Just like in fitness, we are bound to hit a plateau in our skincare routine. While our current products work great in maintaining our skin condition, some pigmentation or pores just seem to be stubbornly living on our skin rent-free. But why settle for “good enough” when skincare ingredients are readily available to make our skin look “glowing, clear and perfect?” If these are synonyms you want to be associated with your complexion, then let me introduce you to the wonderful world of active ingredients. 

What are Active Ingredients?

Or simply known as ‘actives’, these are ingredients in skincare responsible for targeting concerns. They fulfil the benefits that skincare products brazenly spout on their packaging — anti-ageing, acne-fighting and more. These ingredients bring long-term improvements for the skin beyond just hydration. 

Actives are actually present in all product types, but are most prominent in concentrates such as serums, treatments and essences. This is why these products are usually marketed as potions for curing your skin ailments, but it’s really the actives doing all the hard work. For the effort they put into saving our skin, actives definitely deserve to be spotlighted — so here’s some of best actives to elevate your skincare routine:  

Vitamin E 

Vitamin E has amazing topical benefits that help you achieve overall healthy skin. Its properties include: 

    • Powerful antioxidants. This compound defends your delicate skin against pollution, irritants and other environmental stressors. With the ability to neutralise these pesky (but unavoidable) nasties, Vitamin E protects the naturally occurring collagen in our skin, minimising the early onset of wrinkles and fine lines. 
    • Protects against the sun. This powerhouse vitamin is great at protecting your skin against UV exposure, adding on to its long list of anti-ageing benefits.
    • Strengthen skin barrier. Vitamin E ensures that your skin is able to retain moisture and maintain its youthful elasticity. They are also able to heal the skin barrier by filling in any cracks. 

Despite all its amazing topical benefits, I must caution: while uncommon, vitamin E might be an allergen for some! Be sure to do a test patch before applying any product to your face. 

(Tip: Vitamin E is sometimes referred to as tocopherol in the ingredients label, so be sure to look out for this too.) 

Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask Miniature, 15ml ($9.90)

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This mask has a unique pudding consistency at first touch but melts nicely into a water-gel on your skin. It’s kind of like a memory foam for your face! Packed with Vitamin E goodness, the antioxidants work hard at night for your skin to be well-hydrated and soothed the next morning. Despite it being an overnight mask, the consistency is so light that I would venture to say this would work as a day moisturiser for those with particularly parched skin. 


This is a standout active ingredient that in recent years, has become a must-have in every skincare junkie’s routine. And for good reason! Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 (yes, our skin loves its vitamins) that helps with a spectrum of skin concerns:

    • All-around protection for your skin. With molecules that are responsible for cell reparation, they ensure that your skin remains able and fit in its fight against free radicals (the antagonist of our skincare story).
    • Increases production of ceramides. Ceramides are components that maintains the skin barrier and keeps it well moisturised.
    • Anti-inflammatory properties. This works amazingly on skin stressed by rosacea or acne. This is also the reason why niacinamide is the perfect enforcer to chase away the blackheads peppering your nose — it has the ability to prevent the build-up of debris and dirt, allowing your pore to be squeaky clear and not enlarged.

Although effective, niacinamide is a gentle ingredient suitable for those with sensitive or dry skin types. Its stability as an active means that you won’t have to be stressed about layering it. In fact, it’s perfectly okay to use more than one product with niacinamide! 

I’m From Honey Serum, 30ml ($39.90)

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A serum meant to inject rich hydration to the skin, it contains over 30% of honey to bring a youthful brightness to your skin. Pretty high up in the ingredient list is niacinamide, one of the reasons why this serum is able to deliver its moisturising benefits. With a thick consistency similar to honey, this serum forms a layer over the skin that locks in moisture while repairing the skin. 

Vitamin C

This famous vitamin needs no introduction — everyone knows it’s good for you regardless of whether it’s through your food or applied as skincare. 

Want glowy skin? Use Vitamin C. 

Want an overall brighter complexion? Use Vitamin C. 

Want healthy skin that is plump and firm? Use Vitamin C. 

As you can see, I’m a firm believer in this active ingredient, and hopefully what I say hereon will convince you to join the Vit C fanclub:  

    • Antioxidant properties. This is what makes Vitamin C a fighter against the environment’s rampant free radicals. At the same time, they are also capable defenders against pesky UV rays and air pollution, which are common aggressors that trigger our skin.  
    • Heals the skin. Due to its acidic nature, it signals to the skin to heal itself by accelerating the production of collagen and elastin. In this way, they also prevent premature ageing — which is why vitamin C should be incorporated into your routine as soon as now!

Personally, I like to use vitamin C to treat pigmentation and brighten dull skin. It contains a substance that inhibits the production of melanin, which is what causes skin discolouration. I can attest that continued topical use has helped with my pigmentation and dullness! 

Bring Green Vita Carrot Toner Pad, 145g ($25.90)

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Rich in Vitamin C from carrots, this toner pad is a convenient and fuss-free way to exfoliate your skin. With a ridged surface, the pad gently removes any debris or dead skin. The vitamin C works in tandem to brighten my overall complexion — which is a win in my books! These pads are also multi-functional. Instead of using them as a wipe, you can pack them on as a mask for an instantaneous glow after! 

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) 

It’s hard to explain one without the other — these two acids have just as many similarities as they do differences, and it ultimately boils down to your skin concerns. 

While acid may seem like the furthest thing we want from our face, these variants are actually effective chemical exfoliants. They help with getting rid of your grimy, dead skin cells. Think of it like an apple — these hydroxy acids are the knife that peels the (dead) skin off by cleaving the glue that holds these dead skin cells to our face. Result? Juicy and supple flesh underneath!

What makes the two different are what they treat. 


Generally considered the gentler of the two, AHA helps to reveal new, soft skin by peeling off the old. Pigmented cells are gradually worn away, and we are left with a smoother complexion. As such, AHAs are suitable for those looking to overcome mild hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, fine lines and uneven skin tone. 


On the other hand, BHAs do the dirty work. They penetrate into the pores to remove excess sebum and dead skin cells.  This skin-deep exfoliation helps with acne, sun damage and even redness from rosacea. While best suited for those with combination to oily skin, those with sensitive skin can try this in low concentrations. 

Hada Labo AHA + BHA Mild Exfoliating Facial Wash, 130g ($13.50

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Theoretically, using both BHA and AHA in one product might be too stripping for the skin, but Hada Labo has created a gentle formula that allows the best of both worlds. The goal of this cleanser is to have your face as smooth as an eggshell.  By combining the hydroxy acids, the foaming cleanser helps to remove dead skin cells while tackling deep blackheads. It is also formulated without alcohol, ensuring that none of the good moisture is stripped away in the process.

Hyaluronic Acid

I truly believe that if I had not known this active, my skin would look like a wrinkly raisin by now. Here’s why: 

  • It is a humectant. Hyaluronic acid is a water sucker: yes, you read that right. As a humectant, it draws moisture from the air and your skincare products straight into your skin. 
  • It is extremely hydrating. Hyaluronic acid can retain over 1000 times its weight in water. By boosting the moisture levels in our face, our skin is able to hold onto its plumpness — kind of like a water balloon! Without the water, it would look deflated and lifeless. 

Hyaluronic acid also mixes well with other ingredients, making it an incredibly easy active to work with in your routine. There is simply no excuse to not have this wonder in your skincare routine regardless of whether your skin is dry, dehydrated or oily. 

Mediheal NMF Aquaring Ampoule Mask Sheet ($3.90)

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Mediheal creates some of my favourite masks of all time. This particular mask quenches the skin’s thirst with a concentrated blend of hyaluronic acid and ceramides. The morning-after result: a vibrant and softer complexion that was not dried out by any air conditioning. 

Hada Labo Super Ha Hydrating Light Lotion, 170ml ($22.90)

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This is a holy grail product for me — I have gone through three bottles and counting! Made with four types of hyaluronic acid, it deeply hydrates both the surface layer and within. Leveraging on the water-drawing property of hyaluronic acid, this water-like lotion amplifies the effectiveness of any moisturiser you pack on after. This product is also pH-balanced and formulated with little irritants, making it a great option for those with sensitive skin. 

While not an exhaustive list, these are some of my tried and tested active ingredients that can elevate your skincare routine to greater heights. Gone are the days of stagnant results; these active ingredients are focused snipers that target your skin concerns for a clearer complexion. But as with any new introduction to your routine, always ensure that your skin is up for it. Read ingredient labels, test products on your wrist before applying it to your face, and remember to give your skin some time to breathe between experimentations. 

All the best on this new leg of your skincare journey! 

With love,

This article is brought to you in partnership with Guardian Singapore.



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