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Skin Science

Inactive skincare ingredients are important, too! Here's why

Liz Thompson
Liz Thompson January, 20, 2020

Freelance writer, green beauty expert, coffee drinker, beach bum wannabe

Active skincare ingredients usually take center stage on product labels. But while these famous names may be the star players, they're not the only ingredients that make a difference in your products! Inactive ingredients are incredibly important in promoting skin health.

Essentially, inactive ingredients act as the delivery system for their active counterparts. Natural ingredients for skin (like soothing oats and wrinkle-smoothing blackberry) wouldn't be as effective without oils to help them spread across and absorb into skin.

Inactive ingredients are vital to many skincare formulas — plus, they have impressive skin benefits all by themselves! Here's how to tell the difference between active and inactive ingredients, and insight into several of the most common inactive ingredients found your favorite skincare products.

So, what is an active ingredient?

Natural, active skincare ingredients are sourced for their valuable properties, which improve the look and feel of skin in specific ways. For instance, soy helps to diminish dark spots and even skin tone, while feverfew masterfully reduces inflammation and calms sensitive skin. And kiwi gives skin a dewy, supple look and feel!

Young female farmer examining plant leaves, work on the field on sunset, checks the cropQuality active ingredients grow in rich soil with eco-friendly practices, such as crop rotation and pesticide-free fields, to preserve their nutrients and healthy skin advantages. After some gentle processing (without solvents or heat, whenever possible, to preserve their purity), the active properties join up with select inactive ingredients to create a formulation that can produce wow-worthy results for your skin.

Product ingredient listings read in order of concentration. The first ingredients make up the majority of the product, and the last ingredients make up the smallest amount. If you see ingredients at the top of the list that aren't the advertised actives, don't be disappointed. They serve a purpose!

5 Inactive ingredients that totally work

It totally makes sense that active natural ingredients for skin get the spotlight. But as you know, without the added inactive ingredients, these beauties just wouldn't be the same! Here are five inactive standouts you can find in the ingredients lists of your favorite products — and the benefits they offer.

1. Plant oils

As one of the most versatile natural ingredients for skin, plant oils can be light and balancing (like jojoba oil), moisturizing and conditioning (like macadamia oil) or soothing and skin clearing (like sunflower oil). These oils make the perfect base for cleansers, moisturizers and serums.

2. Plant butters

A bit richer and more deeply moisturizing than plant oils, plant butters deliver maximum skin softening. Shea butter is ideal for moisturizing and soothing skin, while cocoa butter lends a protective and reparative effect to skin.

3. Aloe

It's true that aloe can be an active ingredient, but this multitasker is just as common as an inactive ingredient in everything from cleansers to masks! Its moisturizing, calming and cooling skin effects offer intense skin benefits while also ensuring formulations are light and easy to apply.

4. Clays

Natural clays — like kaolin — create thick, absorbent masks and scrubs. They offer gentle exfoliation while drawing out impurities and promoting antibacterial effects to give skin a balanced, detoxified feel.

5. Essential oils

These may fall to the bottom of the ingredient listing, but that's simply because essential oils are super potent! They're commonly used to give creams and serums a natural fragrance, but they can bring their own perks to the mix as well.

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