When it comes to skincare, you might think applying acids to your skin sounds scary rather than healthy. But acids are essential ingredients that have anti-inflammatory and exfoliative properties, and when used properly, can help reduce dark spots, even out skin tone, and provide a brightening effect. They are also often used to fight acne. In this post we’ll go over the most essential acids to look for when considering skincare products. We’ll cover the most common acids as well as ones that you might not have heard as much about, such as gluconolactone, and when to consider incorporating these amazing ingredients into your skincare routine.
Types of Acids
There are several main classes of acids: alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA). The names reflect the way the molecular structures are arranged, which in turn affects how they affect and interact with the different layers of skin. AHAs mainly work as superficial exfoliators, sweeping away dead cells on the surface to reveal the healthy new skin underneath. This process can smooth out fine lines and result in a brighter complexion. AHAs may also stimulate a bit of collagen production in the process. BHAs work deeper in the skin and sink into the pores, getting down to the level of the oil glands. These are commonly used in acne products. Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) are chemical cousins of AHAs - technically, they are second-generation versions - that are coming into wider use. Considered a gentler type of exfoliant, PHAs are larger than AHAs and BHAs, so they work on the surface of the skin without disrupting the underlying layers, meaning they are less irritating. Like AHAs, they also help even out the tone and texture of skin by gently removing the superficial dead skin cells, and are great moisturizing ingredients as well by drawing water to the skin.
Now let’s talk about the top 8 acids to add to your routine!
How to Use Acids
In any skincare routine, you should consider incorporating gentle exfoliation at least a couple times a week, and by choosing ingredients carefully, even the most sensitive skin can benefit.
For acne-prone skin: those with mild acne might first reach for a salicylic acid cleanser as a good first step to fight oil production and unclog pores. This can be especially helpful for those with acne on the chest and back that is worsened with sweating. For more severe acne, this might not be enough and you’ll definitely want to visit your dermatologist for more targeted options.
For anti-aging purposes, a once or twice weekly clean-sweep using a gentle but effective serum can help provide a healthy exfoliative effect without excess irritation.
For general moisturizing, a lotion with salicylic or lactic acid can be helpful for smoothing out rough skin anywhere on the body although some people might find these lotions too irritating for the face.
Those with normal to oilier skin can also look into peels, whether over the counter, in a salon, or in a dermatologist’s clinic. Using higher concentrations of acids, peels can provide a deeper exfoliative experience and work faster at fading dark spots and treating fine lines.
At home peels: These can be a fun way to incorporate acids into your routine as a bit of self-pampering and can help provide a brightening pick-me-up. As with any new product, a judicious approach is best! Make sure you go with a reliable product and brand, and start with a lower strength if you are new to these. Test a new product on your inner arm for a day or two to make sure you aren’t going to have a vigorous reaction. If you’re good to go, you can proceed to using it on the face. Make sure you cleanse the skin first and dry it well. Then follow the directions on the product packaging including rinsing off if indicated, and pampering your skin after the peel by applying a good moisturizer and using sunscreen regularly afterwards. Any burning or pain is a red flag - make sure you rinse off immediately.
If you opt for a more professional approach, many salons or aesthetician offices may also offer peels in varying strengths. An aesthetician you trust is a valuable part of your skincare team. Finally, peels may be offered at a dermatologist’s office. These range in strength: from superficial -with brightening effect with little to no downtime, medium - more intense with some downtime, and deep - most aggressive, and most effective with significant downtime. If you are still confused, have a conversation with your dermatologist about the best options for you.
Looking for an all-purpose super gentle acid exfoliant? The Emdash Clear Reveal Resurfacing Serum contains AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs and is gentle enough for all skin types.
Disclaimer: As with all our posts, this blog is meant to be for informational and educational purposes, and is not medical advice. When in doubt, please ask your physician.