These are set to be 2021’s most popular skincare ingredients

Every year there’s an influx of buzzy new ingredients that come crashing onto the skincare scene. From the fatigue fighters to the pollution protectors, here’s the low-down on what’s going to make it big in 2021.

From retinol to vitamin C, azulene oil to azelaic acid, every year new skincare ingredients find their way into our beauty lexicon. Thanks to Instagram, the rise of the #skinfluencer and consultant dermatologists regularly sharing information on our feeds, skincare shoppers have never been more savvy – increasing the demand for new, innovative ingredients and transparency around them. 

But how can you separate the hero ingredients from the marketing hype? We asked a few of our favourite skincare experts which ingredients are on their radar and set to be huge in 2021. 

From brightening boosters to stressed skin soothers, these are the eight ingredients you need to know about for 2021…

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Tranexamic acid

Tranexamic acid has traditionally been used to help with heavy bleeding (it can even be prescribed to lessen heavy periods) but tranexamic acid has also started popping up in skincare, thanks to its ability to improve pigmentation.

“Tranexamic acid, sometimes shortened to TXA, is a derivative of lysine, an amino acid that those who get cold sores are well acquainted with,” says Jennifer Rock, dermal facialist and founder of Skingredients. “In skincare, TXA is a potent brightener and can help to reduce the mark left once a spot has cleared.”

Because TXA pairs so well with other ingredients, so you might find it blended together with your hyaluronic acid serums and moisturisers. 

  • The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment

    Formulated with 2% tranexamic acid (together with vitamin C and acai berry) this overnight serum helps to reduce hyperpigmentation and brighten skin tone in one. 

    Shop The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment at lookfantastic, £14.99

    Buy now

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Korean red pine

Research has been focussing on the skin microbiome for a few years and now Korean red pine is an ingredient that could work with your microbiome in order to balance skin health. 

“Most of the time our microbiome is healthy with a balance of good and bad bacteria on our skin, but this can be disrupted when excess bad bacteria starts to communicate with each other and create groups,” says Dr Howard Murad, founder of Murad. This imbalance is called quorum sensing.

“Korean red pine extract interrupts quorum sensing, which can lead to an imbalance in the skin’s microbiome causing irritation and breakouts, leaving skin happy, healthy and nourished instead.”

  • Murad Clarifying Oil-Free Water Gel

    This a super light moisturiser uses Korean red pine extract to prevent future breakouts. Use morning and evening, follow with SPF in the AM – a great one for maskne.

    Shop Murad Clarifying Oil-Free Water Gel at lookfantastic, £38

    Buy now

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Wild indigo

Wild indigo is a flowering plant used in ayurveda practices that can help to quickly calm skin’s stress signals to minimise the impact of stress and the effects of cortisol on the skin. 

“We have about 12 nerve endings on every square cm of skin which react to stress signals,” explains Dr Murad. “So whether it’s environmental stress (pollution, UV rays), hormonal changes or even stress from over processing the skin with acids and peels, it’s no surprise that stressed, sensitive and reactive skin is an increasing concern.

“Stressed-out skin can show as signs of dullness, dehydration, fine lines and fatigue. In fact, a recent clinical study found that a high stress lifestyle can make you look 3.5 years older on average.”

  • Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum

    Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum is a sphere-infused serum with wild indigo to calm the skin’s stress signals while hemp seed soothes and smooths fine lines and caffeine helps combat the appearance of fatigue and stress on skin, including under-eye puffiness, dullness and a loss of tone.

    Shop Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum at Feelunique, £70

    Buy now

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Prescription-strength vitamin A

“The skincare consumer has never been so savvy when it comes to ingredients,” says Daniel Isaacs, director of research at Medik8. “The use of vitamin A, in particular, has been a hot topic as more people learn the amazing benefits of its use in skincare. We are constantly asked for higher strengths, particularly in regard to our Crystal Retinal range, so I expect that demand for higher percentages of active ingredients within products will increase. 

“The other reason for innovation in this area of higher strength consumer products is perhaps driven by the demand for results akin to prescription-strength vitamin A, without the prescription or the irritation and drying effects.”

This is something Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin 55 agrees with. “While a few platforms already exist in the UK, next year will bring a mushrooming of medically-led prescription products available via digital platforms,” she says.

“There is an unmet demand for gold-standard skincare ingredients, such as tretinoin, and online platforms provide a quick and easy way to purchase these.”

  • Dermatica Subscription Service

    Dermatica is one of the UK’s leading prescription skincare services, offering clinical strength formulas straight to your door. Run by a team of consultant dermatologists, pharmacists, GPs, clinical researchers and scientists – you simply fill out a survey and take a few photos of your skin to be reviewed, before your prescription is mixed up just for you. 

    Try Dermatica Subscription Service at Dermatica, £19.99 per month

    Buy now

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“Glycerin is an ingredient that you’ll already find in lots of moisturisers as it’s relatively cheap to include,” reveals Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, general medicine consultant and expert aesthetic physician. “But that doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t an excellent high-performing ingredient.” 

It is a humectant (much like hyaluronic acid) which means that it draws water into the skin and it has the ability to penetrate due to its low molecular weight, which is a good thing in terms of long lasting hydration. 

In the past, formulas with glycerin tended to be sticky but new innovative technology means that you can find it in many lightweight creams. Expect to see glycerin shouted about much more as an unsung hero.  

“It’s going to protect your skin and shouldn’t interact with any other ingredients in your skincare so you don’t need to think twice about including it in your routine.”

  • CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion

    Specially formulated to protect the skin barrier with 3 essential ceramides plus glycerin, this ultra lightweight moisturiser provides long lasting hydration. 

    Shop CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion at lookfantastic, £13

    Buy now


Derived from milk thistle plant, silymarin is a potent antioxidant that can help reinforce skin’s natural protection from free radical damage and prevent oil oxidation which can lead to blemishes.

“Silymarin is not a new molecule and in factm our clinical studies showing the effect it has on the skin dates back several decades,” says Dr Emma Craythorne, consultant dermatologist at 152 Harley Street. “However, it has never really been picked up by the beauty industry.

“It protects against UV-induced cell damage and pigmentation. It has also been shown to reduce the expression of sebum. I can’t wait to see what this chemical can do for acne over 2021.”

  • Skinceuticals Silymarin CF

    Blended with 15% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 0.5% ferulic acid, 0.5% salicylic acid and 0.5% patented silymarin it helps reinforce skin’s natural protection from free radical damage and prevent sebum oxidation which can lead to blemishes.

    Shop Skinceuticals Silymarin CF at Skinceuticals, £145

    buy now

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Gold-stabilised pure L-ascorbic acid

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant but it’s notoriously unstable. “New technologies are being developed that advance the delivery of vitamin C into the skin,” says Dr Murad. 

“The gold-stabilised delivery system enhances pure L-ascorbic acid stability and potency. It has a 55% higher antioxidant defence than traditional vitamin C for superior brightening and radiance.”

  • Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum

    Formulated with gold-stabilised vitamin C and glycolic acid, this brightening serum helps to improve the look of hyperpigmentation and uneven tone for dramatically brighter, healthier-looking skin.

    Shop Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum at lookfantastic, £72

    Buy now

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It might not be the average ingredient you expect to see on your Inkey list, but wasabi has been used for over 1,000 years in Japan, thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties and anti-microbial effects. 

“Recent studies and research have shown that wasabi can provide dramatic benefits within skincare,” says chartered scientist and fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Bruce Green. 

“It has been shown to strengthen the body’s antioxidant defences and aid the skin against free radicals. As well as antibacterial properties, wasabi also contains vitamin C, calcium, and potassium and phytochemicals that strengthen antioxidants in your body. When applied to skin, it’s stimulating and also increases circulation and oxygenation.”

  • The SOS Serum

    Perfect for sensitised, inflamed and problem skin – the SOS Serum is formulated with wasabia japonica root in order to cool, heal and repair irritated skin.

    Shop The SOS Serum at SOS Serum, £15

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Main image: Getty 

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