Your ultimate ingredient-based guide for getting your skin looking and feeling its best this season…
By Adriana Ermter
You only need to stroll down Ocean Drive in Miami, along 17th Avenue in Calgary, through Yorkville in Toronto or the scenic walkway along the Seine in Paris to see that our world is filled with glowing, smiling, youthful-looking faces. Innovations in skin care are to thank for that, as each new serum, face lotion, nighttime treatment and more has been infused with do-good, look-great ingredients. That makes using one or two or six products filled with these unique formulations not just a growing obsession, but an essential part of our daily skincare routine. And we can’t get enough – according to a 2023 report by Allied Market Research, the global skincare market was valued at $146.7 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach $273.3 billion by 2031.
But are you choosing products containing the right ingredients for your face? Industry magnates such as Estée Lauder, Unilever and L’Oréal Paris pump out hundreds of new ingredient-fuelled products each year – which can make it a baffling quest to sift through the rows of bottles and tubes on drugstore shelves to determine which night cream or cleanser is appropriate for your skin. “When most people walk into a department store or drugstore or go online to purchase skincare products, they’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices,” affirms Dr. Nancy Lee Silverberg, in her recently launched book Skin Deep: A Dermatologist’s Guide to the Science of Skin Care. Because, let’s face it, skin care is not a one-size-fits-all concept.
For starters, unique physiological differences can affect skincare needs: in general, men tend to have thicker skin with a higher collagen density, which is less prone to fine lines and wrinkles; women often contend with hormonal fluctuations, leading to specific concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation and skin sensitivity. “Everyone’s skin requires something prescribed for their own unique DNA depending on lifestyle, medical history, skin type, skin concerns, skin goals, budget and time,” says Vee Mistry, a celebrity facialist and the owner and founder of SKINBYVEE in Toronto.
Factor in universal conundrums such as an oily T-zone, dry cheeks, a lacklustre texture and crow’s feet, and we could all benefit from applying the Goldilocks Theory for optimum skin care. To ensure you’re making the right-for-you selects, here are 11 skincare ingredients to look for on the labels of your facial products.
1. Arbutin, to get your glow on
A plant-derived extract, arbutin visibly brightens your skin, smoothing a dull and tired-looking complexion into oblivion. It also works wonders on reducing hyperpigmentation, a frequent result of too much sun and too little SPF, and protects against damage from free radicals, such as environmental pollutants. All combined, it“helps protect and hydrate the skin, lending itself to keeping the skin barrier intact and allowing the skin to naturally have a beautiful inner glow,” says Mistry.
Try: The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA Serum, $23 for 60 mL; available online at www.theordinary.com.
2. Edelweiss extract, to heal environmental damage
A powerful antioxidant, this leontopodic acid and natural-origin peptide combo effectively protects your skin from both indoor and outdoor pollutants. But that’s not all. It helps to keep your skin barrier in tip-top health, while boosting your skin’s defence mechanisms to create stronger, smoother skin. “Edelweiss is a beautiful, small but powerful flower that grows high in the Alpine regions 1500-3000 metres in altitude, and the extract is from this stunning flower,” says Mistry. “Providing 43 per cent more antioxidant properties, it benefits the skin by strengthening the skin barrier and protecting it against any environmental aggressors.”
Try: The Body Shop Edelweiss Intense Smoothing Day Cream, $38 for 50 mL, $76 for 100 mL; available at The Body Shop stores and online at www.thebodyshop.com.
3. Fermented botanicals, to penetrate thick skin
Like the juice from fermented grapes that are squished into wine bottles, fermented plants can also be infused into skincare formulas. “Fermented ingredients in skin care help balance good and bad bacteria on our skin, and this is when we talk specifically about the microbiome of the skin,” explains Mistry. “When there is balance of this, the skin is strong as well as healthy.”
Additionally, the process, which breaks down natural ingredients like flowers and flower extracts into smaller molecules, can amplify the ingredient’s potency and enable it to penetrate your skin’s outer layer, the epidermis, for improved results.
Try: Andalou Naturals Deep Hydration Multi Correcting Cream, $35 for 60 mL; available online at www.well.ca.
4. Hyaluronic acid, to rejuvenate and plump up your skin
While hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in your body and skin, “as we age, this process slows down – by adding this ingredient in skin care, it will attract 1,000 times its own weight in water, keeping the skin juicy and pillowy,” says Mistry. By ‘gluing’ itself to water molecules to help refresh and lubricate your face, it traps moisture in all layers of your skin to keep you looking dewy, moisturized and line free.
Try: CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser, $22 for 355 mL; available at Shoppers Drug Mart.
5. Lactic acid, to smooth an uneven texture
Uneven skin can “be rough to the touch, bumpy, [have] blackheads and whiteheads, and pores can look enlarged,” describes Mistry. Lactic acid, a water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), can resolve this as it exfoliates your skin, removing dead skin cells to promote cellular rejuvenation. While most lactic acids are derived from milk, vegan options (aptly named ‘vegan lactic acid’ on product labels), are also being infused into skincare products.
Try: Kiehl’s Ferulic Brew Facial Treatment Essence with Lactic Acid, $76 for 200 mL; available at Sephora.
6. Japanese indigo, to reduce irritation, sensitivity and/or redness
Indigo blue in colour and frequently used to dye clothing, this botanical is now being harnessed in skin care for its ability to regulate red, irritated skin and to support the skin’s natural protective barrier. “This barrier is the outermost layer of the skin,” explains Mistry. And “it protects the skin from harmful environmental aggressors,” such as pollution, the sun and, as the name suggests, even blue rays from your smartphone, iPad and other electronic screens. Products inclusive of indigo blue help to calm and heal damaged skin.
Try: Tatcha Indigo Overnight Repair Serum in Cream Treatment, $124 for 50 mL; available at Sephora.
7. Polysaccharides, to hydrate and moisturize
“A lack of oil production in the skin, not drinking enough water and using the wrong cleansers or over-exfoliating can make the skin [look and feel] dry and tight,” says Mistry. Sourcing products containing polysaccharides is your fix. With their ability to increase the skin’s water retention, they work to replenish and nourish your skin. This then helps to hydrate the epidermis, diminishing that tight and uncomfortable feeling associated with dryness, while plumping it up and giving your face a softer, smoother appearance.
Try: Origins High-Potency Night-a-Mins Resurfacing Cream, $73 for 50 mL; available online at www.origins.ca.
8. Peptides, to look younger
There’s a reason peptide is often pluralized in skin care and listed on labels as multi-peptides or a peptide complex. Different ones, like copper, antimicrobial, carnosine and enzyme-inhibiting peptides, to name a few, address anti-aging by boosting collagen and elastin production. “Peptides also help reduce skin inflammation and even skin tone,” adds Mistry. “Because certain amino acids can stimulate your skin to make more collagen, this ingredient is great for pro-aging,” as peptides in their entirety excel at softening fine lines and wrinkles into oblivion.
Try: Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum, $108 for 30 mL; available at Sephora.
9. Reishi mushrooms, to look worry free
“Stress on the face can be due to a stressful lifestyle, lack of sleep, changes in medical history, starting medication or poor diet,” explains Mistry. “Our skin is a map of our internal organs: when things internally are not balanced, this will show up in the face in the form of detoxification.” Stress can manifest in the form of inflamed red skin, acne breakouts and an increase in oil production or even accelerated dryness. Courtesy of their ability to restore moisture loss and their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, reishi mushrooms soothe and calm your skin to reduce all of the above, including redness and irritation.
Try: Youth To The People, Adaptogen Deep Moisturizing Cream with Ashwagandha + Reishi, $79 for 60 mL; available at Sephora.
10. Sunscreen SPF 30, a must for all skin types
We don’t need to tell you that exposing your skin to the sun’s harsh UVA (think aging) and UVB (think burning) rays is bad news. While many daytime face creams and lotions contain an SPF, using a sunblock daily is always the safest route in protecting against sun damage. Physical (otherwise known as mineral) sunscreen ingredients include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide; these block and scatter the sun’s rays before they penetrate your skin. Chemical sunscreen ingredients, like avobenzone and octisalate, absorb UV rays before they can damage your skin. And make sure to use an SPF product “daily, 365 days a year, to protect the skin from skin cancer, skin pigmentation, lines and wrinkles,” advises Mistry.
Try: Elta MD, UV Active Broad-spectrum SPF 50+, from $72 for 265 mL; available at Walmart.
11. Tranexamic acid, to eliminate dark spots and acne scarring
Retinol, an effective form of vitamin A, is well-known as a powerful skincare ingredient, and yet it can often be too harsh for many skin types. Tranexamic acid, a derivative of the amino acid lysine, is a less harsh and irritating alternative. Like retinol, it helps fade dark spots and can reduce the appearance of acne scars while tightening your skin’s pores. It also boasts anti-aging properties. “As we age and our skin produces less collagen, lysine [and derivatives of it] have been known to help stimulate more collagen production to give the skin a firmer, bouncy appearance,” says Mistry.
Try: SkinCeuticals, Discoloration Defense Daily Serum, $146 for 30 mL; available online at www.skinceuticals.ca.
ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.