What's in your skincare?

It is important to know the ingredients in your skin care products and the role they play.

The Black Skin Directory Ingredients Glossary is a handy guide that gives you a snap shot of ingredients you may come across that have enhanced benefits for darker skin tones.


Glycolic Acid

Derived from sugar cane, Glycolic Acid belongs in the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family. Known for having the small and most penetrative molecule size, it’s one of the original AHA’s used in skincare for decades.

Gylcolic acid is an exfoliant with anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Its job is to loosen the bonds that hold the uppermost underperforming dead skin cells, causing them to shed and reveal underlying skin.

Used for its anti aging credentials, glycolic acid also improves the appearance of age spots, acne, acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, melasma, photoaging and oily skin.

Lactic Acid

A very popular Alpha Hydroxy Acid derived from milk.

When applied on the skin, it helps to reduce the signs of ageing, tackles fine lines and early wrinkles. This is achieved through its action of exfoliating the surface of the skin and encouraging the shedding of dull/underperforming skin cells. On dark skin, this also gently lifts any dullness to the complexion.

Mandelic Acid

Also a member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family, Mandelic acid is quite mild and is derived from almond nuts. Like acids in this family, it’s also an exfoliant and encourages the shedding of dead skin cells.

It’s an excellent option for oilier skin types as it is a lipophilic acid that is readily absorbed by oily skin making it a great choice for acne prone skin and treating hyperpigmentation. It helps to reduce oil over time without over drying the skin.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid belongs to the Beta Hydroxy Acid family and is derived from the bark of willow trees. Sometimes maybe called ‘Willow Bark Extract’.

It is also an exfoliant and has an anti inflammatory effect on the skin by calming breakouts and angry skin. It works very well on oily/acne prone skin types as it can penetrate deep in the pore lining and help break down the sticky bonds that hold dead skin cells together which would otherwise clog pores leading to comedones, white heads and black heads. 

Azelic Acid

Derived from grains such as wheat, barley and rye. Very effective against acne and used as a bleaching agent for skin, therefore great for treating hyperpigmentation and dark marks on the skin. Helps to shed skin cells and is antibacterial.

Hyaluronic Acid

Over the last ten years, Hyaluronic Acid has become very popular in skincare, but in effect it is a large sugar molecule that is naturally produced in large quantities by the body. It acts as a humectant, enabling the skin to retain water, thus keeping it hydrated. 

When darker skin is dry and dehydrated, it has a tendency to appear dull and grey. Hyaluronic Acid is a great supporting ingredient for radiant looking skin.

Ageing naturally depletes Hyaluronic Acid in the body and this can lead to dry skin, wrinkles and loss of shape and volume underneath the skin.

Hyaluronic acid can be applied topically to the skin in a gel or cream. Though, not hyaluronic acid is created equally, so it’s important to ensure you select a ‘low molecular’ weight hyaluronic acid for optimum beneficial effect.

 It can also be injected into the skin as a filler to soften lines and wrinkles, tighten skin and encourage improved hydration.

Lactobionic Acid

Although technically an acid from the Poly Hydroxy Acid family, lactobionic acid is derived from milk sugar and is a potent antioxidant with the ability to strengthen and moisturize skin.  It’s non-irritating and helps to combat uneven pigmentation, enlarged pores and rough skin.

Maltobionic Acid

Also a member of the Poly Hydroxy Acid clan, Maltobionic Acid is derived from malt sugar providing protection from environmental and free radical damage to the skin. This helps to preserve collagen and provide the skin with structural support.


Another Poly Hydroxy Acid, which is found naturally in the skin and provides copious amounts of anti-aging benefits without irritation, even for sensitive skin conditions like Rosacea or for skin that has undergone a recent cosmetic procedure like peels or laser. Its main role is to strengthen the barrier function of the skin and reduce sensitivity to irritants.



Liquorice extract

Containing an active called Glabridin, liquorice extract has the ability to treat hyperpigmentation resulting from sun damage and trauma to the skin.  It’s often seen as a natural skin-brightening alternative to hydroquinone.

Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is produced by several different species of fungi that have the ability to limit the synthesis of melanin in the skin.

It’s often found in skin whitening and brightening products to combat hyperpigmentation, dark marks and scarring.

Studies have shown some irritation with prolonged use of Kojic Acid, especially if it’s above 1% of the total ingredient formulation.


Tranexamic acid is a man-made form of the protein lysine that is widely used in medicine to prevent excess blood loss.

Studies have proved that it has beneficial skin whitening effects through inhibiting the release of factors that stimulate the production of melanin. It’s mode of action in the skin makes it particularly effective in treating UV-induced hyperpigmentation such as melasma.

Alpha Arbutin

This is an enhanced biosynthetic form of Arbutin, which is naturally derived from bearberry plants.

Its main function in skincare is to brighten and even skin tone by inhibiting the body from processing Tyrosine – the protein behind excessive melanin production that contributes to hyperpigmentation and melasma.


A skin-lightening ingredient that is used medically to brighten and even the skin tone. Its main function is to suppress melanin in order to prepare the skin for further treatments and to lighten darkened patches of skin.

It’s a controversial ingredient within skincare, but when used short term and under prescription with careful monitoring, it can be very effective. 

In the UK, Hydroquinone is a prescription drug and using it without medical guidance can lead to Ochronosis, a noticeable condition in which the skin becomes dark and thickened.


Soybean Trypsin Inhibitor is a protein and the most studied skin lightening agent in soy. It reduces melanin formation by inhibiting the transfer of melanosomes to the surrounding skin cells which results in skin pigmentation.


Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and alongside its natural derivatives (Retinaldehyde, Retinoic Acid, Retinol, Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate). Vitamin A plays a key role in cell growth and development, making it an excellent topical ingredient for skin conditions like acne and psoriasis, but also hyperpigmentation.

Through a series of oxidative and transformation processes, Vitamin A must be converted into its metabolically active form - all-trans retinoic acid - to be beneficial to skin.

Vitamin A has the ability to speed up cell turnover to make way for new cell proliferation underneath. This way, old mottled and pigmented skin cells are also prompted to turnover and are shed quickly to reveal a clearer and fresher skin tone.

In addition, retinoids will thicken collagen in the deeper layers of skin, delaying the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin A is best incorporated into any skin care regime slowly. Even though tolerance levels can be high, it’s not uncommon for irritation to occur if care is not exercised. Irritation can include dryness, scaling, flakiness, burning/tingling sensation, sensitivity and or itching.

If using Vitamin A, a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF30 must also be used.

Vitamin C

Also known as Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin C is a powerhouse ingredient for dark skin. It’s an antioxidant that plays an important role in the production of collagen and helps to protect from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays.

Using Vitamin C in your skincare can help to repair damaged skin including brighten and fade any existing spots of hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is essential for strong and healthy bones, but also necessary for the skin. In its Vitamin D3 form, the outcomes of skin conditions like acne and rosacea are improved due to its antimicrobial activity. Insufficient amounts of Vitamin D will cause skin to appear thinner and more fragile. Darker skin tones require even more Vitamin D than Caucasians as melanin prevents the skin from absorbing enough of the necessary sun rays.

Whilst Vitamin D production in the body is triggered by UVB sun rays, it’s a national recommendation that we take a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D daily to get our recommended amounts.


Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide)

Niacinamide (or nicotinamide) is part of the vitamin B complex and it plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy skin barrier. It does this through reducing transepidermal water loss, increasing ceramide content and facilitating skin cell differentiation - all of which improve the moisture content of the epidermis.


Ceramides contribute to 40% of the lipid bilayer - the glue that holds our skin cells together to form the protective barrier. They come in many different forms which are widely used in cosmetics to boost hydration in the skin, prevent dehydration and regulate what goes in and out of the skin.


Squalane is a naturally occurring substance and it’s one of the most common lipids produced by the skin. The quantity of squalane in the skin decreases drastically by age 30 which contributes to the development of dry skin.

It’s a great staple oil as its saturated structure makes it a lot more stable than its family member squalene, Additionally, it doesn’t have a greasy feel and it has added antioxidant and anti-bacterial effects - perfect for acne prone skin.


Allantoin is naturally present in plants, animals and bacteria. This potent ingredient is usually extracted from the comfry plant to be used in cosmetics.

It promotes a healthy skin barrier by replenishing moisture content in the skin, enhancing its natural exfoliation process, reducing irritation and improving smoothness.



Ferulic acid is an organic compound commonly found in grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It’s usually combined with vitamin C and vitamin E to boost product stability as well as deliver antioxidants to the skin.

It works by scavenging free radicals and inhibiting the enzymes involved in their generation whilst offering anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits to the skin.


Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland to regulate the circadium rhythm. It’s activities within the skin include the enhancement of the production and regulation of antioxidant enzymes to prevent DNA damage and cell death.

It’s a great ingredient for managing all forms of oxidative stress within the skin.


Epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC) is an abundant compound in green tea that has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects on the skin, whilst protecting against the effects of UV radiation. It acts upon the MMP’s (enzymes which degrade vital proteins in the skin) to prevent UV damage and degradation of the extracellular matrix.  

This is a good ingredient for treating sun damage in the skin.


Resveratrol is naturally found in grapes, red wine, berries and peanuts. It works within the skin to improve its natural defense capabilities and boost self-repair.

Like many effective antioxidants, it has great anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits alongside combating UV-induced free radical activity.



Pantothenic acid is essential for normal functioning of the epidermis. It has anti-inflammatory and moisturising effects on the skin and this helps to reduce water loss and improve the hydration of the epidermis to help the skin maintain suppleness and elasticity.

Studies have shown that vitamin B5 has the ability to accelerate the wound healing process when applied to the skin.

beta glucans

β-glucans are derived from a variety of sources including yeast, grains and fungus and they possess a broad spectrum of immunity enhancing functions within the body.

Studies have shown that topical applications of β-glucans are beneficial to the skin, as they target skin cells to encourage regenerative activity and increase the presence of immune cells to promote wound healing.


Indian frankincense is an ancient but very valuable herb in Ayurveda. It’s derived from large trees located in India, China, Africa and the Middle East. It’s widely used as an anti-inflammatory and pain relief agent.

When applied to the skin, it has soothing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects whilst encouraging the formation of glycosaminoglycans and new blood vessels to accelerate optimum wound healing.


Aloe vera (aloe barbadensis miller) has been used for medicinal purposes for several centuries. Its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant and healing properties make it a versatile ingredient in cosmetics and improving skin integrity.



Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) fruit is 95% water and contains an abundance of vitamins, sugars and antioxidants which help to cool, soothe, hydrate, and nourish the skin. Cucumber skin is also proposed to contain enzymes which act as tyrosinase inhibitors and have depigmenting effects on the skin.


Bakuchiol is a retinol-like compound that naturally occurs in the seeds and the leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia plant. It stimulates the production of collagen and can significantly reduce the presence of UV-induced skin damage such as hyperpigmentation without the undesirable side effects of using retinoids.


Mulberry extract is derived from the plant Morus alba L in the Moraceae family. Research has shown that the derivatives of its root bark have a skin lightening effect which is beneficial for addressing hyperpigmentation.  


Tea tree essential oil derives from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant and has been used in complimentary and alternative medicine for many years because of its antimicrobial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s perfect for reducing breakouts and inflammation.


Crithmum minitimum is a wild edible plant that improves the barrier function of the skin through the preservation of epidermis lipids, boosting cellular respiration and restoring hydration.