When it comes to your health and happiness, understanding the different products you use can be a huge breakthrough. Active agents are an essential part of skin care products as they are the primary ingredients, which deliver the proposed benefits. These agents are present in all types of skin care products. However, according to this review, they vary in concentration, which is based on whether you are using prescription products or over-the-counter (OTC) products.

The particular active agents are used based on the skin care product’s function. Moisturizers have petrolatum, glycerin and dimethicone whose primary function is to provide extra hydration to the skin by trapping water. Active agents in natural anti-aging products include alpha hydroxy acids and antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, which help in reducing wrinkles and fine lines. Common active ingredients in acne products include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

Major Active Agents in Skin Care Products

Following are the most common active ingredients used in skin care products.


This active ingredient is derived from the turmeric root, which is commonly used as a natural yellow food coloring. It is usually used in products, which claim to be all-natural. Since yellow color is usually related with oxidative spoilage, it is deemed undesirable in the preparation of cosmetics. Instead, a hydrogenated form of curcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin, is used not only because it is off-white in color, but also it is a very effective antioxidant and avoids lipids in the moisturizer from turning bad [1].


Soybeans are famous being a rich source of genistein and daidzein, which come under the category of isoflavones. This active ingredient is known for reducing the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases because the isoflavones present in it, when consumed orally, function as phytoestrogens.

Genistein is not only a great antioxidant, but is also excellent for protecting against lipid peroxidation and scavenging peroxyl radicals in vivo. It also enhances collagen stimulation in the skin cells. However, there are no published researches of this collagen gene expression in topical human trials. Some studies have shown that soy has great estrogenic effects on the skin, especially on women in their postmenopausal stage.


Retinol is an active ingredient found in many OTC anti-aging products and is derived from vitamin A. Retinol and some other carotenoids, such as lutein, astaxanthin, and lycopene, are found in high concentration in tomatoes. There is also a stronger version of retinol, known as tretinoin or retinol acid, which is commonly included in Renova and Retin-A creams. This version is formulated in a special way and is responsible for providing enhanced effects to improve the appearance of photodamaged skin.

This active ingredient is also known to improve skin texture, mottled pigmentation, wrinkles and fine lines, hydration levels as well as its tone and color. There is another ingredient related to retinol, which known as retinyl palmitate, but it is less potent as compared to the other two variations.


Glycerin is a common active ingredient which is found in most moisturizers. It basically functions as humectants, which are substances that take water from the surface of the skin and transfer it to the dehydrated epidermal parts. However, the trapped water tends to evaporate into lower humidity environment when the skin barrier is damaged.

For this reason, glycerin is combined with substances that hinder the loss of water, known as occlusive moisturizers. There are several other skin benefits of glycerin such as it induces a reservoir effect on the skin, which means that the effects still remain even after glycerin has faded away [2].


Being an astringent moisturizer, dimethicone is an active agent which improves the product aesthetics. It is the second most commonly used ingredient in moisturizers because of its nonacnegenic, noncomedogenic, and hypoallergenic properties. Dimethicone belongs to a family of silicones which are used in the preparation of all the facial foundations and oil-free moisturizers.

There are many other advantages of dimethicone as an active ingredient other than moisturization. It helps in smoothening scaled skin, which is a side effect of using acne medications such as tretinoin or benzoyl peroxide. It also prevents the undesirable greasy shine in people with oily skin. Moreover, it makes the skin soft and smooth by filling the gaps present among the desquamating corneocytes. Another great thing about dimethicone is that it doesn’t blend with facial sebum, which is an important property for facial cosmetics and sunscreens.


After water, petrolatum is the most commonly used active agent in skin care creams. It is among the three important ingredients found in moisturizing creams, the other two being glycerin and dimethicone. Being a semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons, petrolatum is acquired through the process of dewaxing of heavy mineral oils.

The main benefit of petrolatum is that it reduces the appearance of fine lines on the body and face, which is due to dehydration of the skin. This active agent is an essential ingredient of several other cosmeceutical formulations. It serves as an emollient and restores the smoothness of the skin by filling the gaps among desquamating corneocytes. It also creates a protective film over the dermal and epidermal nerve endings, which reduces mild pain and itches. Moreover, petrolatum loosens up desquamating corneocytes, which gives an exfoliating effect on the skin.


Sunscreens have the ability to reflect and absorb ultraviolet radiations from the sun and are a commonly used active agent in skin care creams. They are also known as filters, which are further broken down into inorganic and organic filter categories. Inorganic filters work on the principle that they scatter or reflect the ultra-violet radiation, since they are made from ground particles. However, some radiation is absorbed as well. The process through which organic filters absorb radiation is known as resonance delocalization.

Sunscreens are great for preventing further dermal damage caused by photoaging, but they cannot reverse the damage previously incurred. Skin care products for anti-aging have a combination of sunscreens, dimethicone, petrolatum, and glycerin along with several botanicals, which works wonders for reversing the anti-aging effects, and keep the skin supple, smooth and soft.