Travel Editor Aimée Calvert de-mystifies the jargon and ingredients relating to skincare products to deliver a beginner’s guide to all things skincare

Written by Aimée Calvert
Print Editor for Redbrick Travel and English Literature Student
Last updated
Images by Korng Sok

We have all been there. We have either run out of our favourite moisturiser or realised our new eye cream is not doing anything for our skin at all. So back to google search we go, trying to find something that is both affordable and good for our skin. But how many times do you go to research skincare and become completely bamboozled by the ingredients list? Does anyone actually know what salicylic acid is or does for our skin?

In light of my own confusion, I have decided to make a comprehensive guide to skincare, explaining all the ingredients and jargon that goes completely over my head. First of all, though, I wanted to share two important points that I have continuously come across in my research.


Having sensitive skin means that I need to be particularly careful with which products I use. Years and years of scrolling through various blogs, videos and articles has shown me that fragranced products are a big ‘no-no.’ Regardless of whether you have sensitive, dry, oily or combination skin you should always be aware of the fragrances in your products. There are some natural ingredients that serve a purpose in your products and also add a natural scent to them but fragrances that are simply added to improve the scent of a product should be avoided. Essential oils are an example of this, oftentimes they are added to a product purely just for their scent and this can lead to irritation, particularly for people with sensitive skin.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF):

Obviously, using SPF in your nightly routine is not essential. But, if you are someone who has a morning skincare routine, or simply puts moisturiser on in the mornings, you should buy one that has SPF protection within it. This rule should apply to your make-up as well, so many brands now include SPF as a key component for the moisturisers or foundations. SPF prevents signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and dullness, but also protects your skin from harmful UV rays. 


Cleansers should be an essential part of your skincare routine; they help to gently remove makeup and dirt from your face and also ensure that your skin will absorb all of the helpful ingredients in the later stages of your routine.

  • Hyaluronic acid is a vital ingredient which you should look out for as it helps to hydrate the skin at the surface.
  • Glycerin is an effective alternative, especially for those with oily skins, as it helps to remove excess oils and also attract water to the skin.
  • Salicylic acid gently exfoliates the skin, so that you can avoid using face scrubs, and helps to unclog pores – a key ingredient for people who are prone to blackheads.
  • Those with acne-prone skin should also look out for cleansers with retinol (also known as pure Vitamin A) as this encourages ‘skin cell turnover’ – which, in other words, removes the dead skin cells on the surface and encourages new ones to regenerate.
  • Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant and aids the skin’s natural regeneration process whilst also helping your skin resist UV damage.


Toners are used to refresh our skin without stripping away its natural moisture. They often contain ingredients which soothe the skin – making them ideal for people with sensitive skin. Toners should not contain alcohol and are sometimes confused with astringents, which often do contain alcohol, that are used by some to control the oil levels in the skin. Ingredients to look out for in toners are:

  • Natural soothing ingredients, such as aloe or eucalyptus – aloe can also help to
    combat oily skin.
  • Mint, such as peppermint or spearmint, cools inflamed and reddened skin whilst also
    gently removing excess oils.
  • Lactic acid gently hydrates the skin without causing it to thin – ideal for those with
    sensitive or dry skin types.
  • Vitamin C, Glycerin and Salicylic acid are also beneficial ingredients often found in toners.


Moisturisers are used to retain water in the skin and also to repair our skins natural barriers. They should be an essential to everybody’s daily routines.

  • If you are using a moisturiser in the morning, as mentioned earlier in the article, you
    must ensure that it contains SPF.
  • Ceramides are natural lipids (in other words, fats) found in our bodies. They prevent loss of moisture, but they also form a protective layer against visible damage from various environmental factors, such as pollution. As we get older our ceramide levels begin to fall and this is why it is vital that we look for moisturisers that contain them.
  • Cholesterol is also an ingredient found in some moisturisers which works in a similar way to ceramides,
  • Like Hyaluronic acid and glycerin, propylene glycerol and sodium hyaluronate work to attract water to the upper skin cells – making the skin look plumper and healthier.


Facial serums are more lightweight than generic moisturisers and generally have a higher concentration of one or two active ingredients. They each serve different purposes to help your skin look and feel healthier. They are not vital to a person’s skincare routine, but some may choose to include them if they are looking for something more.

  • A Vitamin C serum stimulates growth of collagen (the protein that makes up the skin’s structure and suppleness) whilst also protecting the skin from sun damage. These serums also help to even out skin tones, making your face more radiant. It is generally most effective when applied in the morning.
  • Serums containing hyaluronic acid are extremely popular as they hydrate the skin, making it feel softer and more supple.
  • Retinol serums brighten the skin whilst also reducing pigmentation. It is highly revered in the skincare and beauty communities for helping to tackle early signs of ageing.
  • Caffeine serums are great for soothing under-eye puffiness as it boosts circulation and as coffee is an antioxidant it has many of the same positive effects on your skin that Vitamin C does.

So there you have it. A more understandable guide to the common and important ingredients found in skincare products so that we can now design our skincare routines with an understanding of what products are going to do for our skin. You’re welcome.

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