Skin Care Acids Guide: How To Pick The Right Skin Care Acid

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Vindhya L Veerula , MD, FAAD, Dermatologist, Dermatologist
Written by Shiboli Chakraborti , Certified Skin Care Coach
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All these days, you believed that acids belonged to chemistry labs. I am sure that the term “acids” took you back to those organic chemistry classes in which you experimented with acids, bases, and other solvents. Well, acids no longer belong to just the labs – they also play a crucial role in skin care. Keep scrolling to learn about the different face acids and how they can help you keep your skin beautiful.

A Guide To Skin Care Acids

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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).

Suitable For

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).

Suitable For

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.

Suitable For

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).

Suitable For

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).

Suitable For

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.

Suitable For

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.

Suitable For

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).

Suitable For

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.

Suitable For

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).

Suitable For

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).

Suitable For

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.

References

    1. Glycolic acid peel therapy..” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, US National Library of Medicine.
    2. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent..” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, US National Library of Medicine.
    3. Azelaic acid. A review of its pharmacological..” Drugs, US National Library of Medicine.
    4. Azelaic acid 15% gel in the treatment..” Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, US National Library of Medicine.
    5. Summary of Mandelic Acid..” Cosmetic Dermatology.
    6. Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid..” Facial Plastic Surgery, US National Library of Medicine.
    7. Epidermal and dermal effects of..” Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, US National Library of Medicine.
    8. Depigmenting Effect of Kojic Acid..” Journal of Biomedical and Biotechnology, US National Library of Medicine
    9. Hyaluronic acid..” Dermato Endocrinology, US National Library of Medicine
    10. Vitamin C in Dermatology” Indian Dermatology Online Journal, US National Library of Medicine
    11. Antioxidant Properties of Ferulic Acid..” Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, Karger
    12. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging..” Cinical Interventions in Aging, US National Library of Medicine
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Dr. Vindhya L Veerula

(MD, FAAD, Dermatologist)
Dr. Veerula (Dr. V) is a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a Fellow of the American Academy of... more