These Are the Only 3 Skincare Ingredients Experts Say We Actually Need

When it comes to shopping for skincare, it's easy to become overwhelmed. First of all, the sheer amount of skincare products that all promise to do the same thing can make for difficult decisions. But before you even get to that stage, one of the most confusing things about shopping for skincare is trying to decipher exactly what sort of product your skin needs.

We know that every person's skin is different. It, therefore, makes sense that for years we have been told that each individual needs a different skincare routine. And for the most part, that's not wrong. While varying skin characteristics mean that some people require different levels of active ingredients, experts warn that really every single person should have three basic skincare ingredients present in their line up. Consultant dermatologist Anjali Mahto, BSc, MBBCh, FRCP reveals, "Less is more. Complex skin routines and mixing multiple active ingredients can lead to irritation. You can curate your own pared-back routine by picking skincare items wisely."

So what exactly are these three ingredients we shouldn't be without? "The basics of any good skincare routine should include an antioxidant serum and sunscreen in the morning and a retinoid product at night," says Mahto. Sound intriguing? Keep scrolling for all there is to know about skincare's three essential ingredients and to shop the best products.

Antioxidant or Vitamin C



You'd be forgiven for assuming that vitamin C is little more than a citrus-smelling, skin brightening additive. With certain formulas smelling pungently of orange and being housed in bright orange, fun-looking pots, it's all too easy to not take the power of vitamin C in your skincare seriously. As a matter of fact, vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants and can lead to the most incredible results, providing it is used correctly.

"Vitamin C has a number of roles alongside being an antioxidant. It is a brightening agent, an anti-inflammatory and also required for the synthesis of collagen, which gives our skin its important structure," says Mahto. However, although it's an important ingredient to incorporate into your regimen, it's also vital that you listen to your skin. Vitamin C can be very potent and some stronger formulas may cause sensitive skin to flare up. As with all skincare, if irritation occurs, be sure to stop using it.

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(Image credit: @GRECEGHANEM)

There's no doubt that you've heard of retinol before. In fact, it has quickly become one of the most popular skincare ingredients out there. Whereas you might have had to look exceptionally hard to find a decent retinol product, now, they’re everywhere. From high-end luxury creams to affordable serums, it’s never been easier to incorporate retinol into your routine. But what exactly does it do?

Mahto reveals, "Retinol (vitamin A) is excellent at blitzing uneven skin tone, large pores, rough texture, wrinkles and dullness as well as clogged pores." Heralded as one of the most efficacious and scientifically backed ingredients in skincare, retinol has incredible resurfacing powers. However, much like vitamin C (but probably more so), retinol means business. It’s often recommended to train up your skin’s tolerance levels. Start off by using retinol once a week in the evening, and then after a few weeks, increase that to twice a week and so on.

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(Image credit: @AYSHA.SOW)

You don't need us to tell you that it's imperative that you wear SPF every single day, but we're going to do it anyway. Acting as one of the biggest premature skin agers, sun damage can be detrimental to your skin's overall appearance and health. To help avoid pigmentation, fine lines, dryness and many other more serious skin issues, daily SPF application is a must.

And we get it—applying SPF isn't the most enjoyable of experiences. With many formulas of yesteryear leaving behind a white, chalky cast and others making skin look irritated and greasy, SPF has never been considered a particularly glamorous product. However, new formulas and innovations mean that SPF now applies seamlessly onto the skin, so you really have no excuse.

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Opening image: @kimseidensticker

Next up, these are spring's most important beauty trends.

Freelance Beauty Editor

Shannon Lawlor is a renowned beauty journalist and has contributed to Who What Wear’s beauty content since 2020. As a leading beauty editor, expert and brand consultant, she has over eight years of experience working for some of the industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear (of course), Glamour UK, Stylist, Refinery29 and Fabulous. Having also worked behind the scenes with some of the industry’s biggest brands and retailers, Shannon has a unique insight into what people really want from their beauty routines. Understanding that beauty lovers seek honest, open and responsible advice, she has it made her mission to demystify the intimidating world of beauty, taking a no-frills approach to the most relatable topics. While Shannon is the first to admit she doesn’t hold the answer to every beauty question out there, she is dedicated to sharing her expert insights in a bid to help. As a self-proclaimed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for easy-to-use, foolproof beauty products and has made it her mission to scope out the best of the best. When she’s not working, Shannon is likely soaking in the bath or giving no-holds-barred beauty reviews on Instagram from her bathroom floor.