The 9 most popular ingredients in clean skincare that really work

The world of clean beauty is vast, with natural ingredients and clean synthetics as far as the eye can see. We know that it can all be very confusing (no matter if you’re a newly minted clean beauty fan or a tried-and-true enthusiast). To help you find exactly what your skin needs, we’re breaking down the most popular clean ingredients out there. Keep on reading for the low-down on the best ingredients for everything from acne to hypersensitivity — plus a few of our favorite products to add into your routine.

Vitamin C

Maybe you’ve heard that you should up your intake of Vitamin C when you’re sick. But there’s more to this vitamin than just its immunity-boosting properties. It also happens to do wonders for the skin. While it naturally occurs in the body, Vitamin C can be added topically as well. Because of its natural antioxidant properties, Vitamin C can be used to treat and prevent skin changes associated with photoageing (AKA premature skin aging caused by the sun). The vitamin acts as a barrier against harsh environments. [1] And if that wasn’t enough to make you a Vitamin C convert, it also helps the skin with collagen synthesis and reducing hyperpigmentation. [2] If you want to try integrating Vitamin C into your routine, we suggest starting with a multi-benefit serum. The Laurel Whole Plant Organics Sun Serum contains Sea Buckthorn oil, which is a natural source of Vitamin C. For pure, unadulterated best quality of Vitamin C powder, the Agent Nateur Holi (C) Face Vitamines has proven to be a favorite. Simply mix with SPF, moisturizer or water and pat over skin.

Laurel Skin Sun Serum ($88)

Agent Nateur Holi (C)Face Vitamines ($120)

Vitamin A

Not familiar with Vitamin A in skin care? That’s probably because it charades around by a different name: Retinol. It’s a popular ingredient with major skin benefits. You see, topical retinoids can help with everything from acne to smoothing fine lines and even diminishing hyperpigmentation. [3] With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that a little goes a long way. Some might experience some sensitivity to retinol treatments. Because of this, and because of Vitamin A’s tendency to make skin more sensitive to the sun, we suggest starting out with a gentle nighttime treatment. For a hybrid oil that features both Vitamin A and Vitamin E, try Le Prunier Plum Beauty Oil.

Le Prunier Plum Beauty Oil ($72)

Maya Chia The Straight A Serum, Advanced Gentle Retinol Treatment ($125)

Vitamin B3 (AKA Niacinamide)

Niacinamide might sound like a scary word to say, but trust us when we say your skin will love it. The water-soluble vitamin helps by strengthening your skin’s barrier, working to even out skin tone, smooth fine lines and wrinkles and brighten any dullness. It also increases keratin production and stimulates ceramide synthesis (which helps with natural moisture). With these wide benefits, Vitamin B3 is a sought-after ingredient for a variety of skin types and skin conditions, including acne, rosacea and other irritations. [4]. A couple of our favorite products that include Vitamin B3 are:

Mahalo Hawaiian Hydration ($140)

MUN Protect + Revive Moisturizer ($65)

Chia Seed Oil

Yes, these are the same chia seeds you used to grow your chia pets back in the ‘90s. But instead of making your sprout green hair, chia seed oil can provide therapeutic benefits for your skin. The oil is known for its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help improve your skin’s hydration. [5] The oil is also suitable for sensitive skin types, given its ability to soothe and comfort irritated skin. If you’re looking for a one-two punch of hydrating and calming effects, we suggest the Maya Chia Pure Supercritical Omega-3 Chia Face Oil.

Maya Chia Supercritical Omega-3 Chia Oil ($60)

Mahalo Vitality Elixir ($110)


At first glance, Resveratrol might sound like the name of a robot superhero, but it’s actually a plant-compound usually found in wine (oh la la!). That’s why many people refer to it as the “grape antioxidant.” The compound is able to penetrate the skin barrier (rather than just sitting on top of it), and it provides antioxidant benefits such as protecting cells from damage and slowing down photoaging. [6] While it’s still being largely researched, this antioxidant shows promise of managing skin aging and protecting against skin diseases. [7] We suggest integrating Resveratrol products into your anti-aging skin routine.

Laurel Honey Berry Mask ($54)

Kahina Face Cream ($105)

Hyaluronic Acid

Perhaps the buzziest of all buzzy beauty ingredients is the mighty Hyaluronic Acid (HA). But before you worry about this acid being a harsh exfoliant, know that it’s actually the opposite. HA is known to some as the “key to the fountain of youth” for its unique capacity to retain water. The molecule is naturally found in skin, and functions as one of the main ways our skin retains moisture. [8] However, as we age, it’s natural for our skin to lose moisture — and with it, HA. That’s where HA-rich products come in. Hyaluronic Acid can help hydrate skin immediately and overtime with continued use, helping to smooth out wrinkles and fine lines. [9]

Curious to integrate HA into your routine? Start small with a toner or serum, and work your way up to richer formulas if you’re still feeling dry. We love the Agent Nateur Holi(water) Pearl and Rose Hyaluronic Toner for everyday use.

Shiva Rose Pearl Milk Cleanser ($55)

Agent Nateur Holi(water) Pearl and Rose Hyaluronic Toner ($88)

Tea Tree Oil

In the occasion that your oily or acne-prone skin doesn’t play well with Salicylic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide, you might need something slightly less irritation. Enter: Tea Tree Oil. The essential oil has been heralded for years given its unique anti-inflammatory effects and therapeutic benefits in contact hypersensitivity. [10] How exactly does it do this? Some research shows that this is due to its high concentration of terpinen-4-ol, a commonly-known compound that has anti-inflammatory properties. [11] It’s also much gentler on acne, causing less irritation than common acne solutions and helping to heal both hormonal and fungal acne types. [12]

UMA Deeply Clarifying Oil

UMA Deeply Clarifying Face Oil ($125)


More than just a calming cup of tea before bed, Chamomile has been used as an herbal medicine for hundreds of years. When ingested, it’s believed to help with “hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and hemorrhoids.” [12] Topically, Chamomile is just as helpful for the skin. As a flavanoid and essential oil, Chamomile is able to penetrate the skin surface into deeper layers of your skin, providing anti-inflammatory and antiphlogistic properties for anything from rashes to allergic reactions. It can even help with skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. It also acts like an antioxidant, helping with cell regeneration and fighting free radical damage. [13] To soothe redness and irritation before makeup application, we recommend integrating chamomile into your morning skin routine. The Pai Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream is gentle enough for all skin types.

Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream ($60)

Dr. Alkaitis Soothing Gel ($67)


These days, Zinc can be found in many forms: from the Zinc Oxide found in your mineral sunscreen to calamine lotion to your anti-dandruff shampoo. In skin care, Zinc can help with many different skin issues: acne, inflammation, eczema, pigmentary disorders, scars, photodamage, and anti-aging among others. [14] It’s able to do all of this because of its antioxidant and healing properties: fighting off harmful cells and regulating oil glands in the skin. It may take a few weeks to start seeing the anti-inflammatory benefits of Zinc. We suggest adding it to your nighttime routine so it can go to work while you sleep. One of our favorites? The Pai Copaiba & Zinc Perfect Balance Blemish Serum.

Pai Perfect Balance Blemish Serum Copaiba & Zinc ($78)