My experience with actives in a skincare routine

I avoided actives for so long

I’d used a few acids in the past and not really seen any benefits and had heard lots of horror stories of people breaking their moisture barrier with actives. However, the improvement in my skin was starting to plateau and so I knew I needed to start bringing in the big guns to clear my skin.

What are actives I hear you ask? Actives are things like acids and antioxidants. They’re powerful things that really boost your skincare regime, but should be used with caution. You can’t just go using an acid daily immediately, or introducing three at once. Because they’re so strong they can harm your skin if not used correctly.

I’ve been using actives for around six months now and I’m no expert. If you want a pretty comprehensive guide, check out this on Reddit. However, I have learnt a few things and tried a couple of different ones along the way so thought it would be useful to take you through them.

My first active

After doing very little research I jumped straight in with Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum. AHA is also known as glycolic acid and I had used it before on my skin with no issues. I started off slow with this, using it just once a week to begin with. I think I only got as frequent as twice a week before my skin erupted into the biggest breakout I think I’ve ever had. Once I realised it wasn’t purging and most likely a reaction to the AHA, I discontinued use. I then spent a good few months with just a stripped back skincare routine to try and get my skin back to normal. I haven’t used this since and won’t be using it again.

While I was trying to get my skin to recover I did some more research. Turns out, AHA wasn’t even the active I needed. I’d read that AHA was good for dark spots and assumed that would be good for my acne and the lasting effects of it. Turns out, BHA was what I needed.

My second active

Clearly where I’d gone wrong was straying from my usual COSRX and so when it came to active number two, I went with that brand.

I picked up the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. I’d heard great reviews and it sounded like just the thing to sort out my acne.

Again, I started off slowly with this. Using it once a week for one week and building up slowly from there. I was using this on an evening only.

I’d read about your skin needing to be back at it’s natural PH before using, and so I had been waiting around 15 minutes after washing before use. I then read that you could use a PH adjusting toner to help with that. COSRX have one in the range, so I picked this up too. 

This has small quantities of AHA and BHA and I pretty much went straight into using this daily, just to get into the habit of using it. I’ve had no issues using it, and it’s cut down my wait times (and thus the length of my routine).

BHA gets deep into your pores and clears them out, which makes this particular active great for acne prone skin. The one used in the COSRX Power Liquid is Salicylic Acid. I’ve used this before in the many spot treatments I’d used over the years and all they’d ever seem to do was make my spots worse, or nothing at all. Thankfully, I started to see a difference with this in just a few weeks. My spots were clearing up quicker, and I was getting less in general.

I was still struggling through with the faded red spots left behind after acne. This is where I needed a new product.

Active number three

Probably my Holy Grail – Melano CC Vitamin C Serum.

This has faded old, red under the skin spots in a way I could never have imagined. It took a couple of weeks but once I started seeing results I was amazed. There’s been patches, particularly around my cheeks where there have been red spots for at least a year. These have now gone and I feel so much more confident in my skin. There’s a full review of this here and I just can’t rave about it enough.

My fourth and final active

After reading my high praise for the BHA and the Vitamin C you might wonder why I needed a fourth. Well, while my skin was the best it had been in a long time, there were still improvements in my acne that could be made. I’m also 31 and so needed to start thinking more about anti-aging skincare. Retinol meets this brief perfectly. This finally gave me the opportunity to try The Ordinary. 

There’s a million different strengths of this and I went for the second mildest as the 0.2% was out of stock.

This really has been the turning point in my skincare and just complements my routine perfectly. My skin is now consistently clear and all I get now are odd spots that are easy to cover up. I’ve even stopped wearing foundation for work. I’m finally confident just wearing a BB Cream every day. Before I could miss the foundation every once in a while, but now it’s all week every week.

The anti aging element is a little harder to tell and something I’ve always struggled to measure when it comes to skincare. When this bottle is finished, I will be trading up to the higher strength and maybe then I’ll see more impact.

The routine

So you’ve seen what I’ve been using, and are probably wondering how this all fits into a routine. I was advised not to use actives together and so I’ve separated them out. In the morning I use the Melano CC Serum, after my PH adjusting toner. I use the BHA and Retinol on an evening on alternate nights, so the most each gets used is three times a week as I leave at least one day of the weekend free from actives.

This routine is definitely working for me, although I’m intrigued about trying to up my usage of the evening actives to see if I see even more results. My next bit of research will be whether it’s possible to use two lots of actives in one evening, and how long I should wait in between applications. If you already do this I’d love to know how in the comments below!

Hopefully this has been an interesting walk through the actives I’ve been using and how. If you’re thinking of introducing them into your routine there’s three things you absolutely must do:
1) Research – the Reddit link at the top of the page is invaluable.
2) Use the right active for what you want to achieve – don’t make my mistake!
3) Start slowly – I heard 1,2,3 as a great way of remembering how often to use actives. Once a week for one week, twice a week for two weeks and so on. I followed this and didn’t fall into any over exfoliation traps.

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