Best skincare with active ingredients: these super-strength products will make a difference to your skin

Posted by for Beauty

Supercharged serums and moisturisers are coming to a bathroom near you. Discover the products that pack an intense punch.

Cleanse, prep, apply, repeat. It’s no secret that skincare routines involve dedication and patience if you want to achieve results. But if you’ve ever wished you could fast forward the whole process and get your skin glowing straight away, you’re not alone.

“My patients are forever asking about – and looking for – things that produce a visible difference,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross. Which is where the new super-strength products enter the ring.

With higher percentages of active ingredients, potent acid blends or extra hydrating properties, these heavyweights promise to work harder and faster than their regular-strength counterparts.

“The average skincare consumer is more switched on than ever before,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. “They have a real desire to spend money on products which deliver obvious results. One way for brands to satisfy that is to ensure there are high concentrations of ingredients.” Having a greater intensity of active ingredients than most skincare products – for example 35% vitamin C, rather than the usual 15% – these serums, peels and moisturisers are able to get to work pronto, creating a noticeable improvement to skin.

But don’t get carried away just yet. Although some amped-up ingredients have supercharged antioxidant benefits or give your skin extra protection from pollution and free radical damage, others could prove too much.

“High concentrations of actives can cause irritation and allergy, particularly in sensitive skin types, so caution should be exercised,” explains Dr Mahto. After using intense active ingredients the skin can also be much more vulnerable to sensitivity caused by exposure to UV and will need an application of at least SPF30 to protect it against irritation. 

So, although hard-working, if you haven’t already started incorporating ingredients such as vitamin C or retinoids into your daily routine, it’s best to start with lower concentrations and gradually work your way up to the big guns in order to prevent any adverse effects.

Whatever your situation, small steps are the way forward. Instead of suddenly powering up your whole routine, choose one product or ingredient to supercharge and start from there. “The saying ‘too much of a good thing can be a bad thing’ also applies to skincare,” says Dr Gross. “The most beneficial super-strength ingredient will depend on your skin type and concern.”

So what will your first supercharged step be? Keep scrolling to discover which ingredients will work for you.

  • Best super-strength vitamin C serum: Allies of Skin Vitamin C 35% Collagen Rebuilding Serum

    allies-of-skin-collagen-rebuilding-serum

    Vitamin C comes recommended by most dermatologists – but it’s a hard product to formulate because, once combined with water, it starts to oxidise, rendering it useless. This product, however, is water-free. It also contains 25% ethylated L-ascorbic acid (studies suggest 10-20% is an optimum amount and that’s how much you’ll find in most products) and is paired with 10% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate – another form of vitamin C – which amps it up to 35%, meaning it not only shields skin against UV damage and pollutants, but it’ll also help brighten and even out tone.

    Use it: Every morning as the first step after cleansing.

    Allies of Skin Vitamin C 35% Collagen Rebuilding Serum, £115

  • Best chemical peel: Dr Dennis Gross Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel

    dennis-gross-liquid-resurfacing-peel

    With a potent blend of lactic and glycolic acids, this peel is best if you’ve already acclimatised skin through professional peels. It has a pH of 3.5, the lowest you can get when it’s not being administered by a professional – the optimal pH of skin is between 4.7 and 5.75, and temporarily lowering it kickstarts the rejuvenation process. The first step resurfaces skin and sloughs away dull layers that prevent fresh, new cells making an appearance. The second step is an antioxidant-rich formula that soothes skin, while helping to restore the pH balance.

    Use it: Two or three nights a week straight onto cleansed skin.

    Dr Dennis Gross Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel, £102

  • Best super-strength retinol serum: Medik8 R-Retinoate Intense

    Medik8 R-Retinoate Intense

    Retinol (a form of vitamin A) is considered the gold standard in anti-ageing, and while there are already a multitude of retinol products available, this is one of the best on the market. Two of Medik8’s existing and most effective formulas – retinaldehyde (which stimulates collagen synthesis 11 times faster than traditional retinol) and retinyl retinoate (which is eight times more powerful) combine to create this powerful formula that won’t cause prolonged irritation or dryness and is suitable for all skin types.

    Use it: After cleansing at night, twice a week, then gradually build up to every night.

    Medik8 R-Retinoate Intense, £210

  • Best hydrating serum: The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid

    The inkey list Polyglutamic acid

    Hyaluronic acid has long been hailed as the ingredient to help keep skin hydrated, but polyglutamic acid is here to knock it from the top spot. It’s derived from fermented soybeans and has the ability to hold four times more moisture than hyaluronic acid – which is no mean feat. The large molecules form a film on the surface of the skin to prevent water loss. It also helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and pigmentation, boosts elasticity and gives the skin’s natural exfoliation process a helping hand. A true multitasker.

    Use it: Apply twice daily, after serum and before moisturiser.

    The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid, £12.99

  • Best super-strength antioxidant serum: The Ordinary Pycnogenol 5%

    the ordinary pycnogenol

    A naturally derived extract that comes from the bark of French maritime pine trees, pycnogenol is an antioxidant that has shown to be 50 times more powerful than vitamin E. It’s packed with a synergistic blend of ingredients that work to renew skin and enhance hydration levels and elasticity – both of which decrease as we get older. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant by searching for free radicals before they cause damage to skin, and – impressively – it has the ability to recycle vitamin C that’s already oxidised and restore activity. It’s a one-step powerhouse.

    Use it: Once a day in the morning before oils or heavier moisturisers but after any water-based serums.

    The Ordinary Pycnogenol 5%, £8.50

  • Best salicylic acid treatment: Paula's Choice Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA

    paulas-choice-resist-anti-ageing-daily-pore-refening-treatment

    Formulated with 2% salicylic acid – the strongest you can get in an over-the-counter product – this treatment helps clear and prevent blemishes. It’s formulated with licorice root extract which acts as an antioxidant and peptides which help smooth and plump skin. Prolonged use will keep pores clear of impurities and keep skin radiant.

    Use it: Once a day after cleansing, swiping it over your face with a cotton pad.

    Paula’s Choice Daily Pore Refining Treatment 2% BHA, £30

  • Best niacinamide moisturiser: Dr Sam's Flawless Moisturiser

    dr-sams-flawless-moisturiser

    Formulated with 5% niacinamide, this moisturiser goes above and beyond your standard face cream. Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, works to strengthen the skin barrier, meaning water and moisture is locked into skin. It also regulates oil production, so those with oilier complexions will find their skin feels more balanced.

    Use it: Daily, after cleansing and serums but before sunscreen.

    Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser, £25

  • Best super-strength daily exfoliant: REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic

    REN-Ready-Steady-Glow-Daily-AHA-Tonic

    A cult product for a reason, this bottle contains lactic acid to slough away dead skin cells and azelaic acid to brighten your complexion. Despite its effective ingredients, the formula is gentle enough to use daily.

    REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic, £27

Main image: Jabulile Nadia Newman / Dove x Getty project #ShowUs

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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

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