Skin Solutions: Key Skincare Ingredients that will ensure you make smart Skincare Choices

The beauty market is a billion dollar industry that is so often deceptive. In addition, navigating through the beauty aisle can be downright confusing with all the products available.

Quality skincare does not have to be complicated or expensive.

Wasting money can be avoided if you do your homework and become familiar with skincare ingredients and what they do.

There are a few top active ingredients to look out for when it comes to scientific data that supports their efficacy.

I recently asked Dr Tarryn Jacobs, a dermatologist based in Pretoria, to share her insights on how to make smart skincare choices.

Here are her suggestions, based on science, for healthier, brighter and more youthful looking skin.


Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives and have long been considered the gold standard in anti-aging. Scientific studies (mainly on Tretinoin, a prescription-only retinoid) show that they can reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation after 12 weeks of use.

Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover in the epidermis and stimulating the production of the skin ‘building blocks’ like collagen and hyaluronic acid in the dermis. They are also effective in treating and preventing pigmentation. This results in smoother, clearer, brighter and firmer skin!

There are many different types of retinoids which are slightly different chemical compounds. These include retinol, retinaldehyde, retinyl esters and Tretinoin, to name but a few. Retinol is seen more commonly in skincare products and is less irritating on the skin.

When to start using Retinoids?

Surprisingly aging starts as early as the mid-twenties when the skin loses about 1% of collagen per year. It’s therefore reasonable to start adding retinoids to your regime from your late twenties.

How to incorporate Retinoids in your skincare routine

Start slow and build tolerance to the product at first. Initially, it may cause side effects such as burning, stinging, peeling and irritation but this subsides over a few weeks. Apply a pea-sized amount to the whole face every night, 2-3 times a week initially over the course of about 6 weeks. Ensure you are wearing sunscreen ( SPF 30 at the minimum) during the day as retinoids can make you sensitive to ultraviolet light from the sun.



This has become quite a buzzword in the beauty and skincare industry over the years. Antioxidants are molecules that reduce DNA and cellular structure damage in the skin by fighting the formation of toxic free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that have an unpaired electron in their outermost shell. These free radicals can be formed by UVR, infrared radiation, pollution, smoking, aging and certain biological processes in the body.

Antioxidants form a basic and fundamental part of a skincare routine. They are multi-functional, in that they prevent sunburn, stimulate collagen production and improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles thereby reversing the effects of environmental damage.

Antioxidants to look out for in skincare products include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Resveratrol
  • Green tea
  • Grape seed
  • Coffeeberry

Be aware that not all antioxidant products are created equal as antioxidants are highly unstable molecules that break down easily. Therefore products need to be formulated very carefully and at a high enough concentration.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are low pH substances which have been shown to have an exfoliating effect, removing dead and damaged skin cells. Over time the top layer of the skin (called the stratum corneum) becomes thinner and smoother and gives a youthful glow.

AHAs also have the ability to function as a moisturiser and hydrate the skin. They have been shown to stimulate collagen and elastin production in the dermis. AHAs have clinically been shown to improve mottled pigmentation, fine lines, surface roughness and sun freckles.

It’s important to be exercising sun protection with these products as they make skin sensitive in the sun.



Niacinamide is a version of vitamin B3 and it is a bit of an unsung hero in skincare but definitely worthy of attention. The skin barrier protects against environmental stressors such as UV, pollutants and irritants plus it weakens with age.

Niacinamide has the ability to strengthen the skin barrier by increasing skin lipids (like ceramides) and certain skin barrier proteins. This results in less irritation, inflammation and skin redness. In addition, it reduces fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and improves skin texture.

Niacinamide is suitable for all skin types and all ages, even those with sensitive skin. Because of the role in strengthening the skin barrier, it helps to reduce the risk of irritation from other ingredients like retinoids.

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is used as a humectant, meaning it has water-binding properties and is able to hold moisture in the skin. During aging, production of hyaluronic acid starts to decline in the 20s and accelerates in the 40s.

Use of hyaluronic acids can reduce wrinkles temporarily by hydrating and plumping the outer layer of skin. It is a great product to use no matter your skin type. It’s especially good in winter, when skin may become dull or dry.

Find out more about the benefits of Hyaluronic Acid in this post published previously on Becoming you.


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Images: Shutterstock

Dr Tarryn Jacobs

Dr Tarryn Jacobs is a Pretoria based specialist Dermatologist practising at NoviSkin. Her clinical interests include complex medical dermatology, skin cancer (melanoma), and skin aging. Dr Jacobs is passionate about the education and promotion of skin health in her local and social media communities.

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