Acids are widely talked about recently and are O K A Y for your skin. I’m going to try my best for you all to at the end of this hopefully understand acids and maybe try one out for yourself without being scared of the word acid and the thought of it going on your face. They all have different purposes for each skin type, texture, look, and overall condition of how your skin looks and could be your answer for a concern you have.
If you think about it, we use acidic products every day and even eat them. Do you think twice about eating an orange? That’s Citric Acid, a great source of Vitamin C.
They come in different strengths, formulations, prices and textures and I will be honest, all are trial and error as with all skincare items. I will try and break it down as simply as I can from what I have learned over time while working with these products and what ones could suit you best. With any skincare it’s about maintaining a routine to see a difference.
I have studied makeup and skincare to a professional level, however please do your own further research and only use this as a guideline as the majority of my research has been done through my own studies while gently touching upon these acids in my studies in class.
What should you look for?
If you have:
Mature skin, look for:
Retinoids/Retinol (Vitamin A), AHAs, Glycolic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Citric Acid, Oleic Acid, Lipoic Acid, Ferulic Acid, Salicylic acid, Malic acid
Dry skin, look for:
Oleic Acid, Ferulic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid
Combination skin, look for:
Linoleic Acid, Ferulic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid
Acne prone skin, look for:
Retinoids/Retinol Lactic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Lipoic Acid, Salicylic acid
Sensitive skin, look for:
Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Lipoic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid
Red, hypersensitive skin, , look for:
Lactic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Lipoic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid
Normal skin, look for:
Lipoic Acid, Ferulic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Salicylic acid, Hyaluronic Acid
Found your skin type? Press control or apple key, and F on your keyboard or find on this page the acid, and read about it! Please note, the above are things to look out for if you have that skin type. If an acid sounds like it helps your own concern, look into it and consider adding it to your routine. Everyones skin is different and requires it’s own unique things, so it’s all about having an experiment and knowing what you need for your own skin.
Skincare like I have said, is trial and error. Some may make your skin worse before it gets better. Imagine kind of like if you take a decongestant tablet for your cold, it brings it all out and makes you feel worse before you get better, the same thing could happen with skincare. Obviously, keep an eye out for an allergic reaction such as if it burns instead of tingles or leaves you with servere redness, consult a doctor and discontinue use. Be sure to use SPF with any of these ingredients as your skin can become weaker before it gets stronger, as they break down the top layers of the skin leaving them exposed. I recommend at least an SPF 30 whilst using these products to avoid sun damage. Use the lists above as a guide while purchasing your skincare. That doesn’t mean that you need everything stated above, one or two in your skincare routine is plenty!
AHA/ Alpha Hydroxy Acid:
The shortened version or a name you may see for any acid that removes the top layer of skin, so you’d be looking for this name if you are interested in Glycolic, Lactic, Citric acids, you’re more than likely to see this on a bottle. These are more likely to chow down on any dead skin you have on the surface layer, which depending on the strength, grade, potency or % of the acid can cause the skin to peel.
BHA/ Beta Hydroxy Acid:
The shortened version or name you may see for any acid that works deeper into the skins surface. These can do things like work to strengthen the skin by getting deeper than an AHA, can unclog pores, prevent spots or acne forming and clarify the skin. These will cause less or if not, no peeling to the skin as it works more inside the skins core than on the surface.
This is an ingredient that helps your skin create collagen, unclog pores, refine skin and helps cell turnover. Be careful if you are looking for ingredients that follow your lifestyle, such as vegetarian as retinols that are animal derived (sourced from animal bi-products) are called retinoids. If you are following vegetarian or vegan diet, look out for carotenoids. With retinols, you need your skin to get used to the product. Start off with a low dosage and increase as your skin needs it. Continued use of this ingredient should result in brighter, youthful looking skin due to the cells renewing and your complexion appearing tighter and more even. As it is can be a vitamin A product, depending on what it’s derived from, be careful if you are pregnant as it is not recommended to be used during your pregnancy. Great for Pigmentation, scarring, clarifying and and anti aging. Keep an eye on your %, or you may damage your skin, cause peeling and hypersensitivity.
This comes from sugar! This ingredient when used correctly can transform your skin. It works by dissolving the dead layer of skin on the surface. It’s great for cell turnover, pigmentation, breakouts, acne prone skin and to achieve an even tone. This is a non abrasive exfoliation product, meaning it exfoliates the skin without the use of a scrub like product, so if you have sensitive skin or it’s sensitive to a scrub, try a 15-20% product on your skin once a week as an overnight peel or a quick 5 minute product (depending on what you use.) As with retinol, look at the % and increase as your skin needs it. I use around 20% glycolic on my skin every day through different products as I have been using it for over 10 years. Try not exceed using 30% a day or you may damage your skin, cause peeling and hypersensitivity. Sounds complicated, lets break it down. If you use a toner thats 5% glycolic, a wash that’s 10% and a serum thats 5%, you’d be putting 20% glycolic on your skin. You will get almost a minty tingle while starting to use it but this goes away after a while. Start off low and work your way up.
Fun fact! Hyaluronic Acid can hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water. If you’re looking for a moisture kick or something to plump or firm skin, this is gonna be something to look out for. Hyaluronic acid can diffuse the signs of aging, wrinkles, redness and can comfort the skin, so great for sensitive, dry or dehydrated skin. Imagine it’s like a big drink for your skin! If you have oily skin don’t think this wouldn’t be suitable for you, it can actually help by reducing oil by keeping your skin hydrated, and you can get great gel or lotions for the skin that don’t weigh it down or make it feel heavy for you. This is also great for teenage skin, as it helps retain the firmness and hydrates. Look out for Sodium Hyaluronate as an ingredient, as it’s the less potent version of Hyaluronic Acid.
The fancy pants name for Vitamin C! It’s a mild version of Citric Acid that can help the skin in a number of ways, including brightening, evening out the tone, firming the skin, and is a powerful antioxidant. This can act like an antibacterial agent and repairs skin cells so if you have blemish or acne prone skin this could be your answer. It even helps with the collagen production and strengthens the skin. If you have concerns with pigmentation or darker areas, with the use of an SPF this can brighten the skin and even tone out.
The name pretty much tells you where it comes from, things like lemons and oranges! Like Ascorbic Acid, the same properties and healing happens with this on the skin however Citric Acid is an AHA, so stronger than Ascorbic Acid. So it is recommended to use with an SPF. This will work as a more potent version of Ascorbic and can help with hyper pigmentation and darker areas to brighten and even tone. This can promote peeling and renewing the skin so be careful of strengths, and use similar to Glycolic Acid, so keep an eye on the %. This combined with glycolic can be a great anti aging routine for the skin, but be sure to have a cushioning ingredient such as aloe vera somewhere in the routine to ensure skin doesn’t lose too much moisture and doesn’t become weak or hypersensitive. As it is similar to Asorbic Acid, it is good for acne prone skin, anti aging, fine lines and wrinkles.
A thicker oil and fatty acid, so may not be great for sensitive skin or skin that is prone to clogging, this can act as an anti bacterial and anti inflammatory to the skin, so great for things like eczema and psoriasis. If you like the sound of this, Linoleic Acid may be better as it’s a thinner version. This is great for mature skin or very dry skin, as it replaces lost moisture that the skin may have for a more radiant finish. This contains Omega 9 which is a fatty acid.
This is an Omega 6 fatty acid, which is thinner in compound than Oleic Acid. If you like the sound of Oleic Acid but have sensitive skin or prone to clogging, try this! This can act as a barrier to your skin and keep moisture in and prevent your skin from drying out. You can find this in plants such as rosehip and evening primrose, which sooth the skin and help reduce redness. Walnuts and almonds also have Omega 6, so it’s likely if your skincare has these ingredients, Linoleic Acid isn’t too far off.
This acts like a barrier against pollutants found in the air, fights free radicals and acts like a booster for vitamins such as vitamin C and E. This acid is found in barley grain. It can boost and promote even skintone and collagen production in the skin, which overall strengthens the skin to reduce fine lines and firms the skin up. This can be found in skincare next to vitamin C, as it prolongs the life and potency of vitamin C based skincare. This can also help protect the skin against ultraviolet light, which when were exposed to can damage tissue cells.
One of my favourite acids, this acts as a decongestant, so great for acne prone skin, combination, or skin that is prone to clogging. If you have blackheads, spots, whiteheads or clogged pores, having skincare with this in as well as looking out for them in primers may be your answer. It is a Beta Hydroxy Acid so this works inside the skin. Continued use of this may give you clearer skin but be warned, this is another of those ingredients that could make your skin worse before it gets better, as it flushes everything out of the skin that shouldn’t be there. It’s best used along with an ingredient that is anti bacterial to help heal the skin quicker and prevent even further breakouts. This may also be an ingredient in your skincare as it can help prolong the lifespan of your product and is used as a food preservative. Salicylic Acid comes from willow trees!
Azelaic Acid comes from yeast, wheat and grains, and can promote even texture, brighten the tone of your skin and can act as an anti oxidant. Imagine this as a weaker version of Glycolic Acid, but doesn’t exfoliate the skin as much. If you want to start using milder acids to clarify or brighten the skin, this may be a great start for you. It can also stabilize the skin and help with sensitivity and can fade acne scarring or discoloration on the skins surface.
Commonly found in apples, this is an AHA, which can boost and support the collagen production in the skin, firms and tones skin and texture, improves hyperpigmentation and decrease melanin production in the skins surface, help with the elasticity of your skin and has great anti aging benefits. You are more likely to see this ingredient in anti aging skincare. This can promote cell turnover and you may see your skin slightly ping depending on strength. This is also a great ingredient for acne prone skin as it can help diffuse pore size and renews skin youthfulness.
A milder AHA, this can come from animal derivatives or from plants, so be sure to check what type of Lactic Acid it is. For example, some Lactic Acid can come from Lactose/milk, or can come from glucose or plants such as corn. This can overall brighten dull complexions, even out tone and texture and reduce pore appearance. If you have dry skin, this can be a good way to help maintain moisture in the skin and result in plumper skin. For mature skin, this can firm and plump and act as an anti aging ingredient. It does have similar properties to Glycolic Acid, but imagine this as a milder version compared to the effects Glycolic Acid can do.
Hopefully this has helped make choosing what acids for you a little simpler!
Great brands to start your skincare journey with are The Ordinary, REN, No7, Trilogy, Balance Me, Pixi Beauty, KORRES, Murad, Rodial, Glossier, Drunk Elephant, Ole Henriksen and Philosophy. I personally use The Ordinary, Rodial, Ole Henriksen and Pixi on a daily basis, and look at my skin every morning and look at what it needs, rather than sticking to a strict routine. Feel free to comment if you’d like any recommendations and I will try my best to advise, but make sure you read reviews, look at alternative products and if available ask for samples of products that only require 1 or 2 uses to see a difference (such as scrubs, there would be no point asking for a sample of something like a toner as that needs to be continually used daily to see a difference, so I suggest purchasing mini or travel versions of these!) if you’re cautious about using an AHA or BHA for the first time.
If you’re getting advice from a consultant, don’t be scared to ask questions!
All products in this post were purchased by myself, apart from the Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Primer, which was gratis from my job and does not reflect my decision to add to this post.