Why you should know skincare active ingredients

why you should know skincare active ingredients - the thinkingting.com
active ingredients - thethinkingting.com

Here’s a skincare buzzword that you should know! Allow me the chemist to break it down what are ‘actives’ also known as active ingredients in the skincare industry.

Table of Contents

What are active ingredients in skincare?

In skincare, active ingredients are the key ingredients in a product that specifically addresses your skin concerns and it will generally affect how your skin feels to some extent.

As a chemist, I’ve always been aware of active ingredients as we use that term in medicines as well. In medicines, active ingredients are like your paracetamol which is the main component that helps with pain relief and reduction in fever. However, especially in Malaysia, it is well known by the public as the brand – Panadol instead. Whenever anyone is not feeling well, people usually say go have some Panadol instead of paracetamol. This gives the brand strong monetization and leaves most consumers not knowing other cheaper alternatives work the same (known as generics) and education about the medication that they are taking.

Similarly, with skincare, most consumers are blinded by branding and marketing. Cosmetic companies do that to stand out from their competitors and a lot of them do it very well. They know what’s your pain points and they use that to in their fullest advantage to get you to buy their products.

The only way to not allow companies to cloud your judgement is to know exactly what your skin needs and to know what active ingredients will help with your concerns.  

Here’s generally how I decide on buying a skincare product

should i buy this or not- thethinkingting.com
  1. Identify my skin concern
  2. What’s my product of interest
  3. Look for its main active ingredient/s
  4. Determine if that ingredient would benefit my skin and start looking again if it doesn’t – don’t lose focus!
  5. Stop if I already have something similar
  6. Research for products that have the same active ingredients
  7. Compare prices
  8. Determine if the formulation and packaging suits my preference
  9. Read reviews in case I missed out on anything

While it looks like a lengthy process, I assure you that it’s worth going through that process to not waste your money. 

Here’s why you should really know your active ingredients


It Helps You Find the perfect dupe

Although different formulation can affect absorption and affects the result, there’s still a chance that the product of the same active ingredients can work similarly or even better.  

For example, not every ingredient in a SK II treatment essence bottle is going to help with ageing, dullness, firmness, elasticity, and uneven skin texture as it claims.

It is the high concentration of galactomyces ferment filtrate commonly known as their Pitera that does most of the work. With that knowledge, we can then start looking for its cheaper alternatives.

NoProductPercentage of galactomyces ferment filtratePrice per ml
1 SK II treatment essence 90% RM 3.37
2 Manyo Factory Galactomyces Niacin Essence 97% RM 1.36
3 Purito Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence 92% RM 1.32
4 Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence 94% RM 0.61
5 Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence 95% RM 0.61
6 SOMEBYMI Galactomyces Toner 88% RM 0.24

 *most prices are promotional price* I’ve done this table during the midyear sales!

Omg, be right back, going to get me Some By Mi toner NOW.

If this doesn’t make you consider looking at active ingredients, I don’t know what will!

That’s just me listing some of the popular brands that you can purchase online in Malaysia. From the list you can tell that other than the SOMEBYMI, the others have a higher concentration than the popular SK II treatment essence although being significantly cheaper. All the products listed also have some really good reviews so it’s definitely worth checking out the cheaper option. This only took me 5 minutes but saved me a lot of money.


Helps you to know how to use the product to prevent irritation

Knowing the active ingredient and its percentage helps you determine how and when its best to use the product. Type in an ingredient name and you’ll see tons of search paper about it. For example, if you experienced irritation from using a retinol product, you can choose to either

  • Try starting with a lower concentration

– retinol products range from 0.01% – 2%

– higher concentration does not mean it’s going to be better if it irritates your skin

  • Start slow

– I started my retinol with once a week usage, then increased to twice a week and now I’m using it every other day

  • Use it only at night – to reduce skin sensitization
  • Remember to apply sunscreen during the day
  • Stop if you’re experiencing dryness and flakiness – this is a sign of using it too often


Helps you to know what to avoid

Being familiar with active ingredients can also be helpful to know what to avoid. Although, it can be hard to determine if you’re allergic to a particular ingredient as a skincare product usually consists of a lot of ingredients. BUT if you managed to identify your source of irritation, you can then build a routine that works best for you!

Brands like Inkey list and The Ordinary has their active ingredients as the name their product name. *except for The Ordinary ‘Buffet’ as that serum contains multiple active ingredients. I love it as it tells you directly what this product is going to do for your skin!

However, I have friends that do not appreciate that and interpreted it as those brands are just trying to look smart and scientific. Well, coming from a science background, I like smart and scientific. In fact, more brands are noticing consumers are warier about ingredients and they do focus more on educating their consumers and placing a higher focus on active ingredients.

That’s it ! I hope this convinces you to know your active ingredients! However, if you are too busy and can’t be bothered to do the readings, you can subscribe to my email listing as I love reading all about skincare and I’ll be posting more about our skin, skincare ingredients, knowing what works and skincare products review here!

Share this post to anyone that can benefit from this and drop me a comment if you have any questions! 

From a chemist that loves skincare

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Sonali Patil

    Such an eye opener. Everyone wants an active in their skincare routine without knowing if they really need it or not!

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