Active Ingredient


New ingredients

Active Ingredient at a glance

  • Regulated ingredients approved to perform a specific drug- or drug-like skin care function
  • Listed with their concentration and a short description of how they work
  • Must also be accompanied by instructions detailing how to apply
  • Examples include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid for acne

Active Ingredient description

The United States Food and Drug Administration defines an active ingredient as “any component that provides pharmacological activity or other direct effect in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or animals.” In skin care, actives are indicated on the product’s label and must be approved to perform a specific drug- or drug-like function. Examples include titanium dioxide and other UV filters for sun protection and benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid for acne. In essence, these are regulated ingredients that have active functionality to prevent, heal or improve a specific present or future (think sunburn) condition Active ingredients are listed with their concentration and a short description of how they work in a product. Active ingredients must also be accompanied by instructions detailing how and how often the product that contains them should be applied. The “inactive” ingredients that make up the rest of a skin care formulas aren’t really inactive per se, as they provide support for the active ingredient or lend cosmetic functions to the formula. Additionally, you may hear someone refer to powerful ingredients in their skin care products as “active” or “bio-active”—however this is a subjective and interpretational way of describing ingredient efficacy or potency. This verbiage is not the same thing as the regulated term. Note: Outside of the U.S., definitions of active ingredients vary by each country’s regulatory criteria.

Active Ingredient references

  •, Accessed June 2022, ePublication

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


We couldn't find this in our ingredient dictionary. We log all missing ingredients and make continuous updates.

Not rated

We have not yet rated this ingredient because we have not had a chance to review the research on it.