Acids in Skin Care: What You Need to Know
Not that long ago, putting the words ‘acid’ and ‘skin’ in one sentence sounded downright scary. Today, however, it is a completely different story. Unlike earlier formulas that contained one concentrated acid, today’s versions are mixtures of low concentration acids, which makes them less aggressive and less likely to cause irritation to the skin. In other words, the motto ‘if skin is not peeling off, it’s not working’ no longer applies.
Acids have the ability to address each and every skin concern that you can think of. But with all those alphas, hyaluronics, oleics… how can you know which ones to use?
Fear not. This short guide will introduce you to some of the most common acids in cosmetics industry.
AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids)
This class of chemical compounds has been growing in popularity for the past two decades. When applied topically, AHAs loosen the ‘glue’ that keeps the skin surface compact, speeding up cell turnover. As a result, you get smoother, imperfection-free skin. Additionally, creams and lotions that contain AHAs can help with hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles.
Glycolic acid is the most commonly used and possibly the most effective alpha hydroxy acid. Its super-small molecules have the ability to penetrate deep into the skin and work their magic on a cellular level. Glycolic acid enhances collagen production; hence why it is the number one pick in anti-aging formulas. Being derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is considered less irritating compared to other synthetically made acids.
Another member of the AHA family, worth mentioning, is lactic acid. Lactic acid speeds up the shedding of epidermal cells, allowing new, healthy cells to migrate to the skin surface. Since it is involved in the natural moisturization process, lactic acid is extremely compatible with human skin.
You know that sour taste of green apples? That’s malic acid. Apart from being found in unripe fruits, it is also often found in facial moisturizers, anti-aging creams, shampoos, and hair conditioners. Malic acid is used for normalizing skin’s pH balance (skin that is too alkaline is more acne-prone and secretes more sebum) and for boosting cellular turnover.
If you think The Best Skin Lightener Award should go to hydroquinone, think again. Kojic acid is a relatively new weapon against discoloration and age spots, but it has already proven to be very effective at reducing the excess production of melanin. It is also more stable than hydroquinone and safer for long-term application as it is a natural, plant-derived brightener.
Salicylic Acid (a.k.a. BHA)
While it may not be as effective at exfoliating as AHAs, salicylic acid is certainly THE BEST acid for fighting acne. Even small concentrations (1 to 2%) deliver great result, by supressing the growth of acne-causing bacteria. Salicylic acid, or beta-hydroxy acid, is generally recommended for oily skin, but if combined with a good hydrating agent, it can also be used on sensitive and dry skin.
If you are looking for an antioxidant to neutralize the effect that environmental stressors have on your skin, look no further than alpha-lipoic acid. Not only does it protect your skin against free radicals, but it also boosts the power of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C. Due to its ability to dissolve in both water and fat, this acid penetrates deeper than any other acid.
Have you ever used products formulated with acids? Share your favourite one in the comments below!