Skin Care Acids Guide: How To Pick The Right Skin Care Acid
The simplified breakdown you needed to get started with the best exfoliators in town!
Owning the best skincare acids can give you the long-lasting radiance you have been waiting for. The common misconception about acids is, it corrodes your skin and is not suitable for your skincare. However, they have emerged as the most essential ingredients to remove hyperpigmentation and aid in skin brightening with time. If you are unsure what acid will help you according to your skin type and condition, we are here to help. Here is a complete guide to choosing the suitable acid for your skincare routine.
In This Article
A Guide To Skin Care Acids
Skin care acids are mainly of two types:
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
While both the acids function as exfoliators, both are different and work differently on your skin.
For instance, AHAs (water-soluble acids, such as glycolic acid) exfoliate your skin by breaking down the dead skin cells on the surface while BHAs (oil-soluble acids, such as salicylic acid) sink deeper into your skin pores and unclog them.
Glycolic and salicylic acids are the two most common acids you will find in skin care products. However, some acids are neither AHAs or BHAs (such as azelaic acid), but they are good for your skin and can be found in skin care products. Let’s find out about all these types of acids and the skin types they suit.
1. Glycolic Acid
What Is It?
Glycolic acid is the most common alpha hydroxy acid used in skin care products, including chemical peels. It is usually derived from sugarcane. It gently exfoliates the skin and helps in reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. It also improves skin texture and thickness and helps to even out the skin tone (1).
Glycolic acid can be used to brighten the skin and treat acne, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation. It is excellent for aging and mature skin (1). It is well tolerated by almost all skin types, especially oily skin. However, if you have sensitive skin, you should consult a dermatologist before trying glycolic acid.
2. Salicylic Acid
What Is It?
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. It has comedolytic properties, which means it goes deep within the skin pores and unclogs them. Moreover, it helps in breaking down the topmost layer of your skin cells and dissolving the dead ones. That’s why it is very effective in treating acne and comedones (2).
Salicylic acid is especially beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin. However, salicylic acid is also a salicylate, and its structure is similar to that of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) (2). Therefore, if you are allergic to aspirin, avoid salicylic acid.
3. Azelaic Acid
What Is It?
Azelaic acid is a saturated dicarboxylic acid, which naturally occurs on your skin. It is produced by a yeast that stays on your skin. It can also be found in wheat, rye, and barley and is an excellent exfoliator. It is very popular for treating acne and has anti-inflammatory properties (3). Apart from acne, it also helps in reducing skin pigmentation.
Azelaic acid suits all skin types, including sensitive skin. It is excellent for reducing inflammation, and anyone who has rosacea can use this acid for reducing the symptoms and calming their skin (4).
4. Mandelic Acid
What Is It?
Mandelic Acid is an AHA that works like magic in treating acne, melasma, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation (5). It is also said to improve the quality of aged skin by improving its elasticity (6).
Mandelic acid takes time to penetrate your skin, and this makes it ideal for sensitive skin. It is good for dry skin as it keeps it moisturized by increasing sebum production. This property makes it unsuitable for oily skin. Also, together with salicylic acid, mandelic acid works well for those with darker skin tones and skin discoloration issues.
5. Lactic Acid
What Is It?
Lactic acid is also an AHA and a gentle exfoliator. This acid is usually found in milk, and that’s why in ancient times, women preferred taking milk baths. Applying lactic acid on the skin improves its firmness and makes it smooth (7).
If you have dry skin and are looking for something to keep it moisturized, you can try lactic acid. This acid also works excellent on mature skin and prevents fine lines and wrinkles.
6. Kojic Acid
What Is It?
Kojic acid is produced by different types of fungi, especially Aspergillus oryzae (called Koji in Japanese). It is also a by-product during the fermentation of rice wine and soy sauce. Kojic acid is used in skin care for its skin brightening properties (8). It can reduce the appearance of sun-induced damage, age spots, blemishes, and scars and has anti-aging effects.
Kojic acid gives you visible results, but on the flip side, it can also irritate your skin if it doesn’t suit you. It can also make your skin prone to sunburn. So, kojic acid should be used very carefully. It is better to consult a dermatologist to see if it suits your skin or not and know the correct way to use it on your skin.
7. Hyaluronic Acid
What Is It?
Also called hyaluronan, this is a substance that is naturally produced by your body. It is mostly found in your connective tissues, skin, and eyes. It helps to keep your skin moisturized by binding water, thereby preventing premature aging (9). Environmental stress and sun exposure can affect the levels of hyaluronic acid in your body, especially your skin. You need to use HA skin care products to prevent this decline.
All skin types can benefit from hyaluronic acid. However, if you have dehydrated and mature skin, you need to include this acid in your skin care routine. It helps to keep aging skin plump and firm by boosting hydration levels.
8. Ascorbic Acid
What Is It?
Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is an essential vitamin and a potent antioxidant that helps to reduce skin issues, such as hyperpigmentation, and protects it from oxidative stress and free radical damage. This often speeds up skin aging and causes inflammation (10).
Ascorbic acid suits almost every skin type and is especially suited for skin that struggles with hyperpigmentation. This powerful antioxidant is beneficial for brightening your skin and boosting collagen synthesis. Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is beneficial for mature skin.
9. Malic Acid
What Is It?
Malic acid is a type of AHA that your body produces naturally. Like other AHAs, malic acid helps your skin retain moisture. This, in turn, promotes skin cell turnover rate, which means that your skin cells are renewed at a faster pace, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This also softens the skin and improves its texture.
Malic acid is best suited for mature, sensitive, and combination skin types. It doesn’t irritate the skin and gently exfoliates it to make it visibly smoother.
10. Ferulic Acid
What Is It?
Ferulic acid is a hydroxycinnamic acid, a compound that is usually found in plant cells. Like vitamin C, this compound has antioxidant properties and is a free radical scavenger. It protects and heals some of the most important structures of your skin, including elastin, collagen, keratinocytes, and fibroblasts (11).
It is ideal for mature skin and those looking for anti-aging creams and acids. Also, if your skin is prone to sun damage, you can use this acid to protect your skin.
11. Retinoic Acid
What Is It?
Retinoic acid or retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A. They have shown excellent results in treating aging skin and preventing the effects of photoaging, such as wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. They also improve skin thickness (12).
Retinoic acid or retinoids suit almost all skin types, except for sensitive skin. Always consult a dermatologist to know the concentration and the correct ways to use retinoids on your skin.
When you start using face acids, you can expect to see results within the first two weeks. However, if you are new to the world of acids, it is better to consult a dermatologist before trying any new acid-based product on your face. If you have any questions on your mind, feel free to post them in the comments section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What skincare acids can be used together?
You can combine both AHA and BHA acids. This combination is perfect for combination skin because they tend to have both dry and oily areas on the skin. Hence, AHAs can be used on dry patches and BHAs on oily areas. However, consult a dermatologist before including any acid in your skincare routine.
What skin acids should not be used together?
Do not mix retinoic acid (retinoids) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) with your AHAs and BHAs like salicylic acid or glycolic acid. Since they are all potent exfoliating acids, they will throw off the pH balance of the skin and have an extremely drying effect. However, you can leave a 40 minute gap between applications to let your skin’s pH get rebalanced. Additionally, it is ideal to use retinoids in your night routine for an overnight healing process and vitamin C in your morning routine followed by a broad spectrum sunscreen.
Is glycolic acid better than vitamin C?
Both glycolic acid and vitamin C address different skincare issues. Vitamin C protects the skin from harmful UV rays while glycolic acid helps reduce signs of aging and hyperpigmentation (1), (10).
Can you use 10% glycolic acid every day?
If you are a beginner, start with glycolic acid in concentrations under 5% twice a week. Your skin needs to build tolerance against the acid first. If you do not experience any adverse effects, you may increase to nightly application after a month and gradually increase the concentration to 10%. Higher concentrations need to be administered by skilled dermatologists.
Which is better for the skin: hyaluronic acid, or salicylic acid?
This depends on your needs. If you are aiming for smooth and hydrated skin, hyaluronic acid is perfect because it attracts water and improves the skin’s hydration. Salicylic acid helps soothe skin inflammation, making it ideal for acne-prone skin (2), (9).
Which is better: retinol or salicylic acid?
Both ingredients address different skincare issues. Retinol improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while salicylic acid helps in cell regeneration and reduces acne (2), (12).
- That acids corrode the skin is a misconception. The truth is they help exfoliate the skin and unclog pores, improving the skin’s texture.
- They have active ingredients such as alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids, which make dull and lifeless skin bright and glowing.
- They reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, lighten acne scars, and protect from sun damage.
- Glycolic, salicylic, kojic, azelaic, hyaluronic, and ascorbic acids can make your skin look brighter and smooth.
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