A Guide to Skincare Actives

When it comes to sought after active ingredients in skincare, it can take trial and error to determine what works for your skin and what doesn’t. Here at Apoterra, we want to help you avoid the “error” phase of introducing new ingredients into your routine, which is why we created a guide to navigating the active ingredients in your skincare for both safe and effective results. 

What are skincare actives? 

A skincare active is an ingredient that has powerful benefits. They usually are found in a low dosage within a skincare product’s formula because of their potency. In the skincare available today, the percentage range for active ingredients can start from .1-5% and can go up to 10 or 20%. 

When it comes to active ingredients, more is definitely not always better. In fact, more can sometimes make the product less effective. Active ingredients also usually, however not always, have clinically or scientifically proven benefits which can inspire a claim behind a product’s promise. 

“Non-active” ingredients, on the other hand, can often be found in much higher percentages in skincare products. Some of these ingredients, such as plant oils and whole plant extracts, do offer benefits to the skin, but usually through nourishment and protection vs a specific targeted benefit.  


We value the benefit of both active and nourishing non-active ingredients.  Our approach to formulating skin care is through the lens of traditional herbalism and aromatherapy knowledge mixed with the scientific understanding of skin and skincare ingredients.  This means we value both the benefits of active ingredients as well as traditionally used natural “non-active” ingredients.  It is important to remember that natural skin nutrition is an integral part to a holistic skin care routine, which also involves other mindful lifestyle practices.


The following list of ingredients are considered some of the most common active ingredients that you will find in skincare products nowadays. We wanted to provide you with a brief description of their purpose so you can understand why the combinations listed later in this article are ideal for certain skin conditions. This list is not exhaustive of all active ingredients available in skincare today. 



Vitamin C: 

  • Antioxidant
  • Brightening
  • Helps even skin tone
  • Helps promote collagen production

Niacinamide: Also known as B3

  • Reducing the appearance of redness in the skin. 
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Provides hydration 
  • Generally considered pregnancy safe
  • The niacinamide found in Apoterra products is vegan

Hyaluronic Acid: Also known as Sodium hyaluronic acid 

  • Humectant for the skin to retain hydration. 
  • Antioxidant
  • Vegan sodium hyaluronic acid is used in both Apoterra facial mists. 
  • We wrote a whole piece on hyaluronic acid here


Vitamin C + Hyaluronic acid 

Vitamin C + Niacinamide

Niacinamide + Hyaluronic acid

Niacinamide + Lactic Acid


*Vitamin C + Retinoids (in some cases)

Vitamin C + Tea Tree



  • Gentle exfoliant
  • Great alternative for sensitive skin
  • Find naturally occurring enzymes in pumpkin pulp and raw honey used in our Hibiscus Exfoliating Mud. 

Acids: Alpha Hydroxy acids, Beta Hydroxy acids, lactic acid, and malic acid

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and Beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are a bit stronger than enzymes. 
  • Lactic acid and malic acid are more gentle than AHAs and BHAs
  • Reduces the appearance of;
    • hyperpigmentation
    • fine lines
    • wrinkles
    • acne scarring  
  • Find naturally occurring glycolic acid (a type of AHA) in sugar extract in our Hibiscus Exfoliating Mud

Willow Bark

  • Willow Bark contains salicin which is a precursor to the popular BHA, salicylic acid**.
  • Known for its soothing properties 
  • Combats breakouts and inflammation
  • Antioxidant and Antimicrobial benefits 


  • Salicylic acid is BHA traditionally not usually recommended for individuals to use daily, however Willow Bark is much gentler for daily use. 
  • Salicylic Acid is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding persons unless approved by a doctor. 

Physical Exfoliation

  • Mild physical exfoliation include jojoba beads or rice/bamboo powder extracts 
  • Strongest physical exfoliation includes salt or pumice scrubs 
  • Not to be mixed with other exfoliation


  • Speeds up cell turnover
  • Smooths imperfections
  • Brightens complexions 
  • Retinoids are in the same family as the chemical compound of Vitamin A**. 
  • There currently is no retinol in any Apoterra product. 


  • If you are using any prescription retinoids, please contact your dermatologist or licensed esthetician before making big changes to your routine. 
  • Not suitable for pregnancy, please discuss with your doctor. 


Hyaluronic acid + Enzymes

Hyaluronic acid + Acids

Hyaluronic Acid + Willow Bark

Niacinamide + Enzymes

Niacinamide + Willow Bark


Enzymes + Retinoids

Enzymes + Activated Charcoal

Willow Bark + Retinoids

Niacinamide + AHAs




Activated Charcoal: 

  • Pulls out any impurities within the skin 
  • Doesn’t strip necessary oils for balancing the skin’s moisture. 
  • The charcoal used in Apoterra products is treated with oxygen to help it effectively bind to toxins in the skin. 

Other ingredients that have similar functions to charcoal include kaolin clay and pink clay. 

Tea Tree Essential Oil:  

  • Antibacterial
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antifungal
  • Apoterra sources tea tree EO organically grown in Australia. 
  • Tea tree EO must be mixed with a carrier oil in order to dilute the potency


Activated Charcoal + Niacinamide

Activated Charcoal + Tea Tree


Activated Charcoal +  Retinoids

Tea Tree + Acids (low doses may be fine)

Tea Tree + Retinoids 


If you have previously or are currently using a combination that is in the NOT A MATCH category, don’t fret. The skin can be very resilient and in some instances, can tolerate a highly active routine. These suggested combinations are meant to be supportive to all skin types. 



Here are some recommended skincare combinations that support the balance of active ingredients for different skin care concerns:

For dry, dehydrated, and/or combination skin. Includes Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, Vitamin C, and Enzymes.  Rose Clay Complexion Soap, Vetiver Illuminating Cleansing Oil, Vitamin C Regenerative Balm

For oily, congested, breakout prone skin. Includes Activated Charcoal, Tea Tree Essential Oil, Niacinamide, Vitamin C, and Willow Bark  Activated charcoal and Dead sea salt complexion soap, Neroli Clarifying Mist, Mineral Purifying Mask 

For inflammation, reactive, sensitive skin. Includes hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.  Rose Hydrating Mist, Rose Nourishing Oil

For dull skin with hyperpigmentation, acne scars, or wrinkle. Includes enzymes, niacinamide, and Vitamin C : Pumpkin and Wild Carrot Complexion Soap, Hibiscus Exfoliating Mud, Sea Berry Balancing Facial Oil

Still not sure which ingredient works for you? Take The Skin Quiz, built by our skincare professionals to help you identify your skin needs by evaluating your skin history, current routine, and lifestyle habits. You can also feel free to reach out to our friendly team for support in understanding your results or expanding your routine!  

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