Active agents in common skin care products

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2010 Feb;125(2):719-24. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181c83192.


Background: Skin care products are numerous and perplexing, yet the majority fall into the moisturizer category. Moisturizers are substances designed to improve and maintain the skin barrier. They serve as a vehicle for the delivery of active ingredients that minimize facial lines of dehydration, deliver photoprotection, and provide antioxidant properties.

Methods: Moisturizers are based on occlusive substances, such as petrolatum and dimethicone, and humectant substances, such as glycerin, with a variety of sunscreens and botanicals for added functionality and marketing impact. This article reviews these common active agents.

Results: The plethora of over-the-counter skin care products available for patient purchase is overwhelming, yet there is certain commonality among 80 percent of the formulations. The majority of the products are moisturizers with added ingredients to support marketing claims. Whether the product is a facial foundation, an antiaging night cream, a sunscreen, a topical antioxidant, or a skin-lightening serum, the formulation is basically a moisturizer.

Conclusion: Sunscreen is the most biologically active antiaging ingredient in skin care products, but the antiinflammatory and antioxidant effects of botanicals possess tremendous marketing appeal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Cosmetics / chemistry*
  • Dermatologic Agents / chemistry*
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Combinations
  • Emollients / chemistry
  • Emollients / therapeutic use
  • Glycerol / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Petrolatum / therapeutic use*
  • Skin Care*
  • Sunscreening Agents / chemistry
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Cosmetics
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes
  • Drug Combinations
  • Emollients
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Petrolatum
  • dimethicone
  • Glycerol