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From acids and peptides to retinoids, decoding skincare can be a real head-scratcher. Here, we delve into the ingredients you need to know, and the beauty products containing them

Retinoids: the anti-ageing superheroes

Retinoid is the family name given to vitamin A ingredients, encompassing everything from the heavyweight tretinoin to retinol, which you may have already heard of. Retinoid products, such as Formula Overnight retinoid serum, are great for those seeking anti-ageing benefits because they stimulate collagen production and resurface the skin. Over time, they reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, leaving skin looking plumper and healthier. The key thing to remember is to introduce them gradually, as your skin may take some time to get used to retinoids – if you’re unsure, start with a low percentage and a pea-sized amount of product used every few days until your skin acclimatises.

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Prai neck cream with retinol
Prai’s retinol neck cream
Murad retinol youth renewal eye serum
Murad’s marvellous eye serum
Pixi overnight retinol oil
An overnight oil from Pixi
REN bio retinoid anti-ageing concentrate
Retinoid drops from REN Clean Skincare

Glycolic acid: the complexion brightener

Glycolic acid might sound like something you don’t want to put anywhere near your face, but don’t fret. Derived from sugar cane, it’s actually a five-star exfoliating agent that dissolves the bonds that hold lifeless dead skin cells to glowing new ones. Non-abrasive alternatives to traditional scratchy face scrubs (which also give more even results), glycolic acid products such as Pure Ultimate Cleanse glycolic toner are unbeatable at resurfacing rough, bumpy complexions and bringing dull skin to life again. Just remember, if you’re using a glycolic acid product, it’s essential to apply sunscreen – SPF30 minimum, please – to protect skin from sun sensitivity.

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Alpha H Liquid gold with glycolic acid
Alpha H’s award-winning tonic…
Alpha H Liquid Gold rose toner
… or try their botanical-infused toner
Formula Glow glycolic toner
A bargain toner from Formula
Pixi glow tonic with glycolic acid
Pixi’s famous glow tonic

Hyaluronic acid: the super-hydrating skin plumper

Hyaluronic acid isn’t just a tricky string of vowels – it’s a super-moisturising substance that skin produces naturally to keep cells healthy and hydrated. The hyaluronic acid found in beauty products is there to compensate for the fact that skin loses its ability to retain water with age – if you’re wondering why that’s a big deal, just think about the difference in appearance between a juicy grape and a dehydrated raisin. It’s important to note that not all hyaluronic acid molecules are created equal – some are too large to do much more than moisturise, so look for smaller weights that can penetrate more deeply, plumping up cells from within to achieve smoother-than-smooth skin.

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Murad Revitalixir recovery serum
Murad’s revitalising serum
This Works Morning Expert hyaluronic serum
A morning glow-giver from This Works
Pestle and Mortar pure hyaluronic serum
This hydrating anti-ageing serum
Alpha-H Absolut eye complex
Alpha-H’s super-powerful eye serum

Peptides: the youth boosters

Peptides are hot property in anti-ageing products because they are made of the same building blocks as collagen and elastin proteins (the stuff that keeps your complexion plump, smooth and springy). The rate skin produces these proteins slows down over time but adding peptides to your regime can kickstart the production line in those cells, giving skin a new lease of life. While there are hundreds of peptides on the market, look out for Matrixyl or Argireline, which are both potent and scientifically proven.

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Skyn Iceland brightening eye serum with Arctic peptides
A brightening eye serum from Skyn Iceland
Murad nutrient-charged water gel with peptides
A gel for plump, smooth skin from Murad
REN Clean Skincare serum with peptides
REN Clean Skincare’s firming serum
Filorga Time Filler cream with peptides
Filorga’s powerful wrinkle-reducer

Salicylic acid: the blemish buster

Salicylic acid can make the world of difference if you’re battling with breakouts, oversized pores and blackheads. An anti-bacterial agent found in willow bark, it’s similar to glycolic acid in the sense that it acts as an exfoliant, but salicylic acid goes further by breaking down the build-up of oil, make-up and impurities in pores that can lead to blemishes, too. Unlike other spot fighters, a low dose of salicylic acid isn’t harsh on skin – in fact, it has skin-calming properties, which is just the ticket for blemish-prone complexions.

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Origins Super Spot Remover blemish treatment gel with salicylic acid
Origins’ spot-busting gel
Glamglow super serum six acid refining treatment
Glamglow’s super serum
Origins zero oil deep pore cleanser with salicylic acid
A salicylic acid cleanser from Origins
Skyn Iceland blemish dots gel with salicylic acid
Skyn Iceland’s breakout-fighting patches

Words: Sophie Hines and Emma Robertson