We Break Down the ABC’s of Skincare

We Break Down the ABC’s of Skincare

What do all those ingredients actually do?



Since entering adulthood, I’d like to think I’ve started permeating the skirts of the beauty world. I spent the past two and a half years writing for fashion and lifestyle, but developed an affinity for beauty and started writing about it, too. As a result, I’m glad to say that I now have a flexible yet fool-proof skincare routine that I sing praises about to anyone who’d listen. I’m aware of which ingredients work for my skin and which are best kept a safe distance away.


But it wasn’t always like this, because skincare is a whole different animal on its own.


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There’s a whole science to it that most of us admittedly don’t understand. Sure, we’ve got countless YouTube videos chronicling skincare regimens and Get Unready With Me routines, but a lot of valuable product info flies over our heads. Ingredient names and beauty jargon get thrown around enough to sound familiar, but do we really know understand the difference between AHA and BHA? And what the heck is Galactomyces anyway? (Spoiler: it has nothing to do with galactic mice or Guardians of the Galaxy.)


Thankfully, there’s no need to come into the game blind. Whether you’ve begun your trial-and-error exploration into skincare or are simply looking to expand your beauty vocab, we’ve got you covered. From here, we school you on the ABC’s of skincare.



AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid. It works at the skin's surface, helping in the shedding of dead skin cells and disappearance of fine lines and scars. While AHA works its magic best on dryness and sun damage, it’s pretty much a dream ingredient for all skin types.

Try it out: COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Liquid, P900


A: Ampoule

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One of the innovations that the Korean beauty wave brought with it, a simple way to think of ampoules is this: super-charged serums. Similar to how serums contain active ingredients to target specific skincare issues, ampoules are armed with higher concentration levels and are usually dealt in smaller or time-bound doses.

Try it out: MISSHA Time Revolution Night Repair Borabit Ampoule, P1440


RELATED: Face Off: The Lowdown on K-Beauty Versus J-Beauty



Often heard in tandem with AHA, Beta Hydroxy Acid is the stuff that can get through the oil that plagues your pores and reduce all that excessive oiliness nobody wants to deal with. The most common type of BHA is Salicylic Acid.

Try it out: COSRX BHA Skin Returning A-Sol, P860


C: Ceramide

If you’re looking for a product that will deliver a one-two punch of hydration and anti-aging, your best bet is reaching for something with ceramide in it. Ceramide’s functions run deep: it strengthens and restores the skin’s barriers, keeping moisture locked in and pollutants shut out. If you haven’t started using this stuff and happen to be among the 3% of adults worldwide with some form of eczema, now’s a good time to get started.

Try it out: MARIO BADESCU Ceramide Eye Gel, P1005


C: Collagen

We know it’s in our skin and in our products––but what does collagen do anyway? In charge of keeping the skin supple and maintaining its elasticity, collagen combats wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Try it out: LEADERS INSOLUTION Collagen Lifting Skin Renewal Mask, P134


E: Emulsion

Easiest described as a watered-down facial lotion, emulsions may seem useless. In fact, it’s one of the elements most commonly ignored by those who attempt to whittle down the 10-step Korean skincare routine. But hey, don’t be so quick to judge. Lighter than a cream and less concentrated than a serum, an emulsion is ideal for hydrating oily skin types without clogging the pores.

Try it out: BENEFIT Triple Performing Facial Emulsion, P2000


E: Essence

Essence, serum, emulsion––I know this is getting a little confusing. Fine lines divide these products, but traditionally, essence comes after toner as a hydrating prep step before serum. While essence initially rose to prominence as a thin, lightweight product, more concentrated variations have broken into the market.

Try it out: PIXI Rose Caviar Essence, P1628


G: Galactomyces

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First thing’s first: Galactomyces is a kind of fungi. It doesn’t sound the most appealing, but trust me when I say you’ll want this on your face. The byproduct of fermenting Galactomyces deeply moisturizes, minimizes enlarged pores and reduces signs of aging all while bringing back the skin’s natural glow.

Try it out: COSRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence, P1010


H: Hydrocolloid

If you’ve been in the skincare game for a while, then CosRX’s pimple patches might sound familiar. A miracle worker for blemish-prone skin, these flexible mini bandages are infused with hydrocolloid, which sucks out the gunk from zits while protecting the spot from bacteria.

Try it out: COSRX Acne Master Patch, P200


M: Mucin

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Not a lot of people would be excited to have snail mucus slathered across their faces. Let’s play the honest game: you probably find it gross. Completely understandable, but the benefits that snail mucin brings to the table might just change your mind. After all, this ingredient firms, hydrates, and banishes imperfections without harming snails in the manufacturing process. Oh, and it doesn’t smell funky either. What more could we ask for?

Try it out: ELIZAVECCA 24K Gold Snail Cleansing Foam, P300


N: Niacinamide

Don’t let the long, scientific name scare you away. Also known as Vitamin B3, niacinamide keeps hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, uneven skin tone and fine lines at bay. If you’ve been on the hunt for an elixir for aging skin, this is the good stuff you’ll want to get your hands on.

Try it out: SKIN INC Vitamin B3+ Serum, P2620


P: pH

Do you remember studying pH levels in high school chemistry? Skincare tells us those afternoons spent in chem lab understanding them aren’t useless after all. pH level, in layman’s terms, gauges how acidic or alkaline the skin is. Ideally, the skin’s pH level should be kept at a slightly acidic 5.5. Mild cleansers or toners with a pH close to 5 generally benefit all skin types.

Try it out: FIRST AID BEAUTY Pure Skin Facial Cleanser, P1106


R: Retinol

This buzzword’s been thrown around for decades, with good reason. Essentially Vitamin A in its pure form, retinol is that one overeager yes-man that exists in everyone’s friend group. It doesn’t just retain the good stuff (read: radiance, firmness and baby-soft smoothness) and diminish the bad (read: dullness and the classic bump n’ lump), it works for all ages and skin types, too.

Try it out: THE ORDINARY Retinol 0.2% in Squalane, P560



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Alright, we all know what SPF is, but a little refresher wouldn’t hurt. A product’s sun protection factor gives us an idea of how long and how well it can protect us from UVB rays. While higher SPF does ensure better sun protection, there’s no point applying anything above SPF 50––increase in UVB protection is minimal beyond that line.

Try it out: SUPERGOOP! Everyday Sunscreen SPF50, P1849


T: Tea Tree Oil

While it may be a champ at clearing acne and blemishes, tea tree oil is generally a hit or miss. Skincare wonders have been worked by tea tree oil-infused products, but like many well-loved ingredients, it doesn’t agree with all skin types. Higher concentrations of TTO can be used in moderation for blemishes (don’t forget to use a cotton swab!). Otherwise, it’s best to play it safe and experiment with a diluted form first.

Try it out: LEADERS INSOLUTION Tea Tree Relaxing Skin Renewal Mask, P134


V: Vitamin C

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Vitamin C was the most searched beauty product last year, and it’s no wonder why. We all know it’s good for us, but its benefits go over and beyond keeping the sniffles away. It amps up collagen production, minimizes sun damage and reduces dark spots. The best part? It’s available in just about every form: the ever-popular serum, the potent treatment drop, the on-the-go sheet mask.

Try it out: THE ORDINARY Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres, P600


Z: Zzz

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The simplest thing on this list easily outweighs everything else. We’re all guilty of kicking sleep to the curb when we deadlines pile up or even we fall into the pits of a new Netflix series. Rest always seems to be the first to go, which albeit unavoidable, shouldn’t be the case. Consider sleep as the most important ingredient in your regimen. Clock in the bedrest––and maybe amp it up even further with a good ol’ night cream for that well-rested glow.

Go all out: PHILOSOPHY Take a Deep Breath Night Oil-Free Detoxifying Gel-Balm, P2157


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Go forth and navigate the beauty world!



Art Alexandra Lara

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