The skincare ingredients you should look for, according to your skin type

You may have heard of the importance of reading the ingredient list before buying a new beauty product—considering that it is among the first thing that any beauty enthusiast is currently talking about. But it’s safe to say that reading back labels is becoming a tricky business nowadays, especially when the green wave has taken over the skincare industry. Just because some chemicals have earned a bad rep for themselves, there is a growing fear towards scientific-sounding ingredients in our skincare formulations. Doesn’t sugarcane extract sound ‘safer’ than a glycolic peel? But scratch deeper and you realise that a glycolic peel is derived from sugarcane extracts. Let’s face it, not all of us are scientific ninjas and anything that sounds unfamiliar, or like it may be laden with chemicals, makes us vary. We spoke to leading skincare experts to get a lowdown on what you should look for in your skincare formulations, for different skin types and skin needs. Here’s what we found.

The best skincare ingredients for dry skin

Ever wondered how a baby’s skin always looks so dewy and soft? It’s because babies are born with a high level of hyaluronic acid, which keeps their skin plump and smooth. Unfortunately, the amount in our skin diminishes with age, most significantly after age 40. Because hyaluronic acid can boost skin’s moisture content, soothe and protect against moisture loss, this is one of the most tried and tested ingredients in serums, night creams and moisturisers. It is capable of holding up to 1,000 times its own weight in water, making it an optimal hydrator for all skin types, especially dry skin. And its antioxidant character saves the skin from effects of environmental pollution and even photo-ageing too.

Next in line in the world of hydrating and plumping skincare are ceramides. These are lipids (fats) found naturally in high concentrations in the uppermost layers of the skin. They make up for over 50 per cent of the skin’s composition, and hold the skin cells together, forming a protective layer that holds moisture. In moisturisers and night creams, they are added to help refresh the skin’s own ceramide levels. They’re also sometimes combined with enhancers such as liposomes, to help their absorption into the skin. People who have eczema have fewer ceramides in the outer layer of their skin when compared to people with normal skin, so ceramide-potent beauty formulations help them recover.

When you yearn for a powerhouse ingredient to deliver hydration, opt for squalene, recommends Dr Malvika Kohli, aesthetic dermatologist and consultant at Breach Candy and Jaslok Hospitals. Squalene is a colourless poly-unsaturated hydrocarbon liquid that’s naturally found in many animals and plants, including human sebum. It’s commonly harvested from plant sources like olives, wheat germ oil and rice bran. They’re natural emollients, so they’re known to help prevent fine lines and ease dry patches.

Kohli mentions that phospholipids are one of nature’s most powerful humectants. They occur naturally in the skin to protect the dermal layer from external stressors including wind, sun and chemicals by locking in moisture. Studies have shown that topically applied phospholipids, derived from soy lecithin, are very effective in enhancing the skin’s ability to retain moisture and protect against external factors. “Isosorbide Dicaprylate and Saccharide Isomerate help improve skin barrier function and restore oil water balance,” adds Kohli.

The best skincare ingredients for oily, acne-prone skin

While oily skin is prone to acne, it is not without benefits. Even though the oil content can lead to breakouts, it can also protect the skin from the first signs of ageing. Appropriate care of oily skin ensures that acne attack is kept at a distance. Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta, founder and medical director, ISAAC, informs that salicylic acid is one of the best ingredients to control and treat oily skin. Also called a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid exfoliates and cleans the pores from within. It is especially effective for reducing breakouts, including blackheads and whiteheads, while its soothing properties can help calm aggravated skin as well.

Don’t erroneously assume that acids refer to harsh synthetics. Gupta explains, “Lactic acid exfoliates and hydrates the skin at the same time and is often used for its nourishing benefits. Azelaic acid helps to reduce post-acne erythema, treats acne and reduces post-acne marks.”

Clays such as Kaolin and bentonite help absorb excess sebum and lend a mattifying effect to the complexion. When it comes to daily hydration, those with shiny skin should stick with an oil-free moisturiser that uses dimethicone, which doesn’t clog pores. Kohli adds, “Dimethicone imitates oils, leaving skin feeling healthy yet matte. Creams containing myrtacine and niacinamide help prevent active breakouts.”

The best skincare ingredients for dull, pigmented skin

“For reducing pigmentation and brighter skin, use night serums containing glutathione and Vitamin C 20%, Kojic acid and liquorice.” As Kojic acid inhibits the production of melanin, it is a popular ingredient in lightening creams and lotions. Derived from fungi, it’s a by-product of the fermentation process of certain foods, including Japanese sake, soy sauce, and rice wine.

Creams with alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic, lactic and citric acids may help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation and age spots, and may help shrink enlarged pores. Side effects of using alpha-hydroxy acids include mild irritation and sun sensitivity, but any damage can be avoided by religiously applying sunscreen. Start by using a product with a maximum concentration of 10 per cent to 15 per cent AHA every alternate day. Gradually work up to daily application.

The best skincare ingredients for sensitive skin

“Calendula and chamomile extracts, hyaluronic acid, turmeric and aloe vera are ingredients that sensitive skin loves—look for these on the label at the back,” suggests cosmetic chemist, Dr Aneesh Sheth. Curcumin (extracted from turmeric) is now graduating from grandma’s kitchen to become a regular feature at pharmacy stores because of its antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. “Lactic acid, mandelic acid, oat oil and hyaluronic acid are great for sensitive skin. Lately, cannabis or CBD (which is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis oil), is emerging as a new super ingredient in skincare. It is showing amazing results in treating psoriasis and eczema.”

The best skincare ingredients for ageing skin

Skin-replenishing ingredients revive the skin’s surface by supplying long-lasting infusions of hydration. This helps skin look and feel soft, smooth and supple. With continuous use, these ingredients help skin resist moisture loss and maintain an enviably smooth, plump appearance. Simply put, the skin appears younger. One of the most popular among these is hyaluronic acid, which is often touted for its ability to ‘reverse’ or stop ageing, and is regarded as the elixir to youth. Skincare products containing this substance are often used with Vitamin C products to assist in effective penetration. The combination of hyaluronic acid with Vitamin C and retinol is a potent blend to keep wrinkles and dullness at bay, states Kohli. She adds, “Keep an eye out for creams containing peptides—Penta peptides, Hexapeptides (for Botox-like effect) and Copper Peptides, as these amino acids are the building blocks of collagen.” Studies have shown that copper peptide promotes collagen and elastin production, acts as an antioxidant, and promotes production of hyaluronic acid. It also helps to firm, smooth and soften skin, and does it in less time than most other anti-ageing skincare products.

Glycolic acid, one of the most effective and well-researched forms of AHA, is a gentle exfoliant that reduces fine lines and dark spots. Extracted from sugar cane, glycolic acid softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles—yes, even the deep ones.

If you are looking to counter the first signs of ageing, Dr Gupta recommends using retinol-based products. “Retinol or Vitamin A molecule is a skin-restoring, wrinkle-smoothing, firming ingredient, as well as an antioxidant that improves a variety of skin concerns, most related to visible signs of ageing. It increases skin cell turnover and stimulates collagen synthesis. Ferulic acid enhances effects of retinol, prevents sun damage and protects collagen.” For retinol to remain effective, look for opaque and air-tight packaging.

The article was first published in


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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