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Here's What Your Favorite Skin Care Products And Treatments Do For You

We asked a dermatologist to explain what some ingredients, products, and treatments actually do for your skin.

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

Welcome to Skincare ABCs, a new series which will explain WTF all of your favorite ingredients actually do for your skin!

For ~professional~ guidance, we enlisted the help of dermatologist, Anna Karp, from the Skin Institute of New York.

Here's part one of our guide, otherwise known as ingredients A-F.

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed
Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed, skinbetter.com, target.com

What is it?
Retinol is a topical form of vitamin A. It is in the same family as tretinoin which is wayyyyyy stronger than retinol, so it's usually given as a prescription medication.

How does it work?
Besides being the closest thing to a BFF your skin will ever find, retinols increase cellular turnover and exfoliate the top layers of our skin. This increases collagen (which helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles), and treats acne. Retinols also lessen the shedding of dead skin cells into pores, and decreases inflammation, two things that can lead to acne. But because it exfoliates the top layer of skin, it can make your skin very sensitive to the sun, so make sure you apply sunscreen religiously when using this ingredient.

How often should we use it?
Dr. Karp recommends using it once a day at night.

Who should use it?
Everyone can! But you should start with a low dose and increase it gradually. After sunscreen, retinol is the most effective anti-aging ingredient out there.

These are Dr. Karp's favorite retinol products:
"I love Skinbetter's Alpha Retinol because it is moisturizing and it's equivalent to a prescription Tretinoin 0.025% cream. Another great over the counter retinol is Differin 0.1% gel. It contains Adapalene which is also a retinol."

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

What is it?
The good news: Propionibacterium acnes (bacteria causing acne) don't stand a chance against this antibacterial compound. Even better news: it hasn't been associated with bacterial resistance, so you won't build up a tolerance.

How does it work?
It kills bacteria on the surface of the skin and it decreases inflammation.

How often should we use it?
Dr. Karp recommends once daily, preferably in the morning. Be careful — it can bleach fabrics.

Who should use it?

If you have sensitive skin or you are prone to redness, you should avoid it because it can be irritating.

These are Dr. Karp's favorite products:
"I like Panoxyl wash, I recommend the 10% one for body acne and the 4% one for face (best for people with more inflammatory acne, larger red pimples). It is also great as a spot treatment for acne lesions, a great OTC product is Neutrogena's on the spot acne treatment (BP 2.5%)."

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed, amazon.com, sephora.com

What is it?
Bentonite clay is a highly absorbent clay that can be used as a facial mask. So, something you've probably seen on Instagram lately.

How does it work?
It gets rid of oils and pulls impurities out of the skin, like the whiteheads and blackheads you've been trying to get rid of forever.

How often should we use it?
According to Dr. Karp, once a week is enough. If you use it too often, it can lead to dryness.

Who should use it?
Everyone, especially those with acne prone skin. But if your skin is sensitive, don't leave the mask on too long.

These are Dr. Karp's favorite products:
"Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is a cult favorite that comes as a powder and can be mixed with a bit of apple cider vinegar to make it a paste. There are some masks that also have activated charcoal which further helps absorb impurities out of the skin. I love the Glamglow masks."

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed, skinologie.com

What is it?
Microdermabrasion is a mechanical exfoliation procedure. Unlike typical microdermabrasion which uses crystals, this is a particle-free method. You'd go to a professional for this, it's not something you can DIY.

How does it work?
Figuratively speaking, it acts like a very gentle and dematologist-approved sandpaper on your skin. It exfoliates the top layer of skin cells, making you look instantly rejuvenated.

How often should be use it?
Dr. Karp recommends treatments to be spaced four weeks apart.

Who should use it?
Everyone can have this done unless they have very sensitive skin.

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed, sephora.com, sephora.com

What is it?

Exfoliation is the removal of the dead, keratinized skin cells sitting on the skin's surface. And just FYI: Normally, our skin naturally exfoliates itself every 30 days.

How does it work?
There are two types of exfoliation: Mechanical and chemical. If you use scrubbing beads or an ultrasonic bush, then you're team ~mechanical.~ On the chemical side, we have salicylic acid, which not only dissolves dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, but it also decreases oil production. There's also Glycolic acid, which is great for tackling hyperpigmentation.

How often should we exfoliate?
Dr. Karp doesn't recommend mechanical exfoliation more than once a week because it is too harsh. Chemical exfoliation with alpha and beta hydroxyacids is better for daily use. According to Dr. Karp, a gentle alpha or beta hydroxy acid face wash can be used daily. You can also use a serum as an alternative.

Who should exfoliate?
Everyone can exfoliate except those with rosacea or very sensitive skin. People with sensitive skin should only use a gentle face wash once daily. No one should be scrubbing their face daily (mechanical exfoliation), because it is more damaging than beneficial.

There are Dr. Karp's favorite products:
"I like using Neutrogena Salicylic Acid Face Wash as my once daily face wash. A nighttime exfoliant I like is Sunday Riley's Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment. For targeting dark spots, I like The Ordinary's Glycolic Acid Serum which should also be applied at night. In-office chemical peels are a great way to achieve effective exfoliation more quickly."

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed, sephora.com, sephora.com

What is it?
A water-based spray used for hydrating and refreshing your skin, aka the most underrated accessory of the summer.

How does it work?
Each face mist contains different active ingredients, so it is important to see what's in the product. Make sure you look for sprays that contain face oils for more moisturization.

How often should be use it?
Dr Karp says you can mist multiple times a day. She recommends misting before you put moisturizer on since it can help seal in the hydration the facial mist provides.

Who should use it?
Everyone can benefit from some type of facial mist.

These are Dr. Karp's favorite products?
"I like Amorepacific's Moisture Bound Skin Energy Hydration Spray for a light hydrating face mist, and Kopari's Coconut Rose Toner which contains coconut oil.".

Want to know more about a specific ingredient, product, or treatment? Let us know in the comments!

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