Introducing High-Performance Skincare
How to find supercharged beauty products that feature potent ingredients—and real results.
In an ideal world, skincare products would be good: for both our skin and for the environment. They’d perform—leaving you with firmer, younger, healthier skin—and protect Mother Nature, using only the purest of ingredients.
Unfortunately, green beauty products—while incredibly effective in some areas—also face slack: "Synthetic materials are able to produce results that have not yet been discovered with natural ingredients," says Pinki Gosal, creative director and co-founder of Vasanti Cosmetics. The beauty company now launching in the U.S. after success on Birchbox.
So what’s the happy medium? Potent elixirs carefully crafted to kick your skin health into high gear, while also keeping the environment in mind. “There are effective and potentially harmful ingredients in both natural products and synthetic ones. The key is choosing the appropriate ingredients for what you are trying to achieve,” says Gosal.
Here, how to ramp up results in every part of your skincare regime.
What to look for: "If you have sensitive skin ( think rosacea or eczema), use a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. These broad-spectrum sunscreens are effective and they won’t bug finicky skin. “If you sweat a lot, look for a powder base sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and silica, which absorbs the oil.”
What to avoid: Products with long ingredient lists, fragrance, or chemical sunscreens like those with PARSOL and Mexoryl. You also don’t want dyes, lanolin, parabens, or preservatives, Jaliman says. Those ingredients can irritate your skin.
What to look for: If you have dry skin, Jakiman says to opt for ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients help add moisture to the skin.
What to avoid: Lanolin—it can cause allergic reactions, especially in people who are sensitive to wool, according to Jaliman.
What to look for: "Active ingredients that mimic what you naturally have in your skin," says Gosal. And Jaliman says peptides and retinol are effective in stimulating and promoting collagen production, helping to reduce lines and wrinkles. “If you’re prone to redness, look for green tea—it’s an anti-inflammatory and a great antioxidant.”
What to avoid: "Heavy textures—they don’t allow for easy absorption and sit on top of the skin," says Gosal. Also: paraben-, petrolatum-, and petroleum-based ingredients are no-no’s, according to the expert. “Products with glycolic or salicylic acid can be irritating,” adds Jaliman.
What to look for: "To ensure a highly potent serum, look for active ingredients," says Gosal. That means formulas containing multiple oils, extracts, vitamins, antioxidants, and ingredients with peptide at the end of them—close to the top of the ingredient list. You also want a non-sticky fluid. ("You’d need to feel the texture—it should be oilier than jelly-like or sticky between the fingers," she says.)
What to avoid: Water (Aqua) as the first ingredient. "What you end up paying for is mainly water," says Gosal.
What to look for: Bisabolol and caffeine. "Bisabolol is an anti-inflammatory that comes from chamomile and caffeine can help to constrict blood vessels," explains Jaliman. "Niacinamide also helps treat dark circles under the eyes and retinol stimulates collagen production, thickening collagen so you don't see the thin skin and the vessels underneath," she says. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant and a good brightener as well.”
What to avoid: Heavy textures that won’t absorb into the skin and could cause irritation. Also, avoid fragrance in your eye cream since the eye area is more sensitive and may cause irritation.
What to look for: Multi-action exfoliators that also sooth the skin. "Also look for a texture that is cushiony or creamy,” says Gosal. “Rice enzymes are very good for exfoliation and they're gentle on the skin,” adds Jaliman.
What to avoid: Polyethylene microbeads (or plastic beads). “They do not breakdown and are becoming a major environmental concern,” says Gosal.
What to look for: "Textures and finishes that mimic your natural skin’s texture—not matte or oily," says Gosal. A great ingredient that gives coverage and blendability is boron nitride.
What to avoid: Titanium dioxide, even with the sunscreen benefits, is a thick white powder that makes the skin look powdery and cakey. "To get the sunscreen benefits, you would have to apply close to half an inch of evenly applied product and that would feel heavy and unnatural," says Gosal. Silicone (also called cyclopentasiloxane and cyclohexasiloxane) and wax in products can clog pores, too, according to the experts.
What to look for: "A conditioning formula with moisturizers such as aloe, joboba, or panthenol that keep the lash free of that stiff feeling," says Gosal.
What to avoid: "Paraffin wax—it’s a petroleum-derived ingredient and sited on California’s Prop 65 Act as having at least seven major toxins," states Gosal.