Health & Beauty

Beauty ingredients explained: what ARE you putting on your face?

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Ever wondered what does what in your skincare and cosmetic products? Now you don’t have to with the latest guide from the beauty team.

Working out your skin type is one thing, but seeking out the products that’ll work for it is another. We’ve put together a guide to the main ingredients you should look out for: what they do, and what skin types they’re best and worst for. Next time you need to pick up a moisturiser you’ll be skincare savvy and know exactly what you’re after.


AHAs (Alpha hydroxy acids)

Whilst you may think of an exfoliant as grains that you manually scrub your face with, AHAs break down sun-damaged cells, dead skin and dirt to help keep your skin smooth, usually in the form of skin tonics or toners. Most of the time they are derived from natural sources, although may be synthetic in some cosmetics.

Avoid if: you have sensitive skin and haven’t used them before you will need to work AHAs into your skincare routine so that your skin adapts, otherwise they may cause irritation.

Try: for smoother skin in just a couple of days, a safe bet is Scrub Your Nose In It by Soap and Glory.

FullSizeRender-1Salicylic acid (Beta hydroxy acids)

These are great for opening pores and breaking down bacteria, so great for those of you trying to combat the bitch that is acne. They can get right down into and exfoliate your pores and oily hair follicles and so are an essential ingredient if you’re looking to decongest your skin.

Try: Pure Active 3 in 1 by Garnier if you’re struggling to “deep clean” your skin.

L-ascorbic acid

A naturally occurring, highly active form of Vitamin C that improves uneven skin tone, sun-damaged or ageing skin by enhancing its collagen production. Its antioxidant properties make it a great anti-irritant, meaning that it is suitable for dry or sensitive skin. It can also minimise the appearance of scars.

Try: The Gentle Daily Micro Polish Wash by Superfacialist by Úna Brennan to refine skin’s appearance and texture.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate

A commonly used foaming agent found in soaps, shampoos and face washes.

Avoid if: You have sensitive skin, as it can strip the skin of its protective layer which leaves it open to irritation.


Probably the most popular form of Vitamin A in cosmetics, retinol is a highly popular anti-ageing ingredient. As a “cell-communicating” ingredient, it creates healthier skin cells and provides antioxidant support by breaking down into retanoic acid. It also has value in anti-cellulite products.

Avoid if: You have highly sensitive or dry skin as retinol can dry out skin in high concentrations.

Try: Revitalift Magic Blur by L’Oréal – if you’re worried you’re developing wrinkles already!


Although it is derived from wool (weird!) this 100% natural ingredient is extremely hydrating and ideal for dry, flaky skin or sore lips. It’s also great at repairing and creating a protective barrier over the skin.

Avoid if: you have oily or spot-prone skin, as lanolin is very thick and can clog pores easily.

TryCarmex lip balm or this Triple Buttermilk Body Balm by Lanolips.


As it is a natural preservative alcohol is found in a lot of cosmetics, though be sure to combine with an alcohol-free moisturiser so that it doesn’t dry out your skin.

Avoid if: you are prone to breakouts as alcohol may irritate the skin.

Try: This Super Grape Face Serum by Pure at M&S is alcohol free!


There has been a LOT of scientific debate about the use of parabens in cosmetics due to potential health risks as a result of their use, although scientists are yet to confirm exactly what that risk is and many have “debunked” the claims. Parabens are a very popular form of preservative and a common cosmetic ingredient because they stop bacteria (gross) from multiplying.

Avoid if: you’re worried about premature ageing, as there is a small chance they accelerate the ageing process.

Try: many of Lush‘s products use methylparabens, one of the milder forms of parabens that is odorless and non-irritating.


Next time you’re shopping for your skin we hope that this guide has taught you a thing or two about what to look for and what to avoid. Tweet us @LibertyBelleMag with your thoughts!

Words by Lucy Abbersteen

Jess is your Deputy Editor

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