Skin Care Hero Ingredients Explained

If you’re a skincare fan, you’ve probably seen the term “hero ingredient.” But, what do “hero ingredients” mean, how important are they and what are the common ingredients searched?

Hero Ingredients Answer the S.O.S. (Save Our Skin) Distress Call

“Hero” is another way to describe a product’s main active ingredient(s). They’re the ingredients that provide the benefit that the product was formulated for. These ingredients can include moisturizing, antioxidant protection, smoothing out skin texture, accelerating cell turnover, strengthening your skin’s barrier, and boosting collagen production.

These ingredients affect the texture or scent of the product, stabilize the hero, keep the formula consistent, or help your skin absorb the product.

When building a regimen, these type of ingredients are important! Not only are you looking for the ingredients that meet your skin’s needs, but you’re also considering how well they work in different products.

women skincare routine

The Skincare Hall of Heroes to Save the Day

Usually, a skincare product will have some combination of common and proprietary heroes ingredients. Common heroes are anything from vitamin E or retinol, to hyaluronic acid or snail mucin. You’ll hear them mentioned in articles about skincare trends because they’re ingredients are effective enough to be used in many products.

Proprietary heroes are formulas developed through extensive research by their brands and are usually patented, like SkinMedica’s TNS® growth factor blend. A brand may develop a proprietary version of a common hero ingredient that improves its effectiveness or creates a stable version. For example, SkinMedica’s HA5, a hyaluronic acid formula supports the skin’s ability to produce its own naturally-occurring HA.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and effective heroes you’re likely to come across, and what it is they do for your skin.

Skin in the game:

  • Hyaluronic Acid: HA is a naturally-occurring substance that works to provide hydration, antioxidant properties, and keeping your skin’s structure stable and refreshed. Each molecule has the ability to bind water to itself and to penetrate the skin to deliver ultimate moisture—but is also lightweight and gentle enough for oily or sensitive skin. Try SkinMedica’s bestselling HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator for a moisturizer that quenches thirsty skin.
  • Collagen: Found in every area of your body, collagen is a protein that maintains suppleness and flexibility in skin, cartilage, and connective tissue. It supports your skin’s structure and improves its firmness, especially as our ability to naturally produce slows over time.
  • Squalane: A powerful emollient, helps to fill in weak spots in your skin’s barrier to prevent moisture loss. It’s very similar to squalene produced in our own sebum, which we produce drastically less of starting around age 30. 
  • Peptides: The short form—peptides are amino acids that make up proteins. When we’re talking about skincare, “peptides” can cover a lot of ground, but usually are used for one particular function. When collagen breaks down (for example due to UV light exposure, smoking, and other stresses), peptides are released and serve as “messengers” to the body to stimulate the production of new collagen. They’re often used in skin care, therefore, to boost collagen production and keep your skin firm, smooth, healthy, and tight.
  • Ceramides: Ceramides are lipids that are part of the skin’s outermost barrier where flattened skin cells bind together with lipids like ceramides and squalene to protect the skin beneath. Naturally-produced ceramide levels drop at 30, so products with ceramide are useful for conditioning and strengthening that layer and preventing moisture loss. Try SkinCeuticals’ Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 to help your healthy skin adjust to them.

obagi professional c serum

Below are the necessary vitamins to take:

  • Retinol: It has a range of benefits, making it a popular hero ingredient for a variety of concerns, from redness to clogged or large pores to rough texture. It’s a great antioxidant and improves skin health and resilience. It’s also potent and not everyone can tolerate these ingredients; for those who can, it’s best used at night. SkinCeuticals offers two strengths, Retinol 0.5 and Retinol 1.0, to meet your skin’s needs.
  • Vitamin C: It has intense antioxidant capabilities and works even better in combination with other antioxidant ingredients. It supports collagen production and helps your skin heal quickly. Caveat: always get a product like Obagi’s Professional-C Serum that comes in opaque or dark glass bottles, because it breaks down quickly when exposed to light.
  • Vitamin E: A powerhouse of antioxidant ingredients that’s calming, anti-inflammatory, and heals scars.  It’s great for smoother, softer skin with a more even tone.
  • Niacinamide (B3): It’s compatible with most heroes and skin types. It boosts the skin’s natural barrier defenses, helping to prevent moisture loss and environmental damage. Products like SkinCeuticals’ Metacell Renewal B3 are a top choice.
  • Vitamin B5: You’ll see this called pantothenic acid or panthenol. It’s a humectant and benefits include speed healing, reduce inflammation, keep skin oils at healthy levels, and help prevent acne. Try SkinCeuticals’ Hydrating B5 Gel or Hydrating B5 Masque.

women holding latisse

Don’t forget nature’s gifts:

  • Resveratrol: Products with resveratrol offer antioxidant protection and stimulate the skin’s production of its own antioxidant defenses. SkinCeuticals’ Resveratrol B E delivers a high-powered dose of this.
  • Ferulic Acid: Found in grains and seeds, ferulic acid is a great addition to the family of antioxidant ingredients. It’s thought to speed healing from environmental damage as well as offering protection against free radicals itself. The real benefit, is that it’s great at stabilizing other ingredients and making them last longer and work better—especially vitamins C and E. That’s why SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic, which combines all three, has been hailed throughout the skincare industry as a top product.
  • Phloretin: Phloretin is a flavonoid that has antioxidant benefits, but also works to keep skin tone even. It’s used in skin care especially in combination with other active ingredients because it helps them penetrate the skin easily. SkinCeuticals’ Phloretin CF is a powerful antioxidant serum that brings together vitamin C, ferulic acid, and phloretin.
  • Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): This group of chemical exfoliants work by dissolving the bond between old, dead skin cells and new, speeding up the process of shedding old skin to brighten your complexion. They’re gentle enough to be used by people with dry or sensitive skin, and they don’t irritate or inflame skin. Try SkinMedica’s AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser and Face Cream.
  • Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid is actually an AHA, but is a popular standalone hero ingredient because it has the smallest molecules of any AHA type, allowing it to penetrate the skin easily and effectively. It also helps stimulate collagen production, so it helps skin feel firmer and smoother.
  • Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): BHAs are  commonly found in skincare as salicylic acid. They are also natural chemical exfoliants that work similarly to AHAs, but, BHAs are oil-soluble, making them useful for acne, blackheads, and clogged pores as well as oily skin types.

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