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Bamboozled by the ingredients in your favourite lotions and potions? Wonder no more. Our beauty jargon cheat sheet explains how those clever-sounding actives work and what they could do for your skin

Peptides are hot property in anti-aging 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.

Pick of the best: Formula Absolute Time Capsules are 28 supercharged serum shots with a 10 per cent dosage of a potent hexapeptide (that’s five times more than you’d find in an average anti-wrinkle cream). Perfect for stubborn forehead lines, lip wrinkles and crow’s feet – 81 per cent of testers saw a difference after using them for just a month.

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Activated charcoal is a skin care wonder-worker if you live in the city and suffer from lacklustre, blemish-prone skin. Its brilliance lies in carbon’s supernatural powers at dislodging grease, grime and other pore-clogging impurities. Hospitals have used it for decades to treat alcohol poisoning because it binds to toxins, preventing them from being further absorbed into the bloodstream. In skin care, these miracle micro-sponges help wash away skin nasties before they wreak havoc on your complexion.

Pick of the best: For skin in need of a superior deep clean, look no further than Natura Siberica’s Northern Soap. What belies its ominous sooty black colour is a formula rich in antioxidants and vitamins that cleanses skin without leaving it dry and uncomfortable. This is powerful stuff – you should only use it twice a week to see a visible difference.

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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. A non-abrasive alternative to traditional scratchy face scrubs (they also give more even results), glycolic acid products 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.

Pick of the best: Top beauty bloggers are known to buy three bottles of Pixi’s Glow Tonic at a time. With five per cent glycolic acid, this skin toner is carefully balanced to be low enough not to irritate your complexion, but high enough to get results. Its gentle exfoliating power also preps your complexion to absorb the rest of your regime properly too.

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Caffeine can perk up your look as much as your energy levels – rich in antioxidants, a shot in your skin care can help fight aging free radicals to keep skin looking younger for longer. With circulation-boosting properties, it’s also a favourite ingredient in fatigue-fighting in eyecare products that target puffiness and dark under eye circles… even if the effects are only temporary.

Pick of the best: Look alive with First Aid Beauty’s Eye Duty Triple Remedy, which is packed with top anti-aging ingredients, including caffeine, to brighten, depuff and smooth. Even better, its specially contoured cooling metal applicator feels light years ahead of using fingertips on this delicate area too.

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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. Beauty products use hyaluronic acid 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 dehydrated raisin. Remember, not all hyaluronic acid molecules are created equal – some are too large to do much more than moisturise, so look for smaller weights which can penetrate more deeply, pumping up cells from within to achieve smoother-than-smooth skin.

Pick of the best: Fast-working moisture fixes don’t get better than Balance Me’s Hyaluronic Plumping Mist. It contains a natural and easily absorbed form of hyaluronic acid to perk up the deepest layers of skin – whether you need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up at your desk or to help calm and soothe sensitive or hormonal skin.

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Vitamin C should be a staple in everyone’s routine because of its ability to future-proof skin. Its antioxidant properties play a key role in collagen production while defending cells from aging free radicals, but vitamin C’s true brilliance lies in spot-reducing pigmentation patches caused by sun damage or breakouts. Despite glowing credentials, brands have struggled to bottle vitamin C’s benefits because it goes off once exposed to light and air. To mitigate this, read the small packaging print which should say if the product contains new stabilised versions of vitamin C to preserve its potency.

Pick of the best: To get the most meaningful benefit from vitamin C, choose a leave-on product such as a serum or moisturiser (rather than a cleanser) so it has more time to work its magic. We love Diego Dalla Palma’s Vitamin C Radiance Serum which is packed with 10 per cent dose of stabilised vitamin C.

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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 actually has skin-calming properties which is just the ticket for blemish-prone complexions.

Pick of the best: Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser is a quick-fix face wash with salicylic acid to clear pores and eliminate excess shine. Perfect for oily skin types, it also makes a brilliant back-up cleanser for mid-way through your cycle when hormonal changes cause skin to produce more sebum, leading to pesky pimples.

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Essential fatty acids (you might also know them as omega 3, 6 and 9 fats) are vital because they protect and strengthen your skin’s natural barrier, fortifying it with nutrients and water. Interestingly, omega fats are also similar in composition to the oils naturally found in skin, making a good quality face oil particularly compatible with your complexion. If you have stressed-out skin, make a beeline for these super-nourishing actives which will calm things down quickly while creating an invisible waterproof barrier to prevent moisture loss, restoring your complexion back to its former glory.

Pick of the best: Skyn Iceland’s Arctic Face Oil is a cult favourite. Lightweight, powerful and fragrance-free, it consists mostly of camelina oil – a hardcore botanical that thrives in sub-zero conditions thanks to its naturally high levels of essential fatty acids. Use alone or swirl a drop into your moisturiser for an extra hydration hit.

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Oxygen is taking the beauty world by storm for its reputation for transforming dull, tired and life-lagged complexion into a radiant picture of health (something we could all use a dose of after the festive season). Most commonly used in face masks, you may have seen oxygen-infused products pop up in your Instagram feed because it creates a frothy effect when applied to skin. Not just a gimmick, its believed that oxygenated bubbles can help infuse skin with energy for a brightening boost.

Pick of the best: When you need a post-commute pick-me-up, make a beeline for Filorga’s award-winning Scrub & Mask Reoxygenating Exfoliating Mask. It combines exfoliating agents to clear the path for its mousse-like oxygen bubbles to get to work. In a clinical study, it was shown to reduce wrinkle depth by 25 per cent when it was used twice weekly for two weeks.

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Editor: Emma Robertson / Photographer: Luke Kirwan

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