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Active Ingredients in Face Creams

author image Jared Paventi
Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.
Active Ingredients in Face Creams
Facial creams represent a $39 billion worldwide industry. Photo Credit KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images


Men and women spend billions of dollars each year on facial care products in an effort to eliminate blemishes, reduce wrinkles and look younger, and the market was worth more than $39 billion in 2013, according to Market Research.com. Whether you buy a product at a department store counter or off the shelf at a discount store, look for the following active ingredients.


Creams with glycerin-based elements and urea are called humectants. This class of moisturizers blocks water from escaping through the skin, while trapping additional moisture from the air.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha hydroxy acid removes the outer layer of dead skin cells, acting as an exfoliant, while accompanying moisturizers -- usually humectants -- replenish the skin's moisture. The acid smooths out wrinkles, strengthens skin and cleans pores while balancing the skin's pH level. Common hydroxy acids include salicylic and glycolic acids.


The emollient class of moisturizers includes lanolin, petroleum or petrolatum and mineral oil. Emollients are lipid-based creams, and replace empty spaces between skin cells with nourishing lipids while softening and smoothing rough skin. Emollients lotions can be oil- or water-based.

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Retinol is chemically engineered Vitamin A. When applied to the skin, it speeds the life cycle of skin cells. Retinol causes skin cells to be generated and die quicker than normal, increasing the turnover of cells and the body's ability to create healthier, smoother skin.


Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is a naturally occurring antioxidant present in the body's organ tissues. As humans grow older, the concentration of CoQ10 in the body becomes diminished, leading to lower collagen and elastin production -- two elements essential for younger and healthier looking skin. Face creams with a CoQ10 supplement replace those missing elements and repair damage to the skin cells caused by the surrounding environment -- smoke, pollution and other factors.

Hyaluronic Acid

Like emollients, this class of creams fills in the gaps between skin cells. While hyaluronic acid is traditionally delivered in injection form, a new crop of creams and lotions are available as topical applications. Hyaluronic acid restores the fullness of the skin and eliminates wrinkles when applied directly to the area.

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