However, when it comes to our skin, more often than not, a healthy dose of a powerful active is a lower dose … aka microdosing. It may take longer to reach results, but the results will be worth the wait and prevent the irritation and damage that can occur from overdoing active ingredients. The last thing we want is constant purging, redness, inflammation, dry skin, perioral dermatitis, or a severely damaged barrier as a result of doing too much.
So what exactly is an active ingredient, and how often should we be using them? Essentially, an “active” ingredient is one that enacts therapeutic change to the cells it comes in contact with. Everyone’s skin is different, so those with less sensitive skin can handle more, while many others should use it sparingly, or less frequently. Here are some of our favorite, most effective actives that give us major results with a more minimal dose.
AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)
AHAs are great for exfoliating the top layer of skin, which helps deep-cleanse the pores and minimize blackheads and reveals brighter, glowing skin that better absorbs skincare products. Because this acid is ever-so-mildly corrosive in this way, it is absolutely crucial to use it as intended. This means you should not leave this mask on for longer than instructed, or use it too many times per week—going too hard on the AHAs can result in skin irritation, redness, and a compromised skin barrier.
Vitamin C is the glow holy grail. It fades dark spots, scarring, and hyperpigmentation, encourages an even tone, and discourages breakouts and wrinkles. But this antioxidant ingredient is mildly exfoliating and can be too strong for the skin in high concentrations or when used too often, resulting in purging, redness, stinging, or itchiness. This serum is a stable and effective yet mild concentration that can be used daily—just once if you’re more sensitive.
Prescription retinoids are incredibly harsh on the skin for most people and will produce a “retinization” effect that can last from four weeks to six months. This usually entails purging; breakouts; redness; intensely dry, flaking skin; and photosensitivity. While the irritation can fade for some people as they get used to it, many people can’t handle it and will only benefit from an effective yet subtle dose, like in this anti-aging duo that is powerful while still gentle.
This ingredient works wonders to minimize redness, pore appearance, breakouts, and fine lines, but too much can cause irritation and even perioral dermatitis. The higher percentage is great for acne, but a mellow 5% can still work wonders without causing irritation.
We think of healing and scar fading when we think of this ingredient, and we’re not wrong. However, this antioxidant is still an active ingredient, and it’s also fat-soluble. This means it can build up, especially for those who are oily or acne-prone. To prevent it from clogging pores, sensitive types should only use a vitamin E treatment once to twice a week for optimal results.