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ABC of Skincare Actives – What are they and How Long Does it Take for them to Work?

by Firass Chamas 21 Sep 2020 0 Comments

When you look at the back of a skincare product, one of the common words that confuse people is “actives”. Often also called skincare active, for a person who does not hold a Ph.D. in skincare cosmetics, this can be a confusing term. How is any other ingredient used in the product any different from an active? What distinguishes skincare actives from other ingredients? And the next question that pops in their head after using the product for few days and not getting instant results is, how long does it take for them to work?

To have the answer to the question, you have to first understand the role of a skincare active in a product. A skincare active, as the name suggests, is an active ingredient. Which means that once you apply it on your skin, it is the skincare active that triggers the other ingredients to work. It is the primary ingredient of a product. Besides working to give you the desired result, it works collectively with other ingredients for an enhanced effect.

When it comes to skincare actives, cosmetic brands spend years of thorough research to develop or discover new ingredients that are best for your skin. When a brand discovers or develops one, they get it patented so no other brand can benefit from their formula. However, there are certain skincare actives which are not patented and are used by various brands. Each of these skincare active has a different duration after which they start showing effect. Let us now look at these skincare actives and how long it takes for them to work:

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is the elixir of life that is used in almost every skincare product as an active ingredient. And the reason it is treated almost like a scared ingredient is because it is produced by human body as well. It is responsible for preventing the skin from going dry. It does so by binding water over 1000 times its own weight. Generally around the age of 25, the production of hyaluronic acid decreases which causes the signs of ageing. This is why it is an active ingredient in many moisturisers. It hydrates the skin by turning up the hydration levels of the skin cells.

What further makes it even better choice is that it works within few minutes after application. So if you want a quick glow up on your skin, apply the moisturiser or cream that has Hyaluronic acid and you will be energetic-looking for the party. It immediately masks your fine lines and wrinkles. And when you use it for a longer period of time, within a week you will notice significant reduction in the fine lines and wrinkles. Not only that, it will make your skin healthier.

Vitamin C

Photo credit: Badulescu Badulescu @pexels

If you are hunting for one of the most pocket-friendly and effective anti-oxidant, then vitamin C is your friend. When it comes to rejuvenating the skin, it must be your first choice because it an organic compound and works directly on the skin without any protective barriers. In addition, Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid, in its pure form) protects the structure of collagen on our skin and prevent the free radical from damaging the skin. It also protects the skin from UV rays.

Once you start applying the product with vitamin C as the skincare active, you’ll notice the brightness in your skin in 3 weeks. It inhibits the production of melanin and further brightens dark spots. It brings the natural glow to the skin that you are looking for.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a favoured active ingredient for skincare products. It not only delivers moisture to the corneal layer but is an anti-oxidant and fights free radicals. When combined with Vitamin C it is takes the Oscars for the best couple award.

Not only this, it takes a mere 10-20 minutes to start giving you the desired results. Your skin gets a mega boost by the regular use of vitamin E. Softness, clarity and brightness of your skin is enhanced by vitamin E.


Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska @pexels 

Retinol (or Vitamin A) plays a vital role in looking after your skin. It stimulates collagen and cell production, protects epidermis and tightens the skin. It starts showing its effect regularly after using it for 8-12 weeks. Initially, it may feel like it is causing dryness but it is simply because it is photosensitive its effect grows thin as it burns by UV rays. Which means that you must use sunscreen when using products with retinol as one of its skincare actives. However, on regular application, the dryness makes way for healthier skin free of wrinkles and dull skin.

While retinol has its many benefits, it could be tricky to use. Products with retinol in them are known to cause irritation, peeling and redness.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

This goes by the name of AHA on skincare products, and is also called glycolic acid. Its small molecular structure allows it to penetrate skin and thus is used to lessen pimples, blackheads, hyper- pigmentation and enlarged pores. It is generally used for exfoliation. Which means that it removes the dead cells from your skin so that only the living and healthy skin stays at the top. Being a chemical peel, it makes the skin photosensitive after usage and, hence, this must be used with sunscreen as well. What makes it popular for usage is its instant effect. The skin absorbs it on regular application and it shows it speak results after 12 weeks.


Niacinamide has various benefits. It strengths the skin’s barrier, lessens skin damage, lessens acne and has an effect on pigmentation. Structurally, it is a form of vitamin B3 that is generated in our body. On way to have it is by including it in our diet. Or, many people also use skincare products in which it is an active ingredient. If you have acne, wrinkles, and redness on your skin, then niacinamide will look after it. But the thing to note here is that it does not have an instant effect. It takes up-to 12 weeks to have significant effect on your skin. And when it does, you will immediately fall in love with the glow on your skin.

In short:

Skincare actives are natural ingredients that are scientifically proven to alter your skin structure at the level of the cells. They are responsible for repairing, nourishing and hydrating the cells. Actives are ingredients that trigger other ingredients in the skincare products to work and give your skin the maximum care it needs. Retinol, Vitamin C & E, AHA, Hyaluronic acid and Niacinamide are some of the common actives found in the skincare products. Each of these actives take their own time to show the desired results. While Vitamin E and Hyaluronic acid take only a few minutes, Niacinamide can take up to 12 weeks to show significant improvement in your skin.

Now that you know how long do 6 of the common skincare actives take to work, you can be more deliberate in your purchase of skincare products to ensure the maximum effectiveness for your skin.

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