In general, an active ingredient is the ingredient in a skin-care product that’s doing the thing you want the product to do. In an acne cleanser, the active ingredient may be something like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. But, depending on the way the claims are worded on the packaging, the ingredient may or may not be called out in a drug facts box and the product may or may not be considered a drug rather than a cosmetic. An active ingredient is any component that provides biologically active or other direct effect in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans or animals. The similar terms active pharmaceutical ingredient (also abbreviated as API) and bulk active are also used in medicine, and the term active substance may be used for natural products. Some medication products may contain more than one active ingredient. The traditional word for the active pharmaceutical agent is pharmacon or pharmakon (from Greek: φάρμακον, adapted from pharmacos) which originally denoted a magical substance or drug.
The terms active constituent or active principle are often chosen when referring to the active substance of interest in a plant (such as salicylic acid in willow bark or arecoline in areca nuts), because the word "ingredient" in many minds connotes a sense of human agency (that is, something that a person combines with other substances), whereas the natural products present in plants were not added by any human agency but rather occurred naturally ("a plant doesn't have ingredients").
In contrast with the active ingredients, the inactive ingredients are usually called excipients in pharmaceutical contexts. The main excipient that serves as a medium for conveying the active ingredient is usually called the vehicle. Petrolatum and mineral oil are common vehicles. The term 'inactive' should not be misconstrued as meaning inert. Over-The-Counter (OTC) actives are ingredients regulated by the FDA. Examples are Sun Protection Factor (SPF), Benzoyl Peroxide, Hydroquinone, Sulfur, and Salicylic Acid. The FDA requires that these ingredients submit to and successfully pass clinical testing and subscribe to labeling standards including usage instructions and benefit claims.
Subscribe to our e-mails
Receive the latest news in skin care routines and innovations delivered to your Inbox.