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We want to help you understand your skin, so that you know what’s going on with it, what to put on it, and how to care for it. Sciency stuff that answers so many of your skin questions, written in a clear and simple way. Penned by our founder, Ee Ting Ng.

Ace of Base - The Power of Complete Customisation I

4 April, 2019

Ace of Base - The Power of Complete Customisation I

Customisation has become quite a trend in retail and is also taking a firm hold in the beauty industry, including skincare.

Is custom skincare fad or fab? To some, it may seem a fleeting craze, but customisation can be truly transformative if all the right ingredients are selected and added at the right proportions for the individual. I don’t mean just the actives or ‘special extracts’, but every single ingredient.

Breakdown of any product

All cosmetic ingredients can be broadly categorised into 2 groups, active and functional ingredients.

Actives are usually the main talking point of the product. They are either well-recognised ingredients with defined benefits or have fascinating stories behind them. On the other hand, functional ingredients form the ‘backbone’ of the formula. They do not sound as appealing as actives as they do not have impressive features such as anti-aging or brightening, But what most people don’t know is that functional ingredients collectively form and contribute to the product’s main physical properties such as appearance, thickness, skin feel, shelf-life etc.

Now let’s look deeper into each of these categories.


Actives are often selected depending on skin concerns. There are many options for different concerns, but at hop & cotton we always prefer actives backed by clinical studies as there are thousands of them out there claiming all sorts of things. Below are examples of common skin concerns and corresponding actives that address them.

  • Acne: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid
  • Sensitivity/Redness: allantoin, oat extract, bisabolol
  • Hyperpigmentation: tranexamic acid, peptide, vitamin C
  • Fine lines & wrinkles: retinol, ubiquinone, niacinamide

Getting the active right is just half the story. It needs to be added in the right amount (too little is inconsequential, too much could be detrimental) and in the appropriate product type. For example, putting glycolic acid in your cleanser is not going to give it enough time to work properly while having it in your moisturiser will likely cause over-exfoliation. This is also the reason why we have different steps in our skin care regime, but is another topic for another day.


If Actives were the meatballs in a pasta, then Functionals would be the sauce and spaghetti. I’m sure you agree that the sauce-spaghetti duo makes or breaks the dish, which is exactly how much functional ingredients can impact the entire formula. In fact, your immediate experience with any product is highly dependent on its functionals as they directly affect how a product looks, applies and feels.

Functionals can be further subdivided into their chemical functions. The table below elaborates further.

Most functionals also have direct skin benefits, which is how and why they also play a role in product performance. Some functional ingredients can also be considered ‘actives’, such as marula oil (emollient) and hyaluronic acid (humectant).

Functional ingredients literally form the foundation of any product. Since there are proportionally more functionals compared to actives in a formula, it is a grave mistake to overlook their importance. We’ll explore just how they important they are in detail next, check back real soon!