How to Use Active Ingredients in Your Body Care Routine

Because you should treat your skin below your neck like you do your face.

Body Lotion

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Up until recently, picking a scent was the the biggest decision to make when shopping for a body lotion. Now, there are a plethora of lotions, oils, and serums to choose from with sophisticated formulas that look a lot like the products you put on your face every day. Think body lotions with retinol, serums with glycolic acid, and body washes with salicylic acid.

Just like when used on your face, these active ingredients can treat skin concerns below your neck such as loss of firmness, discoloration, and ingrown hairs. And similar to your facial skincare routine, there's a correct way to use active ingredients on the skin below your neck so that you don't end up with unnecessary dryness, redness, or irritation.

Ahead, two dermatologist share exactly how to incorporate active ingredients into your body care routine.

What are the skincare benefits of using active ingredients on your body?

Dry skin aside, you may have other concerns below your neck, including loss of firmness, hyperpigmentation, and ingrown hairs. Active ingredients such as retinol and AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid can treat these issues.

"These ingredients help to stimulate accelerated cell turnover which causes dull, lackluster skin to shed more rapidly," says  Dr. Margarita Lolis, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hackensack, New Jersey. "They also help to make the skin barrier stronger and gives collagen production a boost. When collagen production is stimulated, skin elasticity can improve."

Retinol can specifically improve firmness, minimize fine lines and wrinkles, and boost radiance. "Traditionally, retinol-containing products were used primarily for the face and neck. However, the skin below our neck can also benefit from the use of retinol," Dr. Lian Mack, a board-certified dermatologist consulting dermatologist for Gold Bond, shares. "Areas like the chest and the top of the knees can benefit from the use of retinol. The cellular turnover makes the skin look smoother and the boosted collagen production adds a lifting action."

AHAs are also effective exfoliators for keratosis pilaris and ingrown hairs. "AHAs can help to improve the rough, bumpy 'chicken skin' (also known as keratosis pilaris, or KP) through exfoliation, which helps unclog keratin from the hair follicles," Dr. Lolis confirms.

And BHA salicylic acid can be helpful for those who experience breakouts from the neck down (think bacne or chestne).

How should you incorporate active ingredients into your body care routine?

Slow and steady wins the race. While the skin below your neck is thicker than the skin on your face, it's still wise to pace yourself when incorporating active ingredients into your body care routine to ensure your skin tolerates the products. Use these treatments a few times a week to start, gradually working your way up to daily use if your skin tolerates the formulas.

"There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how often one should use body products containing retinol and other exfoliants like AHAs. Over time, most people will be able to tolerate retinol and AHAs nightly," Dr. Mack says. "If an individual is able to tolerate using a retinol and/or AHA nightly, the benefit is enhanced cellular turnover and collagen production."

What are the side effects of using active ingredients in your body care routine?

"If you have never used active ingredients like retinol and AHAs anywhere on the body, it’s best to ease into using them so as not to cause any potential skin irritation, as these ingredients can be very drying," Dr. Lolis says. "The most common side effects are redness, dry, flaky skin, and potential itching."

Those with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis should proceed using active ingredients with caution. "Sensitive skin types or individuals prone to eczema or excessive dryness may need to tread cautiously when using body retinols and products with AHAs in their body care routine," Dr. Mack says. "Patients with sensitive skin or a dysfunctional skin barrier may see a worsening of their underlying conditions or even develop an irritant contact dermatitis."

What additional steps should be in your body care routine?

When using active ingredients on your body, it's important to apply sunscreen to prevent sun damage. "If you are going to use body care products with active ingredients, you must use a physical sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to protect your skin," Dr. Lolis shares. "Retinols and AHAs can make the skin photosensitive, which means that your skin is more prone to sunburn if unprotected."

It's also beneficial to be gentle when applying any body exfoliants. "Do not aggressively exfoliate while using body care that contains active ingredients. Innately retinol and other acids, chemically exfoliate the skin," Dr. Mack explains. "If you exfoliate with scrubs or other abrasive products, you may increase the risk of developing dry patches or an irritant contact dermatitis."

And finally, since these active ingredients are innately drying, both dermatologists stress the importance of using a body moisturizer with ceramides and humectants to nourish skin and retain moisture.

Body Care Products for Every Skin Concern

Gold Bond Retinol Overnight Body and Face Lotion

Gold Bond Retinol Overnight Body & Face Lotion

Courtesy of Gold Bond

"I am huge fan of Gold Bond’s new Retinol Overnight Body and Face Lotion, which led 93% of users to notice visibly smoother skin after just three days during clinical trials," Dr. Mack says. "The formulation is non-irritating, has a stabilized retinol, and is very hydrating, but does not clog pores and can be used on both the face and body."

To shop: $15;

Starface Outer Space Foaming Body Cleanser

Starface Outer Space Foaming Body Cleanser

Courtesy of Starface

Breakouts aren't exclusive to your face. Acne-centric skincare brand, Starface, has created this foaming body wash to treat acne-prone skin below the neck. The formula includes AHAs and BHAs to exfoliate, plus cica and shea butter to prevent dryness.

To shop: $13;

Skinfix Resurface+ AHA/BHA Niacinamide Exfoliating Pads

Skinfix Resurface+ AHA/BHA Niacinamide Exfoliating Pads

Courtesy of Sephora

These convenient exfoliating pads can be used to target specific spots, like hyperpigmentation on the underarms or ingrown hairs along the bikini line. They're soaked with a blend of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids to unclog pores and clear buildup, along with niacinamide to smooth skin and control excess oil.

To shop: $50;

Soft Services Theraplush Overnight Repair Treatment

Soft Services Theraplush Overnight Repair Treatment

Courtesy of Soft Services

The hands are overworked and are often neglected. This treatment by Soft Services is powered with retinol and colloidal oatmeal to soothe, heal, and repair dry, flaky skin – including the cuticles.

To shop: $58;

Nécessaire The Body Oil

Necessaire The Body Oil
Courtesy of Sephora.

Make a luxurious body oil the grand finale of your shower routine. This one by Nécessaire is packed with antioxidants vitamin C, E, and omega fatty acids to soften and protect skin.

To shop: $40;

Fur KP Body Scrub

Fur KP Body Scrub

Courtesy of Ulta

Smooth bumps and rough patches with Fur's gentle yet effective scrub. It's packed with both chemical and physical exfoliants to resurface skin. Vitamin-rich sunflower seed oil helps hydrate skin and protect its moisture barrier.

To shop: $38;

Topicals Slather Exfoliating Body Serum

Topicals Slather Exfoliating Body Serum

Courtesy of Topicals

Topicals multitasking serum addresses rough patches and uneven texture, thanks to active ingredients retinol, lactic and glycolic acids, and urea.

To shop: $30;

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