by team
Looking for a new solution to a particular skincare issue, like hyperpigmentation, rosacea or fine lines? Look to Part 9 of our Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook to find out about the latest and greatest ingredients, plus tried and true treatments to improve your overall skin health. Lastly, learn how to safely use potent ingredients like retinol and hydroquinone, without negative side effects.


“Always remember that true beauty comes from within — from within bottles, jars, compacts, and tubes.” - Peter’s Almanac

It seems every few months a new ingredient emerges as the latest star in anti-aging, acne treatment or luxury skincare. How can you determine what natural or high-tech ingredient is worth the investment? Check out these helpful FAQs that cover everything from antioxidants and vitamins, to over-the-counter acne and anti-aging solutions, to potential ingredient side effects.

Antioxidants & anti-aging ingredients

» Q. I already use a lycopene-rich moisturizer, but want to find ways to include the antioxidant in my diet. What’s the best way to infuse my daily diet with the skin-boosting benefits of lycopene?

A. Research shows that the body better absorbs lycopene from processed foods (such as tomato juice, salsa or tomato paste) as opposed to fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, because lycopene is fat-soluble, its absorption rate is increased when it’s eaten with oils. So consider creating a skin-smart pasta sauce by combining a small can of tomato paste with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Serve with whole-wheat pasta for a meal that’s steeped with skin-healthy lycopene.

» Q: What are antioxidants?

A: Antioxidants are molecules that defend the body against damage caused by free radicals —harmful substances such as UV rays and pollution, exhaust, cigarette smoke or other contaminants that are harmful to the environment, as well as our skin. Free radical damage can lead to everything from premature aging to cancer. Antioxidants work by binding to free radicals, transforming them into non-damaging compounds. Antioxidants come in a variety of forms and include vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and selenium.

» Q: I’ve heard that caffeine is a helpful ingredient in skincare products. What does it do?

A: Caffeine has anti-inflammatory properties. According to dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., caffeine constricts blood vessels, reducing redness and puffiness. Not surprisingly, caffeine is often found in eye creams, such as MD Formulations Moisture Defense Antioxidant Eye Crème, which firms and reduces dark, puffy circles and minimizes the look of lines and wrinkles.

» Q: Can you recommend several effective creams with caffeine?

A: Packed with caffeine, green tea and hydrating hyaluronic acid, Topix Replenix Cream is an anti-aging treatment that’s especially ideal for people with rosacea and sensitive skin. REVALESKIN CoffeeBerry Day Cream contains the powerful antioxidant coffeeberry. And it contains SPF 15 and helps to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

» Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about peptides in skin care. What are peptides?

A: According to dermatologist Jeffrey Benabio, M.D., peptides are simply the building blocks of proteins. Because the production of collagen and other proteins are essential for maintaining healthy, youthful skin, peptides are a go-to ingredient in many anti-aging products.

» Q: What do peptides do?

A: Found in all types of anti-aging creams, serums and exfoliating products, these proteins boost collagen production, giving skin a smoother, younger-looking look and feel. Peptides are safe for most skin types — even sensitive skin.

» Q: What is idebenone?

A: Idebenone is the synthetic form of coenzyme Q10. In some cases, CoQ10 is better at fighting free radicals than idebenone. For other free radicals, the opposite is true. Idebenone has the highest Environmental Protection Factor (EPF) out of all antioxidants — 95 — according to Brooke Le Poer Trench in Allure. CoQ10 has an EPF of 55. The EPF measures an antioxidant’s ability to fight UV rays and free radicals. At present, most experts agree that both forms are beneficial, though more research is needed to compare the two.

Miscellaneous ingredients & sun damage

“No woman can be handsome by the force of features alone, any more that she can be witty by only the help of speech.” - Kin Hubbard

» Q: Are preservatives necessary in skincare products?

A: Preservatives keep bacteria, fungi and molds from invading beauty products. While there are some natural ingredients that have preservative-like qualities (like essential oils and citrus seed extract), these aren’t recognized by the Food and Drug Administration as replacements for chemical preservatives. Yoga Journal lists potassium sorbate and phenoxyethanol among the safest and most effective preservatives in skin care. Find out more about skincare ingredients to give you an idea of what to look for in beauty products and what to avoid.

» Q: How does alpha lipoic acid help the skin?

A: According to dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, M.D., this topical ingredient is effective in treating many types of skin conditions and concerns, such as rosacea, acne and scars. Dr. Perricone says that alpha lipoic acid boosts the general look of your skin.

» Q: Are retinoids and retinol products the same thing?

A: No, these are different formulas. For one, retinoids are available by prescription only, whereas retinol is over the counter. Retinol is less potent (and thereby less irritating) than retinoids. Consult your dermatologist about the ideal product for you.

» Q: How do flavanoids in chocolate help skin?

A: Flavonoids are antioxidants that guard against free radical damage. Plus, flavonoids affect blood vessels and decrease inflammation, notes dietician Karen Collins on MSNBC. In turn, this could help inflammatory skin conditions and irritation. Flavonoids also decrease redness and UV damage, according to Allure.

» Q: What are emollients?

A: Emollients are skincare ingredients that protect the skin and seal in moisture by forming a barrier on the skin’s surface. There are many kinds of emollients, and certain synthetic emollients can actually irritate the skin and prevent it from breathing. For this reason, natural emollients like shea butter, rose hip and cocoa butter are excellent options.

» Q: I’ve heard that skincare products with vitamin C can improve the skin. What are the benefits of vitamin C?

A: Vitamin C can encourage collagen synthesis, improve sun-damaged skin and protect the skin.

» Q: What do I look for when buying a product with vitamin C?

A: Look for L-ascorbic acid to be listed as one of the ingredients on the label, suggests iVillage, and make sure your product comes in an airtight brown glass bottle or metal tube. After use, put the cap on tightly and store your product in a dark, cool place. Remember these precautions are necessary, because vitamin C oxidizes quickly once it hits the air and light, reducing its effectiveness. Watch out for changes in color, which can signal spoilage.

» Q: What are polypeptides?

A: Polypeptides are two or more amino acids that are bound together and cause a chemical reaction when mixed with water. These super-amino acids have strong moisturizing abilities.

» Q: What do glycolic and lactic acids do?

A: These two alpha hydroxy acids dissolve dead skin cells that can cling to the skin’s surface, clogging pores and preventing your products from effectively penetrating into the deeper layers of skin. Once these dead skin cells peel off, newer and healthier skin cells can come to the surface.

» Q: What are the differences between alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acid?

A: According to About’s dermatology guide, Heather Brannon, M.D., alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble, while beta hydroxy acid is oil-soluble. Dr. Brannon writes on About: “ This means that beta hydroxy acid is able to penetrate into the pore which contains sebum and exfoliate the dead skin cells that are built up inside the pore,” so it’s better on oily, acneic skin. Alpha hydroxy acids are effective on sun-damaged skin.

» Q: Do alpha hydroxy acids help reverse sun damage?

A: Studies have shown that alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) help reduce the long-term effects of sun damage by shedding damaged surface cells and revealing a fresh layer of skin; however, you should still wear sunscreen — AHAs actually increase your sensitivity to the sun.

Ingredient side effects

» Q: Are coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) supplements safe for pregnant women?

A: CoQ10’s effects on pregnant women and their babies are unknown. Consult your obstetrician before starting any new supplement to verify that it’s safe for you.

» Q: What are the potential side effects of alpha hydroxy acids?

A: Alpha hydroxy acids can increase sensitivity to the sun, so be extra diligent with your sun care every day. In addition, according to WebMD, concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids higher than 10 percent can irritate the skin, causing redness, swelling, itching and discoloration.

» Q: I know glycolic acid is effective for exfoliating the skin, but it irritated my skin the last time I tried it. Should I avoid this ingredient altogether?

A: Don’t give up on glycolic acid just yet. If you can remember the concentration of glycolic acid in your product, try going lower for your next purchase. For instance, M.D. Forte offers cleansers with three strengths of glycolic acid from 12 percent to 20 percent. You may want to start with 12 percent and see how your skin tolerates it for several weeks. If your skin is still irritated after two weeks, then try another product with the ingredient, dermatologists Katie Rodan, M.D., and Kathy Fields, M.D., tell Prevention. Your skin might be able to tolerate a different product with the same concentration of glycolic acid.

» Q: Is kinetin similar to Retin-A or alpha hydroxy acids, ingredients that tend to make people more sensitive to the sun?

A: Retin-A encourages skin cells to exfoliate at a quicker rate, and alpha hydroxy acids work by breaking down the glue-like substance that adheres dead skin cells to the skin; both are a type of exfoliant. Kinetin, however, is a non-exfoliating antioxidant that doesn't cause the skin to become photosensitive — in fact, it actually improves the skin’s moisture levels. For more information, read our article on kinetin.

» Q: Is hydroquinone safe?

A: Hydroquinone is generally considered to be harmless. However, in recent years, its safety has been questioned because animal studies seem to show that hydroquinone is a carcinogen. Still, many experts consider it to be the gold standard in skin lightening treatments. But if you have any safety concerns, talk to your doctor. Additionally, there are several alternatives to hydroquinone that may be effective. You can learn more about hydroquinone alternatives in this article.


Before you spend money on beauty products boasting pricey ingredients, it pays to do your research. Get the lowdown on caffeine, peptides, antioxidants and other skincare ingredients that may be the perfect addition to your beauty arsenal. You can also benefit from learning about ingredient side effects, such as sun sensitivity, and how to avoid irritation. With a little help from our FAQs, you can be better equipped to choose your ingredients wisely for healthy, youthful and sun-protected skin.

Stay tuned for more installments of our complete Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook.

See also:

Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 8: Hair

Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 7: Cosmetic Procedures

Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 6: Budget

Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 5: Body & Spa

Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 3: Anti-Aging

Skincare & Beauty FAQ Handbook – Part 2: Acne



Topix Replenix Cream CF Replenix is a patent-pending formulation composed of 90% polyphenol isolates, derived from green tea, with potent antioxidant properties to assist in minimizing free-radical induced skin damage."
REVALESKIN CoffeeBerry Day Cream Natural antioxidant extracts in REVALESKIN CoffeeBerry Day Cream gently smooth and rejuvenate your skin. This is the only Day Cream with 1% CoffeeBerry, the ingredient clinically proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."
M.D. Forte Facial Cleanser III Facial Cleanser III is the only product to offer the highest level of Glycolic Compound available to exfoliate and cleanse all skin types. Removes daily residue, makeup and oil without harshness or dehydration"
MD Formulations Moisture Defense Antioxidant Eye Crème The perfect "super hydration" daytime treatment for the delicate eye area that helps to firm and reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles. Light deflecting pearls enhance radiance and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."

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