Actives vs. Fillers and How to Decode the Difference

At Bellavana Beauty it’s safe to say we’re a little obsessed with our ingredients. Knowing that the best results come from the highest quality natural ingredients and the cleanest cosmetic formulas, we keep up to speed on the latest industry standards and practices.

We also love sharing some of our secrets for navigating the world of clean beauty, which is why we’re here to talk about active and filler ingredients. Knowing the difference between these two common skincare components can really be a game changer for choosing the best, most effective, products. Read on for everything you need to know to become a true ingredient detective.


Active Ingredients - Agents of Change

Active ingredients are sometimes also called “performance” ingredients and with good reason. Performance ingredients are any component in a skincare product that has the ability to effect real change in the skin and its appearance.

Actives are what do the work in a product and as such, must be approved by the FDA according to their ability to execute certain functions in the skin.  Some examples of performance ingredients include antioxidants, botanical extracts, enzymes, hydrators and healing agents. They are what cleanse, balance, moisturize and otherwise treat the epidermis.


Filler Ingredients - Form Meets Function

Filler ingredients on the other hand are also known as “functional” ingredients. Functional ingredients are what make up the rest of a product and they serve their own important purpose. They support active ingredients by acting as a delivery system.

While these filler ingredients don’t affect change in the skin, they are a critical part of any cosmetic recipe. They’re what gives a product texture, form and spreadability. Examples of functional ingredients would be water, preservatives, thickeners and oils.

You might be wondering if one is better than the other, but the truth is that we need both active and filler ingredients to create perfect skincare synergy. What’s more important is finding the right blend of both functional and performance ingredients.


How to Decode Ingredient Labels

So how do you know what’s in your cosmetics and what you’re actually putting on your skin? When shopping, your best bet to take a glimpse at the label. The FDA and the EU both require that all cosmetics be labeled on the outside of packaging, with their ingredients listed in order of concentration.

Active ingredients should be listed separately along with their concentrations, and any ingredient with a percentage of 1% or more must also be listed, with the exception of colorant ingredients, which are noted last. The only exception to the rule is trade secret ingredients which don’t have to be disclosed at all and can be labeled using the term “other ingredients.”

While it isn't possible to know how much of a component you’re actually getting, a common rule of thumb is that the first 4-7 ingredients will comprise between 75 and 95 percent of the formulation. In other words, if you’re looking for a specific active ingredient, you’ll want to make sure you see it higher up on the list.

It’s also important to note that some ingredients can have many names and it is not uncommon for them to be listed by their Latin or scientific moniker. For example, Vitamin E might show up as Tocopherol Acetate or Vitamin C as L-Ascorbic Acid. We recommend learning a few of these ingredient names and looking for them in your products, next time you are checking labels.


Bellavana Beauty's Ingredient Philosophy: The Best of Both Worlds
At Bellavana Beauty we understand the importance of formulating products with the perfect balance of high-quality, skin-friendly functional ingredients and clean, powerful performance actives.

Here are a few of our favorite ingredients and why we love them:

  • Aloe Vera - Well-known for its calming and soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, aloe vera is widely used in skincare for its ability to hydrate the skin and encourage healing.


  • Apple Stem Extract - Rich in stem cells from rare Swiss apples, apple stem extract is incredibly youth-boosting and helps reduce signs of premature aging - including fine lines and wrinkles.


  • Green Tea - Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, green tea is a powerfully potent natural ingredient used to address acne, irritation, redness and other common concerns.


  • Hyaluronic Acid or Sodium Hyaluronate - A natural hydrating agent with powerful moisture retention properties, hyaluronic acid and its derivatives work to improve hydration in the skin by binding with water and locking it in.


  • Pro - Coll - One+ - An innovative collagen solution, Pro - Coll - One + is 100% naturally-derived soy peptides from hydrolyzed soybean and has been clinically found to stimulate collagen synthesis - significantly reducing the appearance of facial wrinkles.


  • Niacinamide - A brilliant skin-calming agent derived from Vitamin B-5, niacinamide is also known to greatly reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, regulate your skin's natural sebum production, and even out skin texture for a smoother complexion.


  • Shea Butter - Naturally healing shea is a nourishing source of moisture for the skin. Shea butter is used commonly to help bolster the skin and promote repair from environmental stress.


  • Zinc - Astringent, antiseptic and antibacterial, zinc oxide is derived from zinc ore. It works as a sunscreen, reflecting UVA and UVB radiation. It is also used to clarify, protect, heal and soothe irritated skin.


Other Important Things to Know

If all this ingredient talk has you curious, there are some amazing organizations devoted to the study of ingredients and clean cosmetics and we encourage you to keep researching. Knowledge is power, so be sure to check out the following resources to learn more:


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