There will always be the tried-and-true classics—ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, retinol, and the like—that have worked for decades and remain top dogs in the skincare industry. We love 'em, we use 'em, and we'll never get rid of 'em. But, then, there's always a new selection of ingredients populating our favorite formulas, proving innovative, effective, and brimming with positive buzz. Some are ingredients that have been used for decades, as with turmeric and watermelon, but are only now making their way to the mainstream. Others, like CBD and bakuchiol, are naturally-derived alternatives to more traditional formulas. Together, they make up the new guard in skincare, a collection of components meant to shake things up, in a good way.
Below, find the top five ingredients we've seen popping up all over the place. We did a bit of research, talked to dermatologists and skin experts, and tested the products that include them. Now, we know they're worth your while. Think anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, brightening, line-smoothing goodness. We're excited and we're thinking you will be too.
Ok, CBD—there's no doubt you've heard a lot about it as of late. It's one of the buzziest ingredients in the industry right now, popping up in wellness and skincare products alike. Here's the short of it: CBD (which can also be named hemp CBD, full-spectrum hemp extract, phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil, and hemp extract oil on a label) is non-psychoactive and is found in high concentrations in cannabis and hemp. This is not to be confused with THC, which is the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant that gets you high. In skincare, incorporating CBD into your routine via oils, lotions, and serums has really ground-breaking anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and has been shown in multiple studies to soothe irritation, reduce redness, and potentially combat acne. That, and additional studies found potential for soothing psoriasis and even helping slow down signs of aging because of its neuro-regenerative and antioxidant properties.
"It's a plant-based ingredient that can boost collagen production—like retinols do—but without the same irritating and inflammatory side-effects," says Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology in NYC. And since it's an all-natural alternative, it's said to be safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which is not true of retinoids. Dendy Engelman, MD, adds: "Bakuchiol works as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, so it’s ideal for those who suffer from dry, sensitive skin and can’t tolerate retinol. The antibacterial properties of bakuchiol also mean that it’s great for those with acne and have oily skin." See, there instances where you should avoid specific products when using a retinol—such as exfoliators, toners, benzoyl peroxide, and the like—as they can cause irritation. But due to bakuchiol’s natural composition, it is safe to use with other products in your skincare regimen.
"Turmeric is rich in curcumin, a natural active ingredient that promotes the healing and brightening of skin," says May Lindstrom, the woman behind the cult-favorite skincare line of the same name. While there's a ton of modern research that speaks to this (more on that below), women have been applying turmeric topically for hundreds of years. It's especially helpful for those with inflammatory skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea, but anyone can find the ingredient helpful. Turmeric in skincare softens, brightens, and lessens fine lines and wrinkles to boot. If you're looking for science-backed studies—we've got you. A 2014 study found curcumin can help speed up the healing of wounds, and another found that the compound boosts collagen production, diminishes psoriasis, and protects against free radicals and sun damage.
Watermelon is comprised of 92% water and is incredibly rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and amino acids. But using it as part of a skincare routine is not new. "In Korea, our grandmothers used to rub watermelon rind on our skin in the summer to soothe and cool heat rash and irritation," explains Christine Chang, the co-founder and co-CEO of Glow Recipe. She continues, "The next day, our heat rashes would be completely gone—courtesy of the amazing superfruit." Those childhood stories inspired Chang and co-founder and co-CEO Sarah Lee to create a line of skincare products infused with watermelon. After their first product, Glow Recipe's Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask ($45) went viral, they continued to make products using their hero ingredient including a moisturizer, jelly sheet mask, and facial spray. Since, many other watermelon-based products have popped up on the marketplace—proving the ingredient's efficacy and popularity in equal measure. Engleman agrees, explaining, "Watermelon is packed with the phytochemical lycopene, a naturally-occurring red pigment. It is a powerful antioxidant; it scavenges free radicals which cause oxidative damage and loss of proper cell function."
Astaxanthin is an ingredient produced by certain bacteria, microalgae, and yeast, and, according to Nazarian, it’s more effective in fighting free radicals than vitamin C. "It appears to be photo-protective," she says, "so it can protect your skin from sun damage, as well as decrease inflammation (which leads to dryness, itching, and wrinkle formation)." And, it's actually the reason flamingos are pink. Take that in for a second, I'll wait. I was blown away by the whimsy of it all too. See, it's a carotenoid—the class of antioxidants that gives salmon, tomatoes, carrots, and yes, flamingos, their color.) According to research, astaxanthin contains significantly more antioxidants than other superfood favorites (like blueberries) and is claimed to be anywhere from 10 to 100 times more powerful than other carotenoids (including beta-carotene and lycopene). And if that wasn't thrilling enough, it's said to be significantly more potent than vitamins C and E.