. It’s also used to unclog pores, fade hyperpigmentation and increase collagen production.
H for Hyaluronic acid
One of the biggest skin breakthroughs in recent years, hyaluronic acid holds on to water and provides essential hydration for hours on end. Found naturally in the skin, levels decrease with age, making it the ideal ingredient for anti-ageing moisturisers and serums. It’s best applied to moist skin for maximum hydration.
I for Iron oxide
Iron oxide is the skin-coloured pigment found in foundation, and it comes in shades of red, yellow and brown, which when combined with white, mix to all shades of skin tones. It can absorb high-energy visible light in the blue / violet region, which is effective against pigmentation.
J for Jojoba oil
This is effective for treating dry skin, and can be applied by itself or mixed in with a cream or face mask. Lightweight and non-greasy, it’s antibacterial and hypoallergenic, and can control sebum production, also making it perfect for combination skin.
K for Kojic acid
It's ideal for treating pigmentation and age spots as it is effective as a lightening agent, and slows down the production of melanin.
L for L-ascorbic acid
This form of vitamin C works as an antioxidant that stimulates the synthesis of collagen, reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and even scars. Research has also found it can visibly improve the appearance of photodamaged skin.
M for Manuka honey
With its antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, honey has been used on skin for centuries, and is known for its wound-healing abilities. Its antioxidant protection makes it an ideal anti-ageing ingredient, and its sugar component helps moisturise the skin.
N for Niacinamide
Supporting the natural maintenance of the skin-barrier function, this form of vitamin B3 aids in preventing water loss and environmental irritants from penetrating the dermis. Niacinamide also increases the levels of ceramides in the skin, making it an ideal moisturiser for uneven skin tones.
O for Oat amino acids
Used in skincare for centuries, oats are packed full of powerful anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory avenanthramides, making this ingredient well suited for dry and sensitive skin, including to treat conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It also contains starch, proteins, lipids, and beta glucans, which have moisturising properties.
P for Prickly pear oil
This cactus-derived ingredient has hydrating, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. It can reduce skin inflammation and improve the appearance of conditions such as acne. A super-lightweight ingredient, it has been shown to stimulate new cell growth and restore elasticity that is down to it being rich in vitamins E and K, essential fatty acids and antioxidants, as well as a high concentration of linoleic acid, an omega-6 essential fatty acid ideal for nourishing and repairing skin.
Q for Q10
Q10 (also known as coenzyme or ubiquinone) is a chemical vital for cell function that’s naturally made by the body during the energy production process. In skincare, it acts as an antioxidant, and has been found to be effective in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and increasing skin smoothness.
R for Retinol
Retinol is a form of vitamin A that works by affecting how skin cells grow and how quickly dead skin cells are shed. Retinol can work to reduce clogged pores, control the bacteria that causes acne and reduce skin inflammation. Derivatives of vitamin A (retinoids) are among the ingredients with the most scientific evidence to back up their effects.
S for Salicylic acid
Derived from the bark of the willow tree, salicylic acid is more oil-soluble than other chemical exfoliants, meaning it loosens the top layer of the skin and can better penetrate pores and rid them of blackheads and grime. It is also anti-inflammatory and can calm irritated skin without redness.
T for Titanium oxide
This naturally occurring earth mineral is used in sunscreens, as it protects the skin from UVA and UVB radiation. Always seek out this ingredient in your sun-protection if you have particularly sensitive skin.
U for Urea
Found naturally in the skin’s moisturising barrier, urea decreases with age. It acts as a humectant moisturiser holding water close to the skin for maximum hydration, while also acting as an exfoliant. It’s also found in foot and hand creams, as higher-concentration formulas are suitable for softening callouses.
V for Vitamins
Four vitamins, C, D, E and K are considered by dermatologists to be the main ones to look out for in your creams and serums. Vitamin C promotes collagen production, which is essential for maintaining firm skin. Vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin”, helps the skin repair itself. Vitamin E is most often found in overnight creams due to its ability to reduce inflammation. Vitamin K supports the skin’s natural barrier function, reducing the appearance of stretch marks and dark circles.
W for Witch hazel
A standard ingredient in many toners for its ability to tighten pores and refine skin texture, witch hazel also contains antioxidants and works to reduce skin redness. Thanks to its anti-irritation properties, you’ll also find it in scalp-soothing shampoos, although with all products containing witch hazel, look for ones without alcohol, as these can dry out the skin and hair.
X for Xylene sulfonic acid
This rather scientific-sounding ingredient increases water’s ability to dissolve other molecules, making it beneficial in toners, astringents and shampoos, helping to take away dirt from the skin and hair.
Y for Yeast extract
Thanks to its high nutrient content, including proteins, vitamins and minerals, yeast extract helps to reduce the amount of oxidative stress on the skin, soothing problematic skin. The ingredient has also shown abilities in serving as a possible biosurfactant for moisturising formulas. Maintaining the skin’s quality and texture, it also helps retain moisture.
Z for Zinc oxide
A natural mineral used in sunscreens, zine oxide is one of the most effective ingredients for sun protection. Hypoallergenic, it’s ideal for those with sensitive skin and works by absorbing and reflecting UV light before it can reach the skin.