Why Do My Products Have ‘Active’ vs. ‘Inactive’ Ingredients?

Why Do My Products Have Active Vs. Inactive Ingredients?

It’s important to pay attention to what is inside your skincare products, but it can also be confusing. There’s a myriad of products on the shelf and the labels of those products are often chockfull of words that are impossible to understand, much less pronounce. Another confusing scenario is when labels  break ingredients down into sections classified as “active” or “inactive.”

What’s the difference between active and inactive?

Ingredients are classified as active or inactive because of government-mandated safety regulations. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the organization that oversees drug safety, enforces splitting ingredients in two scenarios:


  • The product contains FDA classified drugs


An ingredient will be classified as an FDA classified drug if:

  • Its use is intended to treat or prevent diseases.
  • If the ingredient alters the way the body works.

Any ingredient the FDA labels as a drug must be designated “active.” Before hitting the market, these active ingredients must also be in the FDA’s pre-approved list, which means they were checked for safety and efficacy.

Any non-drug ingredients are labeled as “cosmetic” by the FDA. These ingredients only perform some specific function like exfoliating or cleansing. The FDA mandates the safety of these ingredients, but they’re not required to be pre-approved before landing on the shelf. 


  • The product makes medical claims


If the manufacturer claims the product will treat or prevent some medical condition, the FDA will consider that a “medical product.” Any medical product must classify the ingredients that carry out that medical function (active ingredients) and all other ingredients (inactive ingredients). 

Any product that does not make medical claims (or contain FDA classified drug ingredients) is considered “cosmetic.” Cosmetic products only claim to enhance your skin’s appearance and do not need to label their ingredients as active or inactive. The FDA does mandate however that cosmetic products list their ingredients in order of the amount present.

If you’ve experienced a reaction to a skincare product, or you’re dealing with any skin, nail, or hair issues, call us for an appointment today. Dr. Juan Vaillant has over 30 years of experience to help assess and treat any skin, nail, or hair problem that you are experiencing. To schedule an appointment at our convenient Old Bridge, NJ office, call us today at 732-679-0222.