What Active Ingredients To Look For In Skin Care Products

The beauty market is saturated with skin care products. The science behind them is becoming more sophisticated and the list of magical ingredients promising to tighten, smooth and remove years of your face keeps getting longer and more complicated.

Whether you are a seasoned beauty junkie always on the hunt for the next miraculous product with a packed cabinet to die for, or you prefer sticking to a beauty regime and investing in a handful of high quality products, you want to see visible results. And what’s inside the pot does matter.

However, deciding what to buy by just looking at the long list of ingredients and bypassing the actual brand, can be a rather daunting task. What active ingredients in skin care products can really improve your skin?

To help you know exactly what to get when your skin looks dull, dry, perhaps more wrinkly, or with more breakouts flaring up, I have put together this mini guide of scientifically-proven active ingredients, which you can seek when looking to improve or solve some of your skin concerns.

To exfoliate: Salicyclic Acid

Exfoliating is the best way to get rid of dead skin cells and improve the texture of your skin. Salicyclic acid is a beta hydroxyacid (BHA) that exfoliates, unclogs pores and has anti-bacterial properties. It can penetrate skin pores and dissolve the bonds between surface skin cells, activating the process that unclogs pores. This makes it a great fighter against blemishes.

Salicyclic acid can also reduce sebum secretion (which makes skin oily, shiny and can lead to blemishes) and reduce inflammation.   

You can find Salicyclic Acid in the Obagi CLENZIderm system.

To protect: Zinc Oxide

Zinc Oxide is a skin protectant, used to treat and prevent various skin conditions including minor abrasions, burns, chafing, diaper rash, insect bites, and minor skin irritation.

Because of its protective properties, Zinc Oxide is used in sunscreens as it provides a physical barrier to harmful UV light by deflecting sun rays. In addition, it is non-irritating and non-allergenic.

You should protect your skin all year round. Zinc Oxide provides you with a broad spectrum of protection from the sun as it shields your skin from exposure to both the ageing (UVA) and burning (UVB) sun rays.

Zinc Oxide can be found in Obagi’s Sun Shield Matte, Mineral and Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 50 sunscreens.

To smooth and firm: Retinol 1%

Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, and as such, is the holy grail of active ingredients for its ability to treat everything from wrinkles to breakouts and more severe acne. Retinol boosts skin cell turnover, smooths skin, minimises the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, unclogs pores, lightens age spots, and refines skin texture with minimal irritation.

You can find Retinol 1% in the Obagi 360 system.

To brighten: L-ascorbic acid

This is the active form of topical Vitamin C and therefore is a potent antioxidant and skin-soothing agent, helping to improve the appearance of signs of ageing and stimulate your skin’s natural regeneration process.

Obagi Professional-C products contain L-ascorbic acid.

To hydrate: Hydromanil

A beautiful complexion starts with hydrated skin, hence the importance of investing in a high quality moisturiser.

Hydromanil is derived from tara seed and is a potent moisturiser. It captures and retains water, absorbing it into the skin and keeping it well-hydrated.

It can be found in Obagi Hydrate and Hydrate Luxe products.

To boost collagen and firm: Peptides

You are probably familiar with the term peptides as there was a lot of buzz around them last year.

Peptides are strings of amino acids, which are the building blocks that make up proteins in our body, and occur in all living organisms.

When peptides are part of skin products, their job is to promote collagen, elastin and other proteins. They can therefore relax wrinkles because of the increase in collagen production and the reverse of its degradation.

Peptides are a great anti-ageing ingredient. Facial products containing peptides help your skin feel plumper and firmer.

You can find Peptides in Obagi’s Professional-C Peptide Complex.

To treat Hyperpigmentation: Hydroquinone 4%

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition, affecting people of all skin types. It occurs when the skin produces more quantities of melanin than normal, resulting in darker patches of skin compared to the rest of the complexion.

Some forms of hyperpigmentation include melasma, age or sun spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

Hydroquinone is a prescription-only treatment used to treat hyperpigmentation. It is a must-have product as it blocks the skin process that leads to discolouration.

Sunscreen is an essential aspect of hyperpigmentation treatment because even minimal exposure to the sun can increase melanocytic activity, the process which causes hyperpigmentation.

If you suffer from any type of hyperpigmentation make sure your skin is always protected with a high factor sunscreen.

Hydroquinone 4% is found in Obagi Nu-Derm and Obagi-C Rx systems.

To treat acne: Benzoyl Peroxide & Tretinoin

Acne is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting millions of individuals, from young teenagers to people in their 60s.

Benzoyl Peroxide 5%

If you suffer from mild to moderate acne, I would recommend products containing Benzoyl Peroxide. This is a prescription-only drug. As acne is a condition that can be triggered by many different factors, such as hormones, diet, stress, etc, it is better treated after a proper medical consultation and potentially with a prescription medication.

Benzoyl Peroxide works by unclogging pores and aiding the reduction of the amount of acne-causing bacteria that is produced by your body.

It is found in the Obagi CLENZIderm system.


Tretinoin is a prescription-only topical treatment for acne and for preventing signs of ageing. It is a retinoid which is a vitamin A derivative that works by increasing skin cell turnover. This means dead skin cells are cleared off your skin more quickly as new skin cells rise to the surface.

The quicker cell turnover opens your pores, releasing the trapped bacteria or irritants that are causing acne, and promotes skin regeneration. As a result, it also improves the appearance of visible signs of ageing including fine lines and wrinkles.

Retinoids such as Tretinoin can help your skin regulate its natural oil (sebum) production, preventing future breakouts. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, clearing up active acne pustules.

Obagi Tretinoin is available in three strengths, 0.025%, 0.05%, and 0.1%


If you have a skin concern which is affecting your confidence and the way you feel about yourself, I highly recommend you consult a dermatologist or professional aesthetic doctor. As a doctor myself, I always look for evidence-based science behind products to ensure my clients’s skin receives the best care and improves its condition.

This is why I have chosen to partner with Obagi, a company I trust and whose products have been scientifically proven, showing significant results when treating premature skin ageing, acne, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, and melasma. For more information on how I can help you find the most-suited solution for your skin woes, get in touch. You can also read my blog on Obagi systems to learn which one can transform your skin.