Just about every skincare product on the market– which is a lot of products, especially since the skincare boom aided by the internet– claims to be a miracle solution. And while lofty promises are enticing, it’s what inside that counts. If you’re just getting started on your skincare regimen journey, the best way to find what works for you is to study up on some of the basics of what comprises our cleansers, moisturizers, and serums. Below are a few common ingredients and their benefits.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid is a type of exfoliant– specifically, a BHA (beta-hydroxy acid) exfoliant, or a compound that gets deep into your pores to help unclog them and prevent future buildup. A popular ingredient in a wide array of acne products, including cleansers and spot treatments, it’s also used for liquid exfoliating serums which help to decongest and resurface the skin. It’s most effective on blackheads and whiteheads, also known as open comedones.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Whereas Salicylic Acid treats open comedones, Benzoyl Peroxide is good for your more straightforward zits and closed comedones, as it actively kills bacteria rather than exfoliating sebum and dead skin buildup. While it’s effective at spot-treating acne, it can also be very harsh and drying, so it’s best to use it in moderation.

Vitamin C

An antioxidant that helps brighten and even skin tone, Vitamin C also promotes collagen growth. If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, dark spots, post-acne marks, or under-eye circles– you might be a good candidate for a Vitamin C formulation. Its collagen-boosting properties can give you firmer and more elastic skin, which can aid in raised scars and stretch marks.

Niacinamide

This form of Vitamin B3 (not to be confused with niacin, the other main type of Vitamin B3) is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, linking it to the treatment of conditions such as acne and rosacea. It’s also used in some moisturizers, as it can protect against skin water loss. While not technically an exfoliant, it’s still purported to be useful for smoothing skin texture, although some experts agree there’s still research to be done on the full benefits of the ingredient.

Lactic Acid

Lactic Acid is an exfoliant, like Salycilic acid, but with the key differences summed up in its categorization: while the latter is a BHA exfoliant, Lactic Acid is an AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid.) While BHAs get into pores and unclog them, AHAs are better for working with the outermost layers of skin, making Lactic Acid effective at getting rid of dead skin on the skin’s surface and treating fine lines and wrinkles.

Collagen

While typically derived from animal tissue, collagen can also be derived from plants. Its main purpose in skincare is to supplement the natural collagen your body produces or the protein which serves as a building block for everything from your skin to your hair. As we age, we lose collagen and our body produces it at a slower rate, which is why collagen is so useful in anti-aging products.

Retinol

While you may hear the terms “retinoid” and “retinol” used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. To be exact, retinol is a type of retinoid, and its uses range from stimulating natural collagen production to treating acne. While many swear by the ingredient, it’s important to introduce retinol to your skincare routine gradually, as your skin may need to adjust (particularly if it’s dry or sensitive), and start with a low-percentage serum or cream.

Hyaluronic Acid

Despite its name, hyaluronic acid is quite different from the acids previously mentioned. It helps your skin retain water, which is why it’s a key ingredient in many moisturizing products. While it works well with all skin types, those with dry skin, in particular, will reap the benefits of this very gentle and moisture-loving acid.